The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional the 158-year-old Section 497 of IPC that punished a married man for adultery if he had sexual relations with a married woman “without the consent or connivance of her husband”, but said adultery could continue to be a ground for divorce.
What is Section-497 ?
Section 497 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) contains provisions of the adultery laws. The Section 497 of IPC says that “any man who has sexual intercourse with the wife of another man, without the consent of her husband, shall be held liable for the crime of adultery.”
SC Judgement :-
- The court said if one of the spouses committed suicide because of the adulterous nature of her/his partner, then the culprit could be proceeded against for the criminal offence of abetting suicide.
- The Supreme Court tested Section 497 against the touchstone of constitutional provisions dealing with the right to equality and guarantees against arbitrariness and discrimination, with Justices Chandrachud and Malhotra using privacy, an individual’s autonomy and personal choice as yardsticks of legality.
- The decision rejected the idea of women as actors with no agency of their own, mere “chattel”. This decision puts India on a par with many European countries, China, Japan, Australia and Brazil where adultery is not a criminal offence.
Judges Opinion :-
- The Chief Justice, writing the judgment for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, said Section 497 violated the right to equality as it punished only the married man while exonerating the ‘partner in crime’, the married woman, who could not be punished for being the abettor.
- The section also treated the woman, with whom the married man had sexual intercourse, as a chattel of her husband as it was not an offence of adultery if the latter consented or connived for his wife’s adulterous relationship, the CJI said.
Sections in contention :-
- Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code
Section 497 gives a husband the exclusive right to prosecute his wife’s lover. A similar right is not conferred on a wife to prosecute the woman with whom her husband has committed adultery.
Secondly, the provision does not confer any right on the wife to prosecute her husband for adultery.Further, the law does not take into account cases where the husband has sexual relations with an unmarried woman.
- Section 198 (2) the Criminal Procedure Code
The code allows a husband to bring charges against the man with whom his wife has committed adultery.