Adultery is not a crime; Supreme Court scraps Section 497

Adultery a ground for divorce but not a crime SC

The law had been in place for more than a century and dictated that any man who slept with a married woman, without her husband's permission, could be sent to prison for up to five years.

In our arguments, we further stressed that Section 198 of the Cr.P.C. also violated Article 15 of the Constitution, which prohibits gender-based discrimination.

The Centre wants adultery to continue in the Indian Penal Code as it ensures the sanctity of the marriage and is for the public good.

It was the second legal decision this month reflecting a more liberal outlook in Indian society with the Supreme Court having on September 6 scrapped a ban on gay sex dating back to 1861. Adultery presently entails imprisonment for a term which may extend up to five years, or fine, or both.

Speaking outside the Supreme Court, lawyer Kalleswaram Raj told reporters "a very historical judgment" had been delivered.

The case was heard by a bench presided by CJI Misra and comprising Justices R.F. Nariman, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra over six days beginning August 1.

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During the hearing, the SC had observed, "Prima facie, on a perusal of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, we find that it grants relief to the wife by treating her as a victim".

In a landmark judgement on Thursday, the Supreme Court said that the adultery was no longer a crime.

In 1954, the court upheld adultery as a crime arguing "it is commonly accepted that it is the man who is the seducer, and not the woman".

Justice Chandrachud said Section 497 destroys and deprives women of dignity. "Being antithetical to the constitutional guarantees of liberty, dignity and equality, Section 497 does not pass constitutional muster." he added.

The law basically said that, whoever has sexual intercourse with someone else's wife, without the husband's consent, is guilty of the offence of adultery.

Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, reading out his judgement, said: "Women can't be treated as cattle".

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The bench said the provision treats a married woman as subordinate to her husband as it does not bring within its purview any extra-marital relationship a man may have with an unmarried woman or a widow.

On January 5, the apex court had referred to a five-judge Constitution bench the plea challenging the validity of the penal law on adultery. Section 497 denuded the woman from making choices.

Judgment on adultery: CJI Dipak Misra says beauty of the Constitution is that it includes "the I, me and you".

"Married women are not a special case for the objective of prosecution for adultery. However, that does not save the provision as being manifestly arbitrary", it said and added that "the rationale of the provision suffers from the absence of logicality of approach".

Adultery can be treated as civil wrong for dissolution of marriage.

Shine had questioned the immunity accorded to women if they commit the offence of adultery.

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