The Supreme Court of India strikes down adultery as offense

Section 497 of Indian Penal Code unconstitutional.

New Delhi : The Supreme Court of India today ruled the adultery law as unconstitutional as it dented the individuality of women and treated them as “chattel of husbands”.

The apex court’s five-judge Constitution bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, was unanimous in striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the offence of adultery and holding it as manifestly arbitrary, archaic law which is violating of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.

On the 19th century adultery law in which, under penal code’s section 497, it is an offence if a married man has sex with the wife of another married man without his “connivance” or “consent”. Adultery was punishable by a maximum five years in jail or fine or both.
But only men, and not women, can be prosecuted under the adultery law. Adultery is the only provision in the penal code that treats men and women differently, for one, because it treats a married woman as the ‘property’ of their husband.

The CJI and Justice Khanwilkar said mere adultery cannot be a crime, but if any aggrieved spouse commits suicide because of life partner’s adulterous relation, then if evidence is produced, it could be treated as an abetment to suicide.

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