‘Husband not master’: Supreme Court scraps adultery law

India's Supreme Court ruled adultery is not a crime but is still valid grounds for divorce

India's Supreme Court ruled adultery is not a crime but is still valid grounds for divorce

Section 497 treats a married woman as her husband's "chattel". "Adultery can be ground for divorce but not criminal". "Legal sovereignty of one sex over the other sex is wrong".

In Pakistan, adultery can carry up to 25 years in prison, while in Bangladesh men can be jailed five years for the crime.

A general view of the Supreme court of India is pictured in New Delhi on September 27.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra in a unanimous judgement gave the historical verdict. The top court had then questioned how the law preserved the sanctity of marriage when the extramarital affair didn't invite punishment if the woman's husband stood by her. Rather, we prayed that only Section 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which prohibits wives from filing adultery complaints, be struck down. Last year, the justices outlawed the summary "triple talaq" divorce for Muslim men and in a country with more child brides than anywhere in the world, the high court ruled that sex with an underage wife constitutes rape.

"497 perpetrates subordinate nature of woman in a marriage", said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

"That apart, there can not be a community exposition of masculine dominance", it observed while allowing a plea challenging the Constitutional validity of section 497 of IPC, which was punishable by a maximum five years in jail or fine or both.

In January, the four most senior justices held a news conference against Misra, who as chief justice controls the court's roster and decides who will take which cases, listing a litany of problems that they said afflicted the court and risked undermining India's democracy. Long criticized as archaic and sexist, it made it illegal for a man to have sex with a married woman without the permission of her husband.

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court today unanimously struck down Section 497 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), which penalises adultery.

"It is time to say husband is not the master", the chief justice, Dipak Misra, said. "The law on adultery is but a codified rule of patriarchy", he added."Autonomy is intrinsic in dignified human existence, Section 497 denuded the woman from making choices".

The CJI began reading the judgment by saying the beauty of the Constitution is that it includes "the I, me and you". "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".

In our intervention application before the Court, we relied upon different grounds to suggest why this section should be made gender-neutral.

Adultery won't be a crime now which will destroy the very foundation of marriage.

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