Adultery verdict: Relief for some 'wronged' husbands, more harassment for others

28 September, 2018, 00:29 | Author: Gregory Stephens
  • India's Supreme Court ruled adultery is not a crime but is still valid grounds for divorce

The Supreme Court unanimously struck down a 150-year-old law that considered adultery to be an offence committed against a married man by another man.

Read out the judgment written for himself and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Misra said that Section 497 violated a woman's right to dignity which infringed upon Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

"In such cases, wives are helpless".

Adultery as an offence treats a woman as "chattel" and "dents" her individual dignity as it emphasises that the husband's connivance or consent to her extramarital relationship does not result in a crime, wrote Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Thursday. He said equality is the governing parameter of the Constitution and section 497 of the IPC is manifestly arbitrary the way it deals with women. The court felt that the law was against women who had no opportunity to defend themselves in a situation where they are falsely linked to a man on mere suspicion, since a woman can not be made party to the case under 497 and had no locus standi.

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".

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) also expressed disagreement with Maliwal's views.

The law gives a husband exclusive right to prosecute his wife's lover - and does not grant a wife power to do the same.

"Adultery can be ground for any civil wrong. They are not in any way situated differently than men", his petition said.


A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by the then Chief Justice YV Chandrachud had upheld the constitutionality of Section 497 of the IPC.

Section 198 of the Criminal Procedure Code which laid down who would be an aggrieved person in a case of adultery.

Petitioner Joseph Shine, a businessman, had challenged the constitutional validity of the adultery law, saying it discriminates against both men and women.

It was also sought that in light of the judgment of the Supreme Court on the right to privacy, Section 497 must be looked at from a fresh perspective.

In criminalising adultery, the legislature has imposed its imprimatur on the control by a man over the sexuality of his wife.

Couples can not use adultery as a ground for divorce if they lived together as a couple for six months after the infidelity was known about. Women can be punished for adultery in Somalia, where Islamist al-Shabab militants would usually stone them.

Married women in India face huge pressure to limit contact with men other than their husbands.

The son had done it in August previous year too when he had over-ruled another of his father's judgment while delivering the verdict on the issue of privacy.

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