The top court said that adultery can be a ground for divorce, but cannot be a criminal offence
The Supreme Court of India (SC) on September 27 ruled that adultery cannot be a criminal offence. The five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra said that the beauty of the Constitution is that it includes "I, me and you".
The apex court hearing a case pertaining to Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). CJI Misra said that Section 497 of the IPC was manifestly arbitrary with the way it deals with women.
Justice Rohinton Nariman termed Section 497 as archaic law and concurred with the CJI, Justice AM Khanwilkar saying that Section 497 is violative of right to equality and right to equal opportunity to women. "We declare Sec 497 IPC and Sec 198 of CrPC dealing with prosecution of offences against marriage as unconstitutional," said the CJI and Justice Khanwilkar.
The top court said that adultery can be a ground for divorce, but cannot be a criminal offence. Adultery cannot be a crime, unless it attracts the scope of Section 306 of the IPC (abetment to suicide), the court added.
Considering adultery a criminal offence is a retrograde step, the court added.
The top court, which has this year delivered a spate of landmark verdicts, said that adultery dents individuality of women and that women cannot be asked to think and do according to the will of the society.
CJI Misra, who wrote the judgement for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, said that equality is the governing parameter of the Constitution.
The court said any provision treating women with inequality is not constitutional and it is time to say that the husband is not the master of woman.
Prior to the verdict, the offence entailed a maximum punishment of five years, or fine, or both.
Section 497 of the IPC reads: "Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery."With PTI inputs