Adultery no more a crime | Timeline

According to Indian Penal Code Section 497, adultery is an offence if a married man has sex with the wife of another married man without his consent.

The court's ruling was welcomed by women's rights activists and lawyers who argued that the law treated women as victims and denied them agency.

"It was a 150-year-old law which does not have a place in new India but at the same time we also want to note that adultery is not normal and can be a ground for divorce which in my opinion is a very fair judgement keeping in mind the country we live in and the century we are living in", she said.

The court has said, however, that the judgment is not to be understood as a licence to have extramarital relations. "That is the reason we call it archaic", the Supreme Court said.

In Somalia, Islamist Shabaab militants often carry out stonings of women for adultery.

Finally, Justice Malhotra sealed the fate of the provision, questioning the need to make Adultery a criminal offence.

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.

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. "What used to happen is husbands hired professional detectives to check on wives and then threaten or begin prosecution". The offence of adultery entailed a maximum punishment of five years, or with fine, or both.


Section 497 was seen as contradictory to Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. The court observed that the section hence treated the woman as the property of the husband.

The Supreme Court on Thursday declared as unconstitutional the penal provision on adultery, saying it was manifestly arbitrary and dents the individuality of women. "Thinking of adultery as a criminal offence is a retrograde step".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government told a court previous year that it believes criminalising marital rape could destabilise marriages and make men vulnerable to harassment by their wives.

Also read: India's lopsided adultery law - Adverse impact of patriarchy on men or women? In fact, Indonesia is drafting laws that prohibit all consensual sex outside the institution of marriage. 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.

In the United Kingdom, adultery is not a criminal offence and like many other countries, one of the main reasons given for divorce.

The Supreme Court rejected the plea.

A married woman had approached the court, demanding the right to file a complaint of adultery against her husband's unmarried lover. Each religion is governed by its own matrimonial law. CrPC 198 (2) specifies that no person other than the husband of the woman shall be deemed to be aggrieved by any offence punishable under section 497 or section 498 (enticing, taking away, detaining with criminal intent a married woman who is someone's else wife, from that man with the intention of having illicit intercourse with her).


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