Can women be punished for adultery? Supreme Court verdict today


Though Section 497 made only a man liable to be punished for adultery, it did not give right to a woman to prosecute her adulterous husband for the offence.

Under the 158-year-old adultery law, known as section 479, a man could be imprisoned for up to five years for engaging in sexual relations with a married woman without the consent of her husband. The Section 497 exempted the wife from punishment and stated that the wife should not be even treated as an abettor.

Adultery might not be the cause of an unhappy marriage, it could be result of an unhappy marriage, Justice Misra said. The CJI said section 497 of the IPC is manifestly arbitrary the way it deals with women. The Victorian law had also faced flak for treating a woman as the property of a man.

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

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

He said his wife slapped a case of adultery against him when he found out about her affair.

Convictions for adultery are very rare because of the social stigma, and mostly families resolve matters among themselves, Supreme Court lawyer Utsav Bains told AFP.

Adultery can be treated as civil wrong for dissolution of marriage.

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Shine's 45-page petition "liberally quotes from American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, women rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on gender equality and rights of women", according to the BBC. Needless to add, the heteronormative nature of the Section 497 was a gaping loophole willfully exploited by married and unfaithful men to the detriment of their wives.

"Earlier at least the wife of the paramour was able to file a case against him but now my wife and her lover will get a free hand to do what they want", he said.

He said that the Section 497 (Adultery) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is unconstitutional.

Justice Nariman concurred with CJI Misra and Justice Khanwilkar J, holding Section 497 violative of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution. To put the entire judgment in simplest of terms, the verdict specifically says that adultery is not a criminal offence.

Like the decision to legalise homosexual acts, some advocates against the adultery law characterised Thursday's decision as an act of decolonising the country's Raj-era criminal code.

From now on, the only remedy available to a man or woman who finds his partner to be in an adulterous relationship would be to go for divorce.

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

The Supreme Court delivered judgments interpreting laws to expand the ambit of fundamental rights.