The Supreme Court of India on Thursday unanimously struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code that makes adultery a punishable offence for men.
In four separate but concurring judgments, the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court said the 158-year-old law was unconstitutional and fell foul of Article 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) and Article 14 (Right to equality), reports Indian media.
The apex court also declared Section 198(1) and 198(2) of the CrPC, which allows a husband to bring charges against the man with whom his wife committed adultery, unconstitutional.
Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, who pronounced the judgment in concurrence with Justice AM Khanwilkar, said while adultery could be a ground for civil issues, including dissolution of marriage, it could not be a criminal offence.
“Adultery can be ground for any civil wrong. There can’t be any social license that destroys the matrimonial home, but adultery should not be a criminal offence,” he said.
Stating that a wife was not a chattel of the husband, Misra said, “Any provision of law affecting individual dignity and equality of women invites the wrath of the Constitution. It’s time to say that a husband is not the master of wife. Legal sovereignty of one sex over other sex is wrong.”
However, if any aggrieved spouse ended her life because of her partner’s adulterous relation, it could be treated as an abetment to suicide if evidence was produced, the CJ said.
The CJ further said Section 497 was manifestly arbitrary and offends the dignity of women.
Stating that the beauty of our Constitution was that it includes ‘I, me and you’, Misra said equality was the governing principle of a system.
On January 5, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, referred the PIL to a larger constitutional bench. The bench had contended the provision seemed “quite archaic, especially when there is societal progress”. In three earlier judgments in 1954, 1985 and in 1988, the court had upheld the provision.