Adultery law is worth a burial

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is the height of stupidity that a law that allows a man to ask his wife to have sex with another man can be justified as being in the interest of maintaining the sanctity of marriage. This is exactly what the law against adultery in the Indian Penal Code provides for. What the law, part of the colonial era IPC, says is completely revolting to common sense or any sense of propriety.

It reads like this: “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.” By no stretch of imagination one can argue that this is in the interest of the institution of marriage, unless marriage is taken to mean only as the sweet will and pleasure of the husband. What about the wife? Does she not have a say in what her married life should be like?

This is what a five-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, hearing several petitions challenging the contentious Section 497 of the IPC, asked the government counsel, who argued that the law should be retained in the interest of protecting the institution of marriage. The court asked “what public good” the law served, as it provided that no offence would be deemed committed if the husband of a woman approved an adulterous relationship. The matter came before the bench as the court had referred the issue to a larger bench in January this year, when petitioners had challenged the law.

It is indeed sickening that the government continues to argue in favour of these anachronistic dispositions when marriage is universally accepted as an equal partnership between the husband and wife. The government stand betrays the male chauvinistic mentality that is deeply ingrained in the distorted view of Indian traditions, which actually recognised women as the better half of man. In fact, the strong response from the court came when the government counsel requested that the judgement of foreign jurisdictions setting aside adultery as a criminal offence should not be taken into account as the social conditions prevalent in India were different.

In fact, the entire adultery law is a bundle of contradictions. While the husband’s consent part makes it completely anti-woman, the provision that in an adulterous relationship, only the man is punishable even if the initiative was taken by the woman makes it anti-men as well. It would still be understandable if the government had argued in favour of making the laws gender-neutral, but asking for status quo can only be considered as a most retrograde move.