‘Husband is not the master’: 12 key points of SC verdict on Adultery Law

New Delhi: India’s 158-year-old adultery law is “arbitrary” – This is what Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said on Thursday as the Supreme Court delivered its verdict after hearing a petition which called for the law to be scrapped as it does not treat men and women equally.

The top court said adultery is not a crime anymore in India, but it can be grounds for divorce. It said the law treated women as the victim and not as an abettor of the offence.

Under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, it is an offence if a married man has sex with the wife of another married man without his “connivance” or “consent”. But only men, and not women, can be prosecuted under the adultery law.

The law punished a man who has an affair with a woman “without the consent or connivance of” her husband, with five years in jail or fine or both. There was no punishment for the woman, who was seen as the victim.

Here are 12 key points of the verdict that was delivered by a five-judge bench:

  1. This is archaic law long outlived it’s purpose.
  2. Section 497 (Adultery) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is unconstitutional.
  3. Section gives a license to the husband to use the woman as a chattel.
  4. The top court, calling adultery a relic of the past, said Section 497 “denudes women from making choices”.
  5. Does not square with constitutional morality.
  6. Curtailing sexual autonomy of a woman is antithetical to the Constitution.
  7. If act is treated as an offence it would amount to punish those unhappy in marital relationship.
  8. The Chief Justice said that adultery might not be the cause of an unhappy marriage; it could be the result of one.
  9. Any system treating a woman with indignity invites the wrath of Constitution.
  10. Woman can’t be asked to think how a man or society desires.
  11. Husband is not the master. Equality is the governing parameter.
  12. Mere adultery can’t be a crime, unless it attracts the scope of Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the IPC.