Supreme Court Judgement on Adultery

IAS Prelims 2023

The Supreme Court judgement struck down Section 497 of the India Penal Code that dealt with adultery.

The five-judge bench comprised Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.

Section 497 states that if a man has sexual intercourse with a married woman without her husband’s consent, he is punishable by law. The man could be imprisoned for five years or more and even pay a fine.

As per the dictionary, adultery means “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse”.

The petitioners want the adultery law to be made gender neutral. This is because the law calls for the man to be punished in case of adultery, but no action is suggested for the woman.

As per Section 497, a woman whose husband has had sexual intercourse with another woman cannot file a complaint because the law makes no such provision for her

Moreover, the adultery law in IPC reduces women to an object because no consent of the married woman is required for a man to have sexual intercourse with her. As per Section 497, if the woman’s husband agrees, the act is not a crime. This is the reason many have called this law an anti-women law.

What did the Supreme Court say?

The judges called Section 497 archaic and said that it violated Articles 14 and 21 of the IPC.

Adultery can be ground for civil issues including dissolution of marriage but it cannot be a criminal offence.

The bench said that Section 497 was ‘unconstitutional’ as it violated the right to equality and there was no reason to continue this anymore.

However, the Supreme Court held that adultery will remain a ground for divorce.

Past Supreme Court judgements on adultery:

The adultery law had come up in court thrice in the past — in 1954, in 1985, and in 1988

In 1954, the SC rejected that Section 497 violated the right to equality.

In 1985, it said that women didn’t need to be included in the law as a party which can make complaints.

In 1988, the Supreme Court said that the adultery law was a “shield rather than a sword”.