India Strikes Down Colonial-Era Adultery Law

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



An arbitrary law that treated women like the property of their husbands has been struck down by the Indian Supreme Court and it’s a win for women in the country.

A five-bench of India’s Supreme Court declared the penal provision on adultery as unconstitutional, claiming the colonial-era law harmed a women’s individuality.

According to Section 497, under a 158-year-old-law it was a crime for married women to have consensual sexual relationships with another man in the absence of her husband’s consent.

The man convicted of having extramarital sex, had to face a prison time of five years, meanwhile, the woman could neither lodge a complaint nor be held responsible for adultery.

The sexist law has long been criticized for being unjust to women, treating them like the property of their husbands, depriving them of their dignity and personal choice.   

“It’s time to say that (a) husband is not the master of (his) wife,” said chief justice of India, Dipak Misra while reading out the judgment. “Women should be treated with equality along with men," she added.

Earlier the Indian government opposed the idea of decriminalizing adultery in the country, because in their view, this would wear away “the sanctity of marriage and the fabric of society at large."

A married couple may part ways if one of them cheats; however, attaching infidelity to criminality was a bit too much.

"Adultery can be grounds for civil issues including dissolution of marriage but it cannot be a criminal offence ... adultery might not be the cause of an unhappy marriage, it could be the result of an unhappy marriage," said Chief Justice Misra as she read the verdict.

India is a country that is still burdened with its deep-rooted traditions and implementing modernized concepts has been very difficult for the country. However, this act was a win for women’s right activists who welcomed the liberal ruling that decriminalizes adultery.

"Scrapping it was long overdue and is very welcome," said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association.

"Our political class should have decriminalized adultery and homosexuality a long time ago, instead of leaving it to the courts," she added.

Not long ago, a man had publically whipped his wife over hundred times as a punishment for adultery. The husband tied his wife to a tree; she was surrounded by a crowd of hundred people comprised mostly of men.  The husband was filmed beating her with a leather belt as she screamed in pain.

Banner / Thumbnail : Pexels, Jasmine Wallace Carter

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