‘Husband not the master of wife’, Supreme Court strikes down Section 497

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The Supreme Court pronounced its judgment on the validity of section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on Thursday.

NEW DELHI: A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court overruled Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with Adultery. The five-judge Constitution bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra including Justice R F Nariman, Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra, had reserved its verdict in the case in August. Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said “Adultery can't be a criminal offence and the adultery law is also voilative of privacy right to some extent”. The Supreme Court pronounced its judgment on the validity of section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on Thursday.

The Supreme Court has declared that Section 497 is “Unconstitutional”. Adultery is not a crime. This Judgement had overruled three previous rulings by the Supreme Court on Section 497. This law has come under sharp criticism for Gender Biasness or we can say men have given more priority than women. A PIL was filed by an Italian based Indian Business man Joseph Shine contending that the law is discriminatory.

Calling the law archaic and saying that it violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution the justices said that: “Adultery can be ground for civil issues including dissolution of marriage but it cannot be a criminal offence.”


HIGHLIGHTS

  • Section 497 declared unconstitutional
  • Women no more a property to men
  • Adultery no more a crime
  • Adultery can be ground to file a divorce

Why 497 declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court?

Drafted in 1860, the colonial era law criminalises adultery with up to five years imprisonment. Section 497 read: "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."

Section 497 used to be read with CrPC Section 198(2) in the matters of prosecution for offences against marriage.

The combined reading of the adultery laws allowed the aggrieved husband of the married woman in adulterous relationship to file a complaint. But same right was not available to an aggrieved wife if her husband was found to be in an adulterous relationship.


 FIRST SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT

The adultery law first came under challenge in 1951 in the Yusuf Aziz versus State of Bombay case. Petitioner contended that the adultery law violated the fundamental right of equality guaranteed under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution. Later, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 497 was valid.

SECOND SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT

The next important judgement regarding adultery law under Section 497 came in Sowmithri Vishnu versus Union of India case of 1985. The Centre has cited this judgement in its 2018-affidavit to back Section 497 of the IPC. Later, again it was stated that Section 497 was valid.

 THIRD SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT

In the next big case--V Revathy versus Union of India of 1988--on adultery law, the Supreme Court held that Section 497 was valid.

A game changing Verdict

PIL filed by an Italian based Indian Business man Joseph Shine contending that the law is discriminatory proved to a game changer for this judgement to be a reality. Adultery is no longer a crime, the Supreme Court ruled today. The judgement by a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra has overruled the previous three rulings on the matter.

Conclusion

Section 497 is Unconstitutional. Adultery can be the ground for divorce but not a crime.

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