New Delhi: Delivering its verdict on the constitutional validity of Section 497, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld equality of the genders while striking down the ‘unconstitutional’ law unanimously. The five-judge bench comprised Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. Pronouncing the judgement for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, CJI Misra said, “Section 497 is arbitrary and offends the dignity of women.” He said, “Husband is not the master of the wife…system can’t treat women unequally. Women can’t be asked to think what a society desires.” (Click Here For LIVE Updates)
However, he added that mere adultery couldn’t be a criminal offence unless it attracted abetment to suicide (Section 306). Pronouncing his judgement, Justice Nariman said, “Ancient notions of man being perpetrator and woman being victim no longer holds good.”
Justice Chandrachud said that Section 497 was based on women as chattel and it seeks to control the sexuality of a woman. “It hits the autonomy and dignity of a woman,” he said. He added that Section 497 was based on gender stereotypes.
Justice Indu Malhotra pointed out that adultery could be a moral wrong towards spouse and family but the question was whether it should be a criminal offence?
Section 497 of the IPC defines adultery as an offence committed by a man against a married man if the former engages in sexual intercourse with the latter’s wife. Section 497 reads, “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.”
While the law allows the aggrieved husband of the married woman in an adulterous relationship to file a complaint, it does not extend the same right to an aggrieved woman if her husband is found to be in an adulterous relationship.