New Delhi: The Supreme Court (SC) struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on Thursday. The five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra and consisting of Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, observed a unanimous judgement and said that it cannot be a criminal offence.
The plea challenging the validity of Section 497 was filed by one Joseph Shine last year in December who had argued that the law was discriminatory. Shine had argued that the law was unjust, illegal and arbitrary and that it violated the fundamental rights of the citizens. He filed a PIL and sought to make men and women equally liable for adultery.
Section 497 of the IPC defined 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.
CJI Misra too had said, “It is typically an archaic provision. While it appears to be pro-women by protecting them against prosecution, it actually is anti-women as it treats them as husband’s chattel. Where did they get this concept of the husband for a woman to have intercourse with another married man?”
Meanwhile, the Centre has maintained that Section 497 should be retained by the apex court as it is necessary to “maintain the sanctity of a marriage”.