Supreme Court agrees to examine adultery provision in IPC
December 13, 2017

The Supreme Court of India has decided to look into whether the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provision of adultery, which treats only the man as an offender and the married woman as a ‘victim,’ is patronising and commodifies women.

Section 497 of IPC states that “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 the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery and shall be punished.”

It was argued that this penal section was framed at a time when women were considered as a man’s property.

Therefore, the court decided to issue notice and said that it will inspect two aspects of the provision.

1.The woman is always portrayed as a victim, whereas only the man is accused of adultery. So is she the ‘property’ of her husband or a passive object?
2.If the husband connives or consents with the adultery, then the crime ceases?

Further, the section 497 says that only a husband or the individual in whose care the husband has left his wife can file a complaint under this section of IPC.

Court’s observation

While giving the order, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that the Constitution of India confers equal status to man and woman. Now, the time has come when society has to understand that a woman is equal to her husband in every respect.

The court also asked that whether this amounts to a violation of woman’s fundamental right against gender discrimination under Article 15 of the Constitution when a law assumes a patronising attitude towards women?

It also asked that when the section 497 states that a woman could enter into an adulterous relationship if she had the consent of her husband, does this downgrade her to the level of a commodity.

Terming the provision as “quite archaic,” the Supreme Court observed in the order that when society progresses, rights are conformed and a new generation of thoughts should spring forth.