New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India Thursday declared that adultery or extramarital sex is not a crime and struck down the anti-adultery law, saying it was unconstitutional as it dented the individuality of women and treated them as "chattel of husbands".
The five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court was unanimous in striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dealing with the offence of adultery and holding it as manifestly arbitrary, archaic law which is violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.
Adultery was punishable by a maximum five years in jail or fine or both under Section 497 of IPC.
"We declare Section 497 IPC and Section 198 of CrPC dealing with prosecution of offences against marriage as unconstitutional," Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, who wrote the judgement for himself and Justice Khanwilkar, said.
"Any provision treating women with inequality is not constitutional and it's time to say that "husband is not the master of woman", the top court said adding that adultery can be a ground for civil wrong, a ground for divorce but not a criminal offence.
Meanwhile, Chairperson of Delhi Commission for Women Swati Maliwal called the Supreme Court’s verdict on adultery as an “anti-women decision”.
"Instead of making 497 gender neutral, criminalising it both for women and men they have decriminalised it totally! Anti women decision", Maliwal wrote on Twitter.
“In a way, you’ve given open general license to the people of this country to be in marriages but at the same time have illegitimate relationships with others", Maliwal said questioning the sanctity of marriage.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) President and Hyderabad MP Asaddudin Owaisi in a series of tweets, shortly after the verdict was announced, argued that even though Section 377 (that dealt with the criminalisation of homosexuality) and Section 497 were decriminalised, the act of instant divorce or ‘talaq triple’ among Muslims has a penal provision and was thus criminalised.
“How is this justice? What will the BJP do?” Owaisi asked in the tweet.
The SC verdict however has been hailed by lawyers and activists. "Even 20 years ago, I have said the law should be struck down as it is sexist. It was, no doubt, an archaic law. In today's time, the law was irrelevant, especially when many marriages were broken and divorces take years to happen," Supreme Court lawyer Shilpi Jain said.
Social activist Ranjana Kumari too welcomed the judgment, saying "patriarchal control over women's body unacceptable".
"We welcome the judgement by the Supreme Court striking down the 158-year-old law based on Victorian values, in Section 497 of Penal code, which treats women as property of husbands and criminalises adultery. Patriarchal control over women's body unacceptable," she tweeted.
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