In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of India struck down as unconstitutional the penal provision on adultery saying that the law affected individual dignity and equality of women.
“Any system treating a woman with indignity, inequity and inequality or discrimination invites the wrath of the Constitution. It is time to say that a husband is not the master. Equality is the governing parameter”, the Court said.
Stating that Section 497 of Indian Penal Code is manifestly arbitrary, the Court said that “it is demonstrable that women are treated as subordinate to men inasmuch as it lays down that when there is connivance or consent of the man, there is no offence. This treats the woman as a chattel. It treats her as the property of man and totally subservient to the will of the master. It is a reflection of the social dominance that was prevalent when the penal provision was drafted.”
The Court further said that if adultery is treated as a crime, there would be immense intrusion into the extreme privacy of the matrimonial sphere. “It is better to be left as a ground for divorce. For any other purpose as the Parliament has perceived or may, at any time, perceive, to treat it as a criminal offence will offend the two facets of Article 21 of the Constitution, namely, dignity of husband and wife, as the case may be, and the privacy attached to a relationship between the two.”
Section 497 punished a married man for having sex with wife of another man. However, the sexual act is exempted from punishment if it is performed with the consent or connivance of the husband of the other woman. The section also exempts the wife from punishment, and states that wife should not be even treated as an abettor.