SC Decriminalises Adultery: Supreme Court Declares Section 497 of IPC Unconstitutional (Download PDF)


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SC has unanimously struck down Section 497 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 that makes adultery punishable offence for men. Judgment was given by 5-judge bench of SC including CJI on petition filed by non-resident Keralite Joseph Shine.

Image of SC Decriminalises Adultery

Image of SC Decriminalises Adultery

Image of SC Decriminalises Adultery

Justice Indu Malhotra was lone woman judge on this bench.

Section 497 of IPC

  • Adultery: It says ‘whoever has sexual intercourse w/person who is & whom he knows or has reason to believe to be wife of another man, w/o consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to offence of rape, is guilty of offence of adultery. ’

  • Such person shall be punished w/imprisonment of either description for term, which may extend to 5 years or w/fine, or w/both. In such case wife shall not be punishable as abettor.

  • According to earlier Delhi High Court in case of Brij Lal Bishnoi v/s State (1996) only sexual intercourse w/married woman will be considered adultery.

  • Sexual relations w/widow, sex worker, or unmarried woman would not attract this section.

  • Section 497 did not confer any right on women to prosecute adulterous husband or woman w/whose husband has indulged in sexual intercourse with.

  • Husband solely is permitted to prosecute adulterer.

SC Judgment

  • 158-year-old Section 497 of IPC is unconstitutional & fell foul of Article 21 (Right to life & personal liberty) & Article 14 (Right to equality).

  • It declared Section 198 (1) & 198 (2) of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1974 that allows husband to bring charges against man w/whom his wife committed adultery, unconstitutional.

  • Apex court held that adultery could be ground for civil issues, including dissolution of marriage, but it could not be criminal offence.

  • It stated that husband is not master of wife or wife is not chattel of husband & legal sovereignty of one sex over other sex is wrong.

  • Section 497 of IPC was manifestly arbitrary & offends dignity of women & is violative of rights to equality & equal opportunity to women.

  • Apex court held that if any aggrieved spouse ended her life because of her partner’s adulterous relation, it could be treated as abetment to suicide if evidence was produced.

  • Section 497 deprived woman of her privacy & was clear violation of fundamental rights granted in Constitution & there was no justification for continuation of provision.

  • It was violative of rights to equality & equal opportunity to women.

- Published/Last Modified on: December 27, 2018

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