Section 497 Verdict: SC rules adultery law as unconstitutional, arbitrary

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a British era Adultery Law (Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code) and declared it as unconstitutional and arbitrary.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra in a unanimous judgement gave the historical verdict.

“Equality is the governing principle of a system. Husband is not the master of the wife,” said Misra while reading out the verdict on the petition challenging the validity of Section 497.

“The magnificent beauty of the democracy is I, you and we. Any provision treating women with inequality is not constitutional,” said the SC.

Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, reading out his judgement, said: “Women can’t be treated as cattle”.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud in a concurring but separate judgment said society has two sets of morality in sexual behaviour — one for women and another for men.

Society treating women as embodiment of virtue leads to things like honour killings, he said, adding that the archaic law is against dignity, liberty and sexual autonomy guaranteed under the Constitution.

Most countries have abolished adultery as a crime. “It shouldn’t be a criminal offence, other people are also involved in it,” Misra said, reading out the judgement, also on behalf of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar.

“Adultery can be ground for divorce and a person will have civil remedies for it. Mere adultery can’t be a crime, unless it attracts the scope of Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the IPC,” said the SC.

“We declare Sec 497 IPC and Sec 198 of CrPC dealing with prosecution of offences against marriage as unconstitutional,” said the CJI and Justice Khanwilkar.