In India, adultery is not a crime anymore, though it can be a ground for divorce. The Supreme Court said that a 158-year law that punishes a man for an affair but not the woman, treating her as her husband's property. "It's time to say the husband is not the master of the woman," said a five-judge constitution bench, unanimously sticking up for gender justice and calling out the Victorian adultery law as arbitrary.
Section 497 of the IPC was a section dealing with adultery. The law observed that a woman could is not punishable for the offence of adultery. Only a man who commits consensual sexual intercourse with the wife of the other man without the consent of her husband is punishable under this offence in India. If an individual "lives in adultery", the partner can file for divorce. The Supreme Court of India defended the law on 27 September 2018. The SC acknowledged the law as unconstitutional because it "treats a husband as the master of his wife".
Section 497 says 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 to the offence of rape, is guilty of the crime of adultery.
Moreover, he shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such a case, the wife shall [not] be punishable as an abettor.
On 27th September, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and decriminalized adultery in India (it remains a "civil offence", as it can be a ground for divorce. The judgment is significant not because it got rid of a patriarchal law, but also because of its consequences that may arise in future.
All five Supreme Court judges hearing the case said the law was archaic, arbitrary and unconstitutional.
Chief Justice Misra said that "Husband is not the master of a wife. Women should be treated with equality along with men,".
Judge Rohinton Nariman said that "ancient notions of a man being perpetrator and woman being a victim no longer hold good".
Justice DY Chandrachud said the law "perpetuates the subordinate status of women, denies dignity, sexual autonomy, is based on gender stereotypes". He further said the law sought to "control sexuality of woman (and) hits the autonomy and dignity of a woman".
The judgment of the Supreme Court is essential, however, for the further indications it may have. All the judges were very clear that a woman has the right to bodily integrity, choice and personal liberty not just against the State, but also within the context of home and the family. It gives a call to a question that a number of our laws has actively denied these rights. The decriminalization of adultery may have a current effect that goes beyond its immediate context and serves as a springboard for greater freedom, equality, and independence within what is commonly understood to be the private sphere.