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Adultery law biased against men, says Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: Taking up a matrimonial dispute, the Supreme Court on Thursday concurred with criticism of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code which punishes a man alone for adultery for having consensual sex with a married woman.

The criticism of the bench of Justices Aftab Alam and R M Lodha was on two grounds – that the provision reduces a married woman to a property of the husband, and that punishment is meted out to the man though the woman with whom he had consensual sex was an equal partner in the alleged crime.

Adultery law biased against men, says Supreme Court
“The Supreme Court observed that punishment is meted out to the man though the woman with whom he had consensual sex was an equal partner in the alleged crime.”

‘Women immune to adultery charges’

Section 497 of IPC says, “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 the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 5 years, or with fine, or with both. In such case, the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.”

The bench said, “The provision (Section 497) is currently under criticizm from certain quarters for showing a strong gender bias for it makes the position of a married woman almost as a property of her husband. But in terms of the law as it stands, it is evident from a plain reading ofthe section that only a man can be proceeded against and punished for the offence of adultery.”

“Indeed, the section provides expressly that the wife cannot be punished even as an abettor. Thus, the mere fact that the appellant is a woman makes her completely immune to the charges of adultery and she cannot be proceeded against for that offence,” the bench said.

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