A 5-judge Constitution bench was unanimous in striking down Section 497 of IPC dealing with adultery, holding it manifestly arbitrary
New Delhi: The Supreme Court verdict on Thursday declaring that adultery is not a crime was welcomed by several people who said it was a good riddance to an antiquated law, though some experts raised concerns over the judgement.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was unanimous in striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the offence of adultery, holding it manifestly arbitrary, archaic and violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said that every judgement of the SC has to be welcomed because it becomes the law "which we all have to subscribe to.”
"We have to look at judgements of the Supreme Court with regards to fundamental rights, whether it is equality of either men or women or everyone before the law or it is about right to privacy or it is about freedom of speech and expression. It has to been seen in context of this evolution. This judgement is a step in that direction. Every judgement of the SC has to be welcomed because it becomes the law which we all have to subscribe to," he said.
All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi raked up the issue of triple talaq, saying the Supreme Court decriminalised sections 377 and 497, but it had just "set aside" the practice of instant divorce among Muslims, and the government made it a penal offence through an ordinance.
The Supreme Court didn’t say Triple Talaaq is Unconstitutional but “set it aside “but Apex Court has said 377 & 497 is Unconstitutional will Modi Government learn from these judgments and take back their Unconstitutional Ordinance on Triple Talaaq— Asaduddin Owaisi (@asadowaisi) September 27, 2018
Reacting to the judgement, social activist Brinda Adige asked if the judgement allows polygamy too? "Because we know that men very often marry two-three times and there is so much of problem when the first, second or third wife are abandoned."
"If adultery is not a crime, how is this woman even going to file a case against the husband who might desert or abandon her. It's a concern," she said.
Congress leader Renuka Choudhary also sought more clarity on the issue.
"This is like criminalising the triple talaq law. They have done that but now the men will just abandon us or not give us talaq. They will have polygamy or nikah halala which creates hell for us as women. I am glad it’s not a crime anymore but I do not see how it helps. The court should see across the board and give us clarity," she said.
Other activists and lawyers hailed the judgement.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan termed the verdict a fine judgement.
Another fine judgement by the SC striking down the antiquated law in Sec 497 of Penal code, which treats women as property of husbands & criminalises adultery (only of man who sleeps with someone's wife). Adultery can be ground for divorce but not criminal https://t.co/hVtUlpzxep— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) September 27, 2018
Congress MP and president of women's wing of the party Sushmita Dev agreed with him.
Excellent decision to de-criminalise adultery. Also a law that does not give women the right to sue her adulterer husband & can’t be herself sued if she is in adultery is unequal treatment & militates against her status as an individual separate entity. https://t.co/kx4rvkwxxd— Sushmita Dev (@sushmitadevmp) September 27, 2018
Dev’s party colleague Priyanka Chaturvedi lauded the verdict, saying there are some laws that need to be changed, modified or removed with time.
"It was a 150-year-old law which does not have a place in new India but at the same time we also want to note that adultery is not normal and can be a ground for divorce which in my opinion is a very fair judgement keeping in mind the country we live in and the century we are living in," she said.
Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) and a CPI (ML) Polit Bureau member said decriminalising adultery is welcome and was long overdue.
Decriminalising of #Adultery is welcome and long overdue. Adultery is now grounds for divorce not crime. The law criminalising men for relations with some other man's wife was patriarchal, assumes wife is husband's property and has no autonomy. Good riddance #AdulteryVerdict— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) September 27, 2018
National Commission for Women (NCW) chief Rekha Sharma, too, welcomed the judgement and said it should have been removed long time ago.
"This is a law from the British era, although British had done away with it long back, we were still stuck with it," she said.
According to social activist Ranjana Kumari, "patriarchal control" over women was unacceptable. "We welcome the judgement by the SC striking down the 158yr old law based on Victorian values, in Sec 497 of Penal code, which treats women as property of husbands & criminalises adultery. Patriarchal control over women's body unacceptable," she tweeted.
The Supreme Court bench held that while adultery should not be a criminal offence it would continue to be treated as civil wrong, and can be ground for dissolution of marriage. There can't be any social licence which destroys a home, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.
Section 497 of the 158-year-old IPC said: "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 offence of adultery."