The Centre on Wednesday contended that adultery should remain an offence and opposed a petition before the Supreme Court that sought to make men and women equally liable under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code. A Constitution bench of the Supreme Court is re-examining the constitutionality of Section 497 of IPC that incorporates provisions for the adultery law. The bench will also adjudicate whether the exemption granted to women from being punished for adultery required to be changed.
“Adultery should remain an offence. Diluting adultery law will impact the sanctity of marriages. Making adultery legal will hurt marriage bonds,” the Centre said in its affidavit before the apex court. The Centre said Section 497 was enacted so as to safeguard the sanctity of marriage.
The court is hearing a petition filed by non-resident Keralite Joseph Shine, filed through advocate Suvidutt Sundaram, challenging the constitutionality of Section 497 IPC read with Section 198(2) of the CrPC, which deals with prosecution for offences against marriages.
The petitioner has said Section 497 IPC was unconstitutional as it discriminated against men and violated Article 14, 15 and 21. “When the sexual intercourse takes place with the consent of both the parties, there is no good reason for excluding one party from the liability,” the PIL contended.
Adultery is not considered a criminal offence towards women in India and has been in limelight for being discriminatory towards men. On January 5, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, referred the PIL to a Constitutional bench. The bench had contended the provision seemed “quite archaic, especially when there is societal progress”. In three earlier judgments in 1954, 1985 and in 1988, the court had upheld the provision.
Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code states 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 offence of adultery”. The offence of adultery entails punishment of up to five years or with fine or with both. However, in such cases, the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.
However, it must be mentioned that only sexual intercourse with a married woman would amount to adultery. Sexual relations with a widow, sex worker or an unmarried woman does not attract this section. This has been confirmed by the Delhi High Court in the case of Brij Lal Bishnoi v/s State (1996).