Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code deals with Adultery. As per Indian law, a woman cannot be punished for the offence of adultery. Only a man who has consensual sexual intercourse with the wife of another man without his consent can be punished for adultery. If someone “lives in adultery”, the partner can file for divorce. The law became defunct on 27 Sep 2018 following a ruling by the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court called article 497 ‘unconstitutional’ because it “treats a husband as the master.”
| article 497 refers to Adultery as ‘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 offense of rape, is guilty of the offense of adultery, and 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 case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.
As a layman, foreign to law and judicial jargon, it took a while and some research to decipher Section 497, which ultimately was unraveled thusly:
One, that the married woman is not going to be regarded as an ‘abettor’ of the offence, which means that the woman will not be held liable for the act of adultery- only the man involved in the act will be held criminally liable under the section.
Second, the law does not apply in the case where an unmarried woman has intercourse with a married man.
Finally, the act is not regarded to be an offence or can be ‘cured’ of its criminality if the husband of the married woman consents to her having intercourse with another man.
In addition to this, Section 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure gives only the husband the right to file a case against the man involved in the act of adultery. Thus, this section merely reinforces the archaic thinking and sexual stereotype that a woman ‘belongs’ to a man and cannot have her own thoughts or opinions; this, even if she had voluntarily consented to the act of intercourse.
The court by declaring section 497 defunct, attempted to set free wives from the shackles of their husbands! It sought to ‘teeth women with more parity with men’. There are many dimensions to this historic, and rather ‘path breaking’ ruling by the learned court, which had the puritans and various faiths drop their lower jaw in alarm. Is India, a nation which has been lately witnessing sexual promiscuity run roughshod over her otherwise conservative society (in comparison with the West on such matters) mature enough to have the ruling enacted? Won’t the worms already out there in every nook and corner of India to eve-tease, stalk, rape and tear asunder womanhood have a free run? Further, with green license shown to commit adultery tear asunder families? (Though the Court cites statistics that refutes such fears) Won’t sex-hungry men prey on married women with no-holds-barred? Won’t the graph of divorces take an upward climb, as adultery still stands as ground for divorce?
As a safeguard against ‘men on the prowl’, walls separating homes will have to be raised, with barbed wires and glass pieces crowning them to keep predators away!
The ruling brings to mind a Mollywood blockbuster ‘Ayalathe Adhehum’ (the gentleman neighbor), which tells the tale of a man who pretends to be an ideal husband before his wife who adores him, and sight for sore eyes for the husband of their neighboring couple, who, seemingly indifferent, conservative and not overtly romantic doesn’t measure up as ‘ideal husband’ to his wife, who yearns for more expressive family life. An adulterous incident unsettles the otherwise peaceful neighborhood. The adulterer ultimately turns out to be the gentleman husband, much to the chagrin of his cheated wife, and triumph of his less demonstrative neighboring husband. The ruling could have more ayalathe adhehums have a free run!
Every major religion talks strongly against adultery. Leaving aside religious implications of the ‘landmark ruling by the court, every right-thinking Indian wonders why the judiciary fails to come to the aid of women who are raped, impregnated, molested, and physically abused by sex-crazy men? What about women, at the mercy of their drunken husbands almost daily, suffer physically, emotionally and psychologically? What about those killed by husbands and their families for inadequate dowry? And girl children pushed into flesh trade for money by their own parents? Don’t they need to be protected in this land? Do they have to have more oil poured into the cauldron they’re already in, with their husbands frolicking in adultery, which is now legal? What about thousands of cases pending in courts? Don’t they need to be settled, and justice served? As the country struggles to come to terms with this ruling, Kamasutra, India’s handbook to vitalized sexuality is likely to be referred to by more men, who chose to take the court’s ruling rather seriously, in the process breaking many a Mangalsutra (wedding chain)!