SC Strikes Down Section 497; Men and Women To be Treated Alike for Adultery Charges

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of India today decided that Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code was an arbitrary law in that it violated Article 14 that dealt specifically with the “right to equality”. This ruling deemed that both men and women who were part of an adulterous relationship would be subject to the same actions by law, whereas earlier, the woman was not punishable for the offence of adultery. Chief Justice Dipak Misra provided the additional insight of how adultery would be construed if the actions of those in the relationship led to any actions of their spouse(s) when he said, “Mere adultery cannot be a crime. But if any aggrieved spouse committed suicide because of a life partner’s adulterous relation and evidence is produced, it could be treated as abetment to suicide.”


The primary issue as common in several petitions brought against the laws that dictated legal recourse in the event of adultery was that as it stood, they were discriminating against men. As such, the way the matter of adultery was being dealt with in courts appeared to be granting protection to the women who were involved in extramarital affairs. Chief Justice Dipak Misra once again commented on this matter when he said, “Parameters of fundamental rights should include rights of women. Individual dignity is important in a sanctified society. The system cannot treat women unequally. Women can’t be asked to think what a society desires.”

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