Constitution bench to look at ‘discriminatory’ adultery law

Supreme Court (File/IANS)

New Delhi, Jan 5  The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a five-judge constitution bench a plea challenging the constitutional validity of the IPC’s Section 497 stipulating prosecution of the man in an adulterous relationship with a married woman and letting off the woman who is otherwise an equal participant in the extramarital affair.

Referring to the earlier two judgments of the top court upholding this section, the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said these need reconsideration.

The top court, by its 1954 and later in 1985 order by the bench of four judges and three judges respectively, had upheld the validity of this section of the Indian Penal Code.

Holding that these judgments needed to reconsidered, the court said when there is a societal progress, outlook, gender equality and gender sensitivity, there has to be a different kind of focus on the affirmative rights conferred on the women.

Section 497 on adultery 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 to 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 five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor”.

The court order referring the challenge to the validity of Section 497 to the constitution bench came on a plea by petitioner Joseph Shine.

The PIL petitioner has also challenged Section 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that allows the aggrieved husband of the married woman in adulterous relationship to file a complaint and not the aggrieved wife of the man in adulterous relationship.

Shine has questioned the validity of these sections on the grounds of their being violative of the Constitution’s Articles 14 (Equality before law), 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty).