The Supreme Court on Thursday declared that adultery is not a crime, saying the colonial-era anti-adultery law dented the individuality of women and treated them as "chattel of husbands".
Striking down the law, a five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra said that unequal treatment of women invites the wrath of the Constitution.
Adultery was punishable by a maximum five years in jail or fine or both.
Section 497 of the 158-year-old IPC 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."
Past instances of adultery cases in various courts in India show that the law was largely misused for dowry and to avoid giving maintenance to wives after divorce.
Outlook revisits five adultery cases from different courts:
Anusha Kumari vs Rohan on 5 December, 2017
Patna High Court
The husband alleged that his wife gave birth to a child during a period when he was away from home and had no physical relationship with her. The trial court directed them to undergo D.N.A. test. The Patna High court upheld it.
M.Chinna Karuppasamy : vs Kanimozhi : on 16 July, 2015
Madras High Court
The husband alleged that even prior to the marriage, his wife was living a wayward life, which she continued even after her marriage. The court ruled that if the wife, without any sufficient reason, refuses to live with her husband, then, she is not entitled for maintenance. But, the court said even after the decree of divorce, the divorced wife carries the obligation not to live in relationship with any other man.
Rajee vs Baburao on 11 August, 1995
Madras High Court
The husband alleged that he saw his wife talking with another person on three occasions. The lower court convicted the accused in this case. However, the Madras High Court set aside the lower court judgment, saying all three meetings were during day-time and at a time when all the three grown-up children were in the house.
Subrata Kumar Banerjee vs Dipti Banerjee on 4 June, 1973
Calcutta High Court
The man alleged that his wife had left for New Alipore with her children and another man. He alleged that this second person had paid all the usual charges of his wife during her stay in the hotels and complained of adultery. The trial court convicted them. However, Calcutta High Court acquitted them for want of evidence to prove adultery. The court observed that the woman had undergone an operation in a nursing home. She remained there in the convalescent state of health for about a month. She was taken to the hospital within the full knowledge of her husband. She was accompanied by her mother. The accused as a friend of the family had to bear the costs of the operation on the clear promise by her husband to re-pay the same. She was discharged from the hospital. Around this time, the accused was to go to Bombay and Gopalpur in connection with his job. The woman was at that time in a very low state of health. Accordingly on the suggestion of her husband, the woman was taken by the accused to Bombay and Gopalpur for a change. “Nothing abnormal is found in the same. It is hard to believe that a lady after undergoing operation in a Nursing Home would preplan for a pleasure trip merely with the idea of having sexual intercourse with another person,” said the court.
Samuel Bahadur Singh vs Smt. Roshni Singh And Anr. on 31 August, 1959
Madhya Pradesh High Court
The husband said his wife left his house informing him that she was going to her brother's place. She never came back to live with him thereafter. Later, he learned that his wife was living in adultery with another man and that she had also begotten a son from him. The court was satisfied that there was proof of illicit affection coupled with an opportunity to have committed adultery. The court, however, said that it was not satisfied that the evidence on record is sufficient to come to any positive conclusion that a child had been born to the woman after she had left her husband's shelter.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine