The Union Government on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that dropping Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code would be a dangerous move. Section 497 of the IPC deals with adultery and the Supreme Court is overhearing a petition filed by Joseph Shine and represented by advocate Kaleeswaram Raj and Suvidutt M.S. The petition filed by Joseph Shine seeks the dropping of adultery as a criminal offence from the statute book. The centre, in 11-page affidavit, contended before the Supreme Court that the Section 497 of the IPC “supports, safeguards and protects the institution of marriage.” It also agreed with the fact that “stability of a marriage is not an ideal to be scorned.”
Section 497 of the IPC which deals with adultery is a pre-independence era provision which treats married woman as her husband’s “subordinate” and therefore violates the constitutional concepts of gender equality. Section 497 states: “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 SC had termed the penal provisions under Section 497 as archaic and had shown the intent to reconsider its past decisions and views from 1954 onwards. Although the centre has chosen to challenge dropping of the Section 497 from the IPC it is yet to make its stand clear on whether it is willing to add clauses to make women more accountable in case of ‘adultery’. Treating women as “subordinates” of their husbands gives them an extra edge over the males in this case, a woman even if found indulging in adultery cannot be punished “as an abettor” according to the present law. This lopsided law cannot and should not work in today’s day and age. Accountability of maintaining sanctity of marriage should fall on both the gender equally.
The SC bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra had earlier too raised questions on social progress, outlook and gender equality and sensitivity considering the aforementioned section considers the man as an adulterer while the participating woman is treated as a victim. “The provision [Section 497] really creates a dent in the individual independent identity of a woman when the emphasis is laid on the connivance or consent of the husband. This tantamount to subordination of a woman where the Constitution confers [women] equal status,” the Supreme Court had said earlier in the previous hearing. The Constitution of India grants equal status to everyone irrespective of their gender, Section 497 therefore is not just favouring the women but giving them a distinct advantage even when they have carried out the act of their own free will and threatened the ‘sanctity of marriage’.
We wish the final judgement on this issue will provide equal status to both men and women and it punishes the guilty. The centre too should push in this regard and make this age-old law relevant and more suitable for today’s day and age as soon as possible.