What is Section 497 (adultery) of the Indian Penal Code? Explain how it
promotes gender discrimination and Mention the stand of judiciary in this
The Supreme Court has decided to re-examine the offence of
adultery. Because it is gender discriminatory. In another judgement Supreme
court has held that Adultery itself is not cruelty to wife.
What is Adultery?
Although there is no specific definition of Adultery as it
varies according to Religion, Culture and Legal terms but in general Adultery is
considered an act of voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person other
than with spouse. Children born under adultery lead to an impurity in Blood
Line. In order to ensure the purity of children, Adultery Laws like section 497
of IPC were introduced.
Adultery Law in India
Under IPC (Indian Penal Code)1860, Section 497 adultery is punishable
offense. Adultery is punishable with an imprisonment for a term up-to five
years, or with fine, or both.
Section 497 of IPC
This section is gender discriminatory in nature. As this Section
punishes only men having voluntary sexual intercourse with other men’s wife, and
not women. Section 497 is violative of Article 14 (Equality before law), Article
15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, Race, caste, sex) of
the Constitution of India as it discriminates among the genders.
Section 498 of IPC
Detaining of women with an intention of having illicit
intercourse is punishable offense.
198 (1) and (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure
It mentions that only a husbanded of a women can be an
aggrieved party in offences against marriage like adultery under section 497 of
IPC and only the husband can go to the court. Section 497 of the
IPC and section 198(1) ,section 198(2)
of the Criminal Procedure Code go hand in hand.
How Gender Discriminatory?
Under section 497 if adultery is committed, the husband can’t
prosecute own wife but can only prosecute her adulterer. Section 497 differentiates
between consent by a married woman without her husband’s consent and a consent
given by an unmarried woman. It doesn’t criminalise the sexual intimacy of
Married Man with an unmarried Women/ widow.
Why such Gender Discrimination?
When section 497 was enacted polygamy was prevalent in the
society. Often women were starved of love of their husbands, such women could easily
be attracted to other men who offered it to them. Law Commission of India, 1847
on whose recommendation IPC, 1860 was prepared recognised, the poor condition
of women (Prevalence of Sati, Gender Discrimination, Purdah System, Female Foeticide
etc) & considered that women are not capable of such crimes and the Law
Commission also accepted the responsibility to protect women.
Supreme Court Judgements
Yusuf Abdul Aziz case
Constitutional Bench ruled that Section
497 is not inconsistent with article 14&15 of Indian Constitution as the
constitution itself provides protection to women and children.
Sowmithri Vishnu v. Union of India
Supreme Court analysed the meaning and
the purpose of the law. SC considered man and not women as seducer. Thus Upheld
the validity of Section 497 of IPC.
V. Revathi v. Union of India
Court mentioned that the Law punishes
the outsider who tries to break the matrimonial alliance by developing illicit
relationship. And it does not arm the
husband and wife with the criminal law weapon to hit upon each other. Thus law was
Commission in 1971 suggested about reducing the imprisonment term from 5 years
to 2 Years and making Section 497, gender Neutral. But these suggestions were not
for women in 2006 recommended that Adultery should be decriminalised.
Criticism Against the Law
Some criticize it that it has not been able to keep Adultery
at bay. But so is the case with other criminal Laws. No law in itself is a fool
proof against any crime.
As this provision treats Women as a personal property of men
and does not consider women as an independent entity, which is further impediment
to Gender Empowerment.
Criminalisation of a particular act does not change social
Critics consider Section 497 as a blank cheque to women to
have intercourse with as many men as she wishes and not being liable for such immoral
Many countries across the world has decriminalised Adultery.
Prime example is of UK which was the creator of such section under IPC 1860, it
has also decriminalised it and adultery
is no more a criminal offense in UK.