The Supreme Court has stood up for gender justice once again. Also, it has placed India firmly in an enlightened modern space in which there is no place for the historical baggage of Victorian morals in a 158-year-old colonial-era law. How incongruous the law on adultery sounded in treating a woman as her husband’s chattel, and despite which it punished only the man for having an affair. “It’s time to say that the husband is not the master of his wife,” said Chief Justice Dipak Misra. An important principle is set, in keeping with what the morals and ethics of marriage have suggested down the ages, to preserve the sanctity of the matrimonial bond. Adultery will, however, remain a civil law ground for divorce.
The contrasting point the verdict makes is over the instant triple talaq ruling, and the hasty ordinance that criminalised it in ordering jail terms upto three years for the man. The very liberal view — that a total ban on adultery would denude women from making choices, did not, however, be seen to figure in dealing with the old-fashioned Muslim practice of instant triple talaq. It stands to reason that a consequence of jailing the man may make the offended woman’s lot worse in getting maintenance, etc.
It would have been fairer had the astonishingly progressive views prevailed uniformly on all sensitive gender issues — on defanging Section 377, criminalising instant triple talaq and scrapping the adultery law. The early perception that the man is the seducer and the wife the victim in adultery cases was not too open-minded either. But thanks to the spirited way in which the Supreme Court has taken upon itself the onus of resolving knotty issues, we stand today as a more open society with a clearer understanding of gender equality.