In its reply, the Centre said if Section 497 was struck down, adulterous relations would have a freer play than now.
New Delhi: The Centre on Wednesday strongly opposed in the Supreme Court a plea to reconsider the legal validity of the 157-year-old adultery law in the Indian Penal Code punishing only the man and not the married woman for adultery, treating her as a victim, not an abettor of crime.
The Centre made this submission in an affidavit ahead of the hearing in the next few days by a five-judge Constitution Bench on the legal validity of Section 497 IPC relating to adultery.
Section 497 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 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.”
Petitioner Joseph Shine argued when sexual intercourse takes place with the consent of both parties, there is no good reason to exclude one party from liability. This, he said, was against the true scope and nature of Article 14.
He said Section 497 IPC couldn’t be interpreted as a beneficial provision under Article 15(3) as well. It also indirectly discriminates against women by holding an erroneous presumption that women are the property of men. This is further evident by the fact that if adultery is engaged with the consent of the husband of the woman, then such an act ceases to be a punishable offence, he argued, and prayed for striking down this provision.
In its reply, the Centre said if Section 497 was struck down, adulterous relations would have a freer play than now. It would then be impossible to convict anyone of adultery, and said it was better from the point of view of society’s interests that a limited class of adulterous relationship was punishable by law.
The Centre said striking down this clause would amount to decriminalising the offence of adultery, thus eroding the sanctity of marriage and the fabric of society at large. It would be detrimental to the intrinsic Indian ethos, that gives paramount importance to the institution of marriage, it said. Section 497 IPC was created by the legislature in its wisdom to protect and safeguard the sanctity of marriage, keeping in mind Indian society’s unique structure and culture, it said, and sought dismissal of the writ petition.