India’s apex court has reserved its verdict on pleas that were filed challenging constitutional validity of penal law on adultery. The Supreme Court questioned the government’s stand defending the adultery law that punishes a married man for having a sexual relationship with a married woman.
On the government’s defensive stance to retain the Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for preserving the “sanctity of marriage”, the Supreme Court asked the Centre “what public good” the penal law on adultery served as it provided that no offence would be made if the husband of a woman approves an adulterous relationship. 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.”
The hearing in the case by the bench, which also comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, went on for six days and had commenced on August 1.
“Where is the sanctity of marriage when the husband can consent,” asked Justice Nariman. The Chief Justice said: “We are not questioning the legislature’s competence to make laws but where is the ‘collective good’ in Section 497 of IPC.”
Telling Additional Solicitor General Pinki Anand that “dichotomy is manifest (in Section 497)”, Chief Justice Misra said: “Husband can only have control over his emotion and cannot ask wife to do this or that.”
The court was hearing a PIL challenging the constitutional validity of Section 497 of the IPC and Section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.