The Centre on Wednesday opposed a plea filed before the Supreme Court seeking to make women equally liable for the crime of adultery, saying any changes in the law will hit “Indian ethos” and “sanctity of marriage”.
The British-era law on adultery treats a man having consensual sex with another man’s wife as a criminal but exempt the woman. Under the Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a man found guilty of adultery shall be punished with a jail term up to five years and a fine.
The petitioner had challenged the 157-year-old law, saying that the married woman the man has sexual intercourse with shall also be punished as she is not a victim but the abettor of the crime.
In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the Centre argued that striking down the Section 497 “will prove to be detrimental to the intrinsic Indian ethos which gives paramount importance to the institution and sanctity of marriage”.
In December 2016, the apex court had agreed to hear a petition seeking to examine the constitutional validity of the British-era law on adultery that has “gender discriminatory provision”.
"Prima facie, on a perusal of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, we find that it grants relief to the wife by treating her as a victim. It is also worthy to note that when an offence is committed by both of them one is liable for the criminal offence but the other is absolved. It seems to be based on a societal presumption," the apex court had said.
What is Section 497, a law that makes adultery a criminal offence to men
Under the Section 497 of the IPC, adultery (a man having a sexual relationship with another man's wife) is a punishable crime for men with up to 5 years of jail. However, the centuries-old law treats women as victims and not abettors.
The law 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."