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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

India moving westwards: Top Court decriminalizes adultery

News Analysis |

Declaring an old colonial penalty null and void, Indian Supreme Court has ruled today on Thursday, 27th September that Adultery is no longer a crime, declaring the previous law unconstitutional and discriminatory against women. The more than century-old law said that any man who slept with a married woman without her husband’s permission had committed adultery, a crime carrying a five-year prison term in the excessively conservative country. A petitioner had challenged the court to strike down the law, describing it as arbitrary and discriminatory against women, according to an Indian press agency.

“Thinking of adultery from a point of view of criminality is a retrograde step,” unanimously declared the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court. Women could not file a complaint under the archaic law nor be held liable for adultery themselves, making it solely the realm of men. The court said it deprived women of dignity and individual choice and “gives license to the husband to use women as a chattel. It disregards the sexual autonomy which every woman possesses and denies agency to a woman in a matrimonial tie,” said Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud.

The Indian Top Court’s rulings are bringing to light a new wave of secularism and social acceptance into the mainstream.

This is the second sexual-choice-centric landmark decision that the Indian top court has overturned in the running month; in a move that sent shockwaves, Indian Supreme Court had ruled to waive a ban on gay sexual intercourse, a ban that had been effective and the act criminalized since 1861, imposed by the British. The bench had argued that Section 377 (the criminalization of gay sex) had become “a weapon for harassment” of homosexuals and “history owes an apology to the members of this community and their families”.

On adultery, government lawyers argued it should remain a crime as it threatened the institution of marriage, and caused harm to children and families. In its ruling, the court said extramarital affairs, while still a valid ground for divorce, were a private matter between consenting adults. Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer in the Supreme Court, said watershed decisions on gay sex and adultery had shown the judges’ “adherence to liberal values and the constitution”.

Read more: India SC legalizes gay sex amidst the rise of Hindutva

“Another fine judgment by the SC,” he Tweeted after Thursday’s ruling. In 1954, the court upheld adultery as a crime arguing “it is commonly accepted that it is the man who is the seducer and not the woman”. But in their ruling on Thursday, the judges said this narrative no longer applied, noting also that Britain did away with its own laws penalizing adultery long ago. “Man being the seducer and women being the victim no longer exits. Equality is the governing principle of a system. Husband is not the master of the wife,” the verdict added.

The Indian Top Court’s rulings are bringing to light a new wave of secularism and social acceptance into the mainstream. For a society like India’s, the need for regression of religious bigotry and oppressive values undermining the sanctity of choice is dire and great. While these decisions may not be popular nationwide, they do serve as triggers for various, more serious issues that have been in the corner for decades.