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Adultery must remain a punishable offence: Centre

The government on Wednesday submitted that dropping of adultery as an offence from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) will erode the sanctity of marriage and be detrimental to the “intrinsic Indian ethos.”

In an 11-page affidavit which will be taken up before a Constitution Bench, the Centre said the provision punishing adultery — Section 497 of IPC — “supports, safeguards and protects the institution of marriage” considering the “unique structure and culture of Indian society.” The government agreed to the thought that “stability of a marriage is not an ideal to be scorned” and striking down Section 497 would destroy the fabric of society itself.

Gender equality

The Constitution Bench is scheduled to decide on whether the pre-Independence provision of adultery in the IPC treats a married woman as her husband’s “subordinate” and violates the constitutional concepts of gender equality and sensitivity. The petition filed by Joseph Shine seeks to drop Section 497 as a criminal offence from the statute book.

A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra had observed that the provision raised a question mark on social progress, outlook, gender equality and gender sensitivity. It was time to bring to the forefront a different view with focus on the rights of women, Chief Justice Misra observed.

The Constitution Bench to be headed by Chief Justice Misra is likely to consider whether Section 497 treats the man as the adulterer and the married woman as a victim.

The larger Bench may also examine why the offence of adultery ceases the moment it is established that the husband connived with or consented to the adulterous act. So, is a married woman the “property” of her husband or a passive object without a mind of her own?

“The provision really creates a dent in the individual independent identity of a woman when the emphasis is laid on the connivance or consent of the husband,” the SC had declared in the previous hearing.