Perhaps it is time to address it, that elephant in the bedroom, lying on the marital bed, covers neatly tucked under its chin, snoring complacently. Adultery.
Defined as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse, adultery though increasingly common across all segments of society, is still socially reprehensible. In India, it is criminal, punishable by a jail sentence. But there’s a caveat, the punishment for adultery is applicable only to the man who commits adultery with another man’s wife. And therein lies all that is problematic.
The law on adultery in India is rather archaic, and was drawn up over a century ago, remaining unchanged since, though attempts have been made to do so.
The law on adultery in India is rather archaic, and was drawn up over a century ago, remaining unchanged since, though attempts have been made to do so. According to section 497 of the IPC, a consensual-sexual relationship between a man and a married women is prohibited if the woman does not have the consent from her husband. The law punishes the man for adultery only if the husband files a complaint. If an aggrieved husband complains about a man having consensual-sexual relations with his wife, the offender can be imprisoned for up to five years. Interestingly though, if the husband commits adultery, there is no similar recourse for the wife to seek redressal. He can only be charged if his paramour is married too, and her husband files a case against him.
This gender bias in the law is skewed in favour of women, and unfairly so. This bias, though comes from the place of patriarchy, which dictates that a wife is the husband’s ‘property’. The woman gets away scot-free even though she is equally culpable of having committed adultery. Thankfully, this outdated premise and law though, is getting a much-needed re-look with the recent announcement last week that a five judge bench of the Supreme Court will now deliberate about whether women should be punished for adultery. According to Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, men are solely treated as perpetrators and women bear no onus for adultery.
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