SC Strikes down Adultery Law, Owaisi crying for Triple Talaq
| Kanishka Singh, Editor-Nutrition, IOP - 28 Sep 2018

SC Strikes down Adultery Law, Owaisi crying for Triple Talaq


By Kanishka Singh

“Husband is not the master of the woman,” says Supreme Court

New Delhi, Sep 27, 2018: Adultery is an offence and a convict can be sentenced to 5 yrs. jail term or fine or both. There was no punishment for the women, who was seen as the victim.  According to Section 497 of IPC, adultery is an offence committed by a man against a married man if the former engages in sexual intercourse with the latter’s wife. The law has come under a sharp criticism for treating women with inequality and as a possession of men in a marriage.

On Thursday the SC bench of five judges, Chief justice Dipak Misra and justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra held that Section 497 of IPC is unconstitutional. A unanimous verdict delivered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on an ongoing crucial 158 years old adultery law which was made in 1860 under IPC in India. The bench was dealing with the offence of adultery, and struck down the IPC section declaring the provision unconstitutional, saying “it was manifestly arbitrary and dents the individuality of women”. The SC, calling adultery a relic of the past said Section 497 “denudes women from making choices”.

The SC also said that any provision treating women with inequality is unconstitutional. Section 498 deprives women from her dignity in a marriage and that women are treated as PROPERTY of her husband. The SC bench holded the decision by adding, “Adultery will remain a ground for divorce”.

SC said in its decision that “the law is arbitrary and is a clear violation of the Right to Equality”. Outgoing Chief Justice Dipak Misra said “Adultery cannot and should not be a crime”. As he began reading out the verdict, the Chief Justice remarked that the beauty of the constitution is it includes “the I, me and you” and “Any law which dents individual dignity and equity of women in a civilized society invites the wrath of the constitution”.


What all is said by the court:

  •  It is the result of the patriarchal society.
  • The woman solely holds the right on her body, and any compromise cannot be made in this regard.
  • It is her right and no limitation or condition can be imposed on her.
  • The sanctity of marriage is not just applicable on women, but is applicable in equal way on men in a marriage.
  • Adultery will remain the ground for divorce.
  • Now the time is to say that “Husband is not the owner or possessor of his wife”.
  • Any provision which affects adversely the respect of any individual and the right of equality for women is not good for constitution.


Decision Highlights:


  • CJI Dipak Misra said- “Adultery can be a ground for divorce but not a criminal offence”.
  • CJI Misra and Justice Khanwilkar said- “Mere adultery cannot be a crime, but if any aggrieved spouse commits suicide because of life partner’s adulterous relation, then if evidence produced, it could be treated as an abetment to suicide.
  • The bench held that adultery can be treated as civil wrong for dissolution of marriage.
  • While delivering its judgment, the SC said- “Unequal treatment of women invites the wrath of the constitution”.

Timeline of the Case:

  • Oct 10, 2017 - Plea in SC challenges the constitutional validity of Sec 497 of IPC
  • Jan 5, 2018 - Top court refers the petition to a five-judge Constitution Bench
  • July 11, 2018 - Centre tells SC that striking down Sec 497 will destroy the institution of marriage
  • August 2, 2018 -  SC says penal provision on adultery apparently violative of the right to equality
  • August 8, 2018 -  Centre favours the retention of penal law on adultery, says it is a public wrong
  • Sep 27, 2018 -  SC holds Sec 497 as unconstitutional and strikes down the penal provision

Countries, where Adultery is a Crime

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • UAE
  • US (some states)
  • Algeria
  • DR Congo
  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Nigeria (some parts)

Countries, where Adultery is Not a Crime

  • China
  • Japan
  • Brazil
  • New Zealand
  • Australia      
  • Scotland
  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Barbados
  • Bermuda
  • Jamaica
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Seychelles
  • South Korea
  • Guatemala
  • Ireland


Who Said What?

‘Verdict anti-women’

The judgment is anti-women. In a way, you have given an open license to the people of this country to be in marriages but at the same time have illegitimate relationships — Swati Maliwal, DCW Chief

‘Hell in the making’

… Now the men will just abandon us or not give us talaq. They will have polygamy or nikah hallala which creates hell for us as women. I do not see how it helps… give us clarity — Renuka Choudhary, Congress Leader

‘Fine judgment’

Another fine judgment by the SC striking down the antiquated law in Sec 497 of Penal code, which treats women as property of husbands and criminalises adultery  — Prashant Bhushan, Senior SC lawyer

‘Law had no place’

It was a 150-year-old law which does not have a place in new India… it’s is a very fair judgment keeping in mind the country we live in and the century we are living in — Priyanka Chaturvedi, Congress leader

Reacting on the Supreme Court’s verdict, AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi asked Modi government for the reversal of the triple Talaq ordinance. Moments after the 5-judge bench of Supreme Court declared penal provision on adultery as unconstitutional, terming it as a dent to the individuality of a woman, Owaisi said “first they decriminalise Section 377, then now Section 497, but why not triple talaq?.”

However, in his bid to draw comparison between the ordinance on triple talaq and Supreme Court’s landmark verdicts on Section 377 and 497, Owaisi is missing the cornerstone of these judgments, which is protecting the Right to Privacy of an individual, which is one of the fundamental rights given to every Indian citizen by the Constitution. Thus the objection raised by Owaisi is not logical and doesn’t support the women’s right of any section.

The apex court’s decision will serve in protecting and upholding equality of women rights in marriage as well as will in terms of men's level of creating the grounds for limitations, freedom and also in the cases of divorce and criminal offences against women. 

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