A 158-year-old law was taken down this Thursday. Many wonder if this could this be a change for women in India.
India’s supreme court struck down “Section 497,” a colonial-era law regarding adultery. Under this law, a man could be imprisoned for five years for engaging in sexual relations with a married woman without the consent of her husband. In opposition, if a woman’s husband was unfaithful, she would not have been granted the same legal right.
“Section 497” of the Indian Penal Code took down the law, calling it retrograde and discriminatory toward women. “It’s time to say that a husband is not the master of his wife,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra read from the judgement. “Legal sovereignity of one sex over the other sex is wrong.”
The verdict from Misra and the five-panel jury were united in the decision, declaring the law, a clear violation of fundamental rights granted in the constitution.
“The adultery law is arbitrary and it offends the dignity of a woman,” Mirsa said, according to NPR. The five-panel jury added the “archaic law long outlived its purpose and does not square with constitutional morality.”
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was also questioning the double standard immersed in “Section 497” during the four day hearing. He asked, “you asked exact fidelity from a woman but not from a man?”
A Kerala native, Joseph Shrire, was the one who urged India’s supreme court to reexamine the validity of Section 497. According to an article printed in CNN, Jayna Kothari, an attorney and executive director of the Center for Law and Policy Research in Bangalore said, “It is a big victory for women’s status and position within marriage and within families. The adultery offense was used really as a threat against women by their husbands.”
In regard to the “sanctity of marriage” this constitutional law had been sprung by family rights activists, who insisted it necessary to preserve social stability.
Within the Indian government, a coalition was led by Prime Minister Nareadra Modi, who supported adultery as a criminal offense, suggesting that rather than completely forgoing the law, it should change to a gender neutrality status with the same punishment for men and women.
However, during the ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed concerns of the abolishment. One person from the ruling said, “Each partner to a marriage is equally responsible to keep the sanctity of marriage intact.”
One other person, according to an article printed in CNN, said, “ ‘Section 497’ destroys and deprives women of dignity and is destructive of women’s dignity, self-respect as it treats women as chattel.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, opposition Congress Party MP and president of the Party’s Women wing, Sushmita Dev, spoke of the ruling as an “excellent decision.”
“A law that does not give women the right to sue her adulterer husband and can’t be herself sued if she commits adultery is unequal treatment and militates against her status as an individual separate entity,” she said.
From the Times View, this is their hope: “We hope the government will now show good sense in accepting the verdict and not seek a review.”
Chief Justice Mira also hopes to bring about a change in Indian society, “we are of the view that there cannot be a patriarchal monarchy over the daughter or, for that matter, husband’s monarchy over wife. That part, there cannot be a community exposition of masculine dominance.”
From an article printed in the Times of India, Chief Justice Noriman also commented on the need for change:
“This archaic law has long outlived its purpose and does not serve with today’s constitutional morality, in that the very object with which it was made has since become manifestly arbitrary, having lost its rationale long ago and having become in today’s day utterly irrational. On this basis alone, the law deserves to be struck down,” he said.