Scrapping Section 497A : Moral Issues Cannot Be Criminalised
The Supreme Court of India has continued its impressive form and this time scrapped Section 497A which criminalised adultery. The bench consisting of the five justices said, “Adultery can be ground for civil issues, including dissolution of marriage, but it cannot be a criminal offence.” The law previously allowed punishing a man for having a sexual relationship with a married woman without the consent of her husband. It wasn’t just fair to women, as they were reduced to being the property of their husband, but men too, as the onus of illegality, in an affair, fell on them exclusively.
There are many in our society who have defended Section 497A on grounds that it prevented men and women from crossing lines of morally acceptable behaviour in the society. What would we be left with, if promiscuity was let loose? How do we protect our culture and the sanctity of the institution of marriage, if not by instilling fear of legal consequences?
For 150 years we had criminalised a moral and civic issue to maintain the sanctity of an institution which itself is facing an existential crisis today.
Adultery is not a disease, but a sign of a suffering marriage
In India, most people see adultery as a disease. It is considered something which rots our sense of morality, breaks marriages and eventually the familial fabric of our society. But is that what adultery is? A temptation of carnal gratification, for which a man or a woman will risk a stable marriage, social standing and as was the case before today, legal consequences? Adultery in most cases is a sign of a broken marriage. A relationship marred by emotional dissatisfaction. Infidelity is just one aspect here. Sometimes it is just the need to be relevant to someone. Sometimes it is an indulgent escape from an unhappy household.
- The Supreme Court of India today scrapped Section 497A, which criminalised adultery.
- In India, many considered adultery as a rot which corrupts our sense of morality, breaking marriages, and eventually the familial fabric of our society.
- But is adultery just about sexual satisfaction, or a marriage already on verge of collapse?
Adultery is a personal choice. It can at best be an issue of morality and about maintaining the sanctity of a commitment. It is a matter between a husband and a wife, which they must sort on their own. The justified consequences here are confrontation and divorce. No marriage will be stable if the only thing preventing its disintegration is an archaic law.
The concept of marriage itself is undergoing a metamorphosis in modern times.
Sex is not just about the fulfilment of a man’s desires in Indian bedrooms today. Men and women have different sexual expectations from their partners. They have more liberal views about sex outside of marriage. Does it spoil the sanctity of marriage? The answers depend on who you are asking. Some couples remain monogamous despite having sexual partners outside of their marriage. They raise children, tend to ageing parents, run a household and stick with each other for a lifetime. So if adultery stems from consent and understanding in a couple, and not infidelity, can it even be called wrong or immoral, let alone illegal?
Scrapping section 497A thus puts the responsibility of one’s actions on an individual’s judgement and values. Whether you cross a certain line is now a matter of how it will affect your life along with your partner’s. And not whether you will go to jail for it or not.
Picture Credit: .salon.com
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.