Legalizing Adultery Is Redefining Our Socio Cultural Ethos?

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 Tasneem Kabir                                            Adultery

Fact one: Amongst the many sacraments that Indian society upholds, the relationship between a husband and wife appears foremost.

Fact two: Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code that states the adultery law, was scrapped on September 27 by the Supreme Court judgement overturning three previous rulings that had upheld the law.

As both facts are given, there remains scope for extensive deliberation over the ramifications and consequences alongside the causality seen in the law.

The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) defines the term ‘adultery’ as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse.”

The erstwhile Section 497 of the IPC stipulated that “whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is the wife of another man, without the consent and connivance of that man…shall be punished with imprisonment extending up to five years. In such cases, the wife shall not be punishable or an abettor.”

This law has come under the scanner due to its multifaceted nature: it grants the male supreme authority over the woman, for she IS ALLOWED adultery, provided the husband is in the know. Next, it tips the scales in favour of the woman, allowing her penury for a mutual act deemed a crime.

In light of the stir-up that this law has caused, it is worth noting what the petitioners against this law stand for.

There are essentially two sides to the petitioners – one faction claiming that the law be scrapped due to the alleged threat it poses to the woman’s dignity, while the other claims that the law be amended in order that it may become gender neutral i.e. a provision be made to punish not just the man, but even the woman for committing adultery.

While both have their respective implications, the four-day long hearing in the PIL has led to the Supreme Court decriminalising the act of adultery altogether, thereby upholding the view of the first, rather radical faction of the petitioners.

Interestingly enough, Justice Indu Malhotra has pointed out that the said section goes on to inadvertently legalise adultery, if undertaken with the consent or connivance of the husband!

This verdict comes with much unsettling, for at one hand we have Justice Chandrachud exclaiming that decriminalising adultery would not amount to licensing it, and on the other hand we have an ever-escalating divorce rate in the nation, and a significant percentage of urban couples regularly visiting counsellors to sort out their marital life.

In the backdrop of this decriminalisation, we ought to ponder over how our morals and ethos risk getting eroded at a faster pace, for adultery within a married couple will now be treated as just another thing.

So long as the legal system backed the inherent immorality of adultery, there was something of a rein holding back those inkling closer to it, but with that gone, there seems to be a stark realignment of marital/gender roles as well as a redefinition of the whole concept of marriage as a sacrament! Whether this verdict holds any good, only time can tell.

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