Throw light on the IPC provision related to adultery. Do you think that the current adultery law is a gender biased law? Give reasons to support your viewpoint.

The Indian penal code recognizes adultery as a crime and a punishable offence. This law comes under the criminal law of India and has been placed under chapter XX that deals with crimes related to marriage. The laws as stated in the Indian penal code are:-

  • Section-497- Adultery“Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case, the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.”
  • Section-498- Enticing or taking away or detaining with criminal intent a marriedwoman “Whoever takes or entices any woman who is and whom he knows or has reasons to believe to be the wife of any other man, from that man, or from any person having the care of her on behalf of that man, with intent that she may have illicit intercourse with any person or conceals or detains with that intent any such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”.

Adultery laws in India are gender discriminatory
These laws were drafted in 1860 when India was under British rule and the condition of Indian woman was pathetic. During those periods, a man could’ve several wives and women were socially and economically dependent on men. Women were treated as an object and considered the property of men. Thus, while drafting the laws it was presumed that women are hapless victims, not capable of committing such an offence, instead, it must be a man who will entice her and involve her in an adulterous relationship. But these laws definitely treat a man and a woman unequally in the institution of marriage. According to these laws:-

  • Man is always a seducer and the married woman just an innocent and a submissive victim.
  • Wife is no more than a chattel to her husband and a third person had committed the crime of intruding upon his marital possession by establishing a physical relationship with his wife.
  • Only the husband of the treacherous woman (or a person who had care of the married woman) is a distressed party and he is liable to file a complaint against the third party.
  • There is no provision in the law for a woman to file a complaint against her adulterous husband. If a married man commits adultery with an unmarried woman or a widow or with a married woman with the consent of her husband, his wife is not regarded as an aggrieved party and she is not permitted to make any official grievance against her husband.

Even the SC said these laws were Victorian provision in the Indian Penal Code which treats a married woman as her husband’s subordinate. SC said that the Constitution confers equal status to a man and a woman. The time has come when society has to realise that a woman is equal to her husband in every respect
Considering the changes our society has witnessed in recent times, the Indian penal code must revise these laws and upgrade them keeping in mind the equality of men and women and enabling women to have more freedom and liberty in making their choices.

Question for UPSC Mains:
Throw light on the IPC provision related to adultery. Do you think that the current adultery law is a gender biased law? Give reasons to support your viewpoint. {250 words, 15 Marks}

Published: April 21, 2018 | Modified:June 27, 2019

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