Women can’t be treated as cattle: SC strikes down adultery law

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, an adultery law dating to the British era, terming it unconstitutional, archaic and manifestly arbitrary, with one judge saying women can’t be treated as “cattle”.

“Mere adultery can’t be a criminal offense. It is a matter of privacy. Husband is not the master of a wife. Women should be treated with equality along with men,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.

Most countries have abolished adultery as a crime. “It shouldn’t be a criminal offense, other people are also involved in it,” Misra said, reading out the judgment, also on behalf of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar.

Any discrimination shall invite the wrath of the Constitution, the Chief Justice said, adding that a woman cannot be asked to think about the way society desires her to do.

Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, reading out his judgment, said: “Women can’t be treated like cattle”.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud in a concurring but separate judgment said society has two sets of morality in sexual behavior — one for women and another for men.

Society treating women as the embodiment of virtue leads to things like honor killings, he said, adding that the archaic law is against dignity, liberty and sexual autonomy guaranteed under the Constitution.

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