The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday said adultery was not a crime as it struck down the colonial-era anti-adultery law as unconstitutional. In its order, the court said the law dented the individuality of women and treated them as “chattel of husbands”.
The SC’s five-judge Constitution Bench was unanimous in striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), dealing with the offence of adultery, holding it as manifestly arbitrary, archaic and violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women. Adultery was punishable by a maximum five years in jail or fine or both. A five-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud, and Indu Malhotra said that unequal treatment of women invites the wrath of the Constitution.
For Justice Chandrachud, it was the second occasion that he overruled a judgment of his father, former chief justice of India (CJI) Y V Chandrachud. In 1985, the then chief justice had upheld the validity of the adultery law. The son on Thursday said the earlier view cannot be regarded as “correct exposition” of the constitutional position.
In August 2017, Chandrachud Junior had overruled another of his father’s judgment while delivering the verdict declaring privacy as a fundamental right. He had termed as “seriously flawed” the 1976 Emergency-era verdict in the famous ADM Jabalpur case in which his father was part of the majority judgment by a five-judge Constitution Bench.
In the ADM Jabalpur case, the five-judge Bench by a majority verdict of 4:1 – with Justice Hans Raj Khanna dissenting – had concluded that Article 21 is the sole repository of all rights to life and personal liberty and when suspended, takes away those rights altogether.
The May 27, 1985, judgment by a three-judge Bench in Sowmithri Vishnu versus Union of India was penned by then CJI Y V Chandrachud who had dismissed the petition challenging the validity of Section 497 of the IPC, which dealt with the offence of adultery. His son on Thursday said the decision in Sowmithri Vishnu case dealt with “constitutional challenge by approaching the discourse on the denial of equality in formal, and rather narrow terms”.