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Not a crime: on Supreme Court’s adultery ruling

By decriminalising adultery, the Supreme Court strikes a blow for individual rights
The cleansing of the statute(क़ानून/व्यवस्था) books of provisions(प्रावधानों) that criminalise consensual(सहमति ) relations among adults continues, with the Supreme Court finally striking down a colonial-era law that made adultery(व्यभिचार)
punishable with a jail term and a fine. In four separate(अलग) but concurring(मेल खाना) opinions, a five-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, finally transported India into the company of countries that no longer consider(विचार करें) adultery an offence(अपराध,), only a ground for divorce. They have removed provisions related to adultery in the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. According to Section 497 of the IPC, which now stands struck(मारना/चोट देना) down, a man had the right to initiate(आरंभ करना) criminal proceedings against his wife’s lover. In treating women as their husband’s property, as individuals bereft(पागल/दीवाना) of agency, the law was blatantly(ऊधम के साथ/स्पष्ट रूप) gender-discriminatory; aptly(जिसे उपयुक्त), the Court also struck down Section 198(2) of the CrPC under which which the husband alone could complain against adultery. Till now, only an adulterous woman’s husband could prosecute(निर्वाह करना/मुक़दमा करना) her lover, though she could not be punished; an adulterous man’s wife had no such right. In a further comment on her lack of sexual freedom and her commodification under the 158-year-old law, her affair with another would not amount to adultery if it had the consent(सहमति/सम्मति) of her husband. “The history of Section 497 reveals that the law on adultery was for the benefit of the husband, for him to secure ownership over the sexuality of his wife,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud wrote. “It was aimed at preventing the woman from exercising her sexual agency.”

But the challenge before the court was not to equalise(समान बनाना/एक रूप करना)) the right to file a criminal complaint, by allowing a woman to act against her husband’s lover. It was, instead, to give the IPC and the CrPC a good dusting, to rid it of Victorian-era morality(नैतिकता). It is only in a progressive(प्रगतिशील/उन्नतिशील) legal landscape that individual rights flourish(विकास/महत्त्व दिखलाना) — and with the decriminalisation(वैधीकरण) of adultery India has taken another step towards rights-based(अधिकार आधारित) social relations, instead of a state-imposed moral order. That the decriminalisation of adultery comes soon after the Supreme Court judgment that read down Section 377 of the IPC to decriminalise homosexuality(समलैंगिकता), thereby enabling diverse gender identities to be unafraid(अभीत) of the law, is heartening. However, it is a matter of concern that refreshing the statute books is being left to the judiciary, without any proactive role of Parliament in amending(संशोधन) regressive(प्रतिगामी/पश्च) laws. The shocking message here is not merely that provisions such as Section 497 or 377 remained so long in the IPC, it is also that Parliament failed in its legislative responsibility to address them.



Important Vocabulary

1.Concurring(मेल खाना)
Synonyms: acquiesce, coincide, jibe, accede, accord
Antonyms: clash, disagree, deny, disallow, disapprove

Synonyms: infidelity, affair, cheating, fling, fornication
Antonyms: faithfulness

3.Flourish(विकास/महत्त्व दिखलाना))
Synonyms: embellishment, ornamentation, quirk, twist, curl

Synonyms: counterrevolutionary, regressive, rightist, rigid, Tory
Antonyms: liberal, progressive, radical

Synonyms: acquiescence, approval, assent, authorization, blessing
Antonyms: denial, disagreement, disapproval, dissent, prohibition

6.Struck(मारना/चोट देना)
Synonyms: battered, hurt, pounded, smacked




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