India Supreme Court Strikes Down Adultery Law, Affirms ‘Husband Is Not The Master Of His Wife’

The previous, colonial-era law provided punishments for men who had slept with married women without first obtaining permission from their husbands.

Two hands from two separate individuals are clasped together during an India marriage ceremony.
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The previous, colonial-era law provided punishments for men who had slept with married women without first obtaining permission from their husbands.

The highest court in India, the world’s most populated democracy, has struck down a marital law that many considered sexist and biased against wives in the nation.

The law known as Section 479 penalized extramarital sex between consenting parties, punishing any man who had sex with the wife of another man if he had not first received the husband’s permission to do so, according to CNN. Conversely, the colonial-era law did not provide any kind of reciprocity, as no punishment for women who had affairs with married men existed within the statute.

Furthermore, legal experts believed the law restricted the autonomy that women should be able to have over their own bodies, married or not. The court, in its ruling, explained that husbands could no longer hold this kind of power over their wives’ decisions.

“It’s time to say that (a) husband is not the master of (his) wife. Legal sovereignty of one sex over the other sex is wrong,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra read aloud from the judgment.

The decision by the court was unanimous, as all five justices agreed that the law was both unjust and unfair to women in marriages, giving husbands the authority to determine if they could have extramarital sex or not.

Jayna Kothari, executive director of the Center for Law and Policy Research in Bangalore, expressed how important the ruling truly was. “It is a big victory for women’s status and position within marriage and within families,” Kothari said.

India government lawyers, supported by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, argued in favor of keeping the law intact. Recognizing that the law treated wives unfairly, the government said they would change the law to add punishments for women who didn’t get permission from wives to have extramarital relationships with husbands, but the court rejected that suggestion.

“Section 497 destroys and deprives women of dignity and is destructive of women’s dignity, self-respect as it treats women as chattel,” the court’s decision stated.

This is the second ruling within the past month that the top court in India has ruled against a colonial-era law in that nation. Earlier in September, the court also struck down a law that criminalized gay sexual intercourse between consenting adults.

The court also ruled that, while no longer a criminal offense, adultery could remain a justification for divorce between a married couple, according to reporting from the Times of India. The court also recognized that adultery may not be the cause of an unhappy marriage, but rather that an unhappy marriage may result in adultery.