November 27, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether adultery should be made a criminal offence once again. We also look at the police suspensions in Punjab, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Should adultery be made a criminal offence once again?
For a country as old as India, particularly under British occupation, there are bound to be rules, laws, and regulations at least a century old. Many of those laws are still applied today across various judicial hearings. Also, successive governments have tried their best to varying degrees of success to reform and update those laws. It’s not easy.
One such law that has been in the news lately is Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – the Adultery Law. The Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs has stated that adultery should be reinstated as a criminal offence since it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018. Is the House Panel right in wanting this back in the books, or is this a blatant step backwards?
The Adultery Law was framed in 1860 when women had no rights and agency. In 1837, the Law Commission of India didn’t include adultery as an offence in the first draft of the IPC. Lord Macaulay, the main initiator of the IPC, didn’t want it in the framework of the penal laws issued by the Indian Judicial Commission. He felt that there was no need for adultery to be included and marital infidelity should be left to the community to take care of.
However, the Second Law Commission disagreed. It stated that excluding adultery from the IPC would be unwise. The Commission wanted to see men punished for their marital infidelity. The existing laws used for punishing adultery were considered ineffective. The Commission was of the view that not treating adultery as a criminal offence would give rise to immorality. It was later included under Chapter XX of IPC, which deals with Offences Relating to Marriage.
The problem, given the time the law was debated and enacted, was that women had no rights independent of their husbands. They were essentially treated as the property of their husbands. Adultery was only considered a crime against the husband since it was seen as “theft” of property.
Even after independence, the law remained since governments felt it would protect the ‘sanctity’ of marriage from immoral activities. Over the years, activists and judicial experts began seeing the law’s double standards and began challenging it. The law didn’t allow women in marriages to lodge complaints against their husbands for adulterous relationships.
A landmark moment in challenging the law came in 1985 in the case of Smt. Sowmithri Vishnu vs Union Of India & Anr. The petitioner, Smt. Sowmithri Vishnu was accused of adultery by her husband during their divorce. She challenged Section 497 for not giving the same rights to women since they couldn’t prosecute the husband who has committed adultery, among other issues. The court dismissed the petition.
In the years since, similar cases came before the court, and the results were the same. Political parties didn’t want to touch the law. The common adage was it would hurt the sanctity of marriage.
Then came the case of Joseph Shine vs Union of India in 2018. Shine, a businessman, argued against the law for being discriminatory against women since they were viewed as men’s property. The Supreme Court, despite some backlash from the BJP government, struck down the law.
There’s now an effort to reinclude it in the 2023 Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) by the Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs. Is the panel right?
VIEW: To keep things fair
One thing should be noted about the 2018 Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Adultery Law. The court stated that the armed forces can take action against their officers for adulterous acts. It said that just because adultery was decriminalised, that doesn’t mean the army shouldn’t initiate disciplinary proceedings. The army punishes both men and women for adultery.
What the House Panel wants to do is make things equal. While wanting to reinstate adultery as a criminal offence, it recommended it be gender-neutral – both men and women should be punished for it. Previously, the law only penalised married men. The Panel recognised that the law was discriminatory against women.
The Panel and the government, in past instances, have argued that diluting this law or removing it would impact the sanctity of marriage as an institution that’s considered sacred in Indian society.
COUNTERVIEW: Archaic and still discriminatory
There’s a reason why Section 497 was struck down. It took away a woman’s dignity and autonomy. The Panel’s recommendation of making it gender-neutral is a fallacy. Section 497’s discriminatory nature and arbitrariness in punishing only men was only one of the grounds for which it was struck down. It violated Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution – the right to equality, non-discrimination, and life.
What the court observed in 2018 needs to be underlined – “adultery doesn’t fit into the concept of a crime.” If it gets treated as one, it would mean intruding into the private lives of individuals and their marriages. When the IPC was enacted, there were no laws of divorce for Hindus since marriage was considered a sacrament. In fact, till 1955, a Hindu man could marry any number of wives. This changed with the Hindu Code.
While adultery can be seen as wrong for a spouse and the family, there’s no detrimental effect on society or state security. It’s what individual autonomy is all about. In fact, it should be protected from public censure, as Justice Indu Malhotra observed.
- Critical Analysis of Adultery Law in India – Legal Lore
- Why Was The Adultery Law Anti Women: A Look Back At Its History & Supreme Court’s Verdict – Feminism in India
- Adultery Laws Still Applicable In Armed Forces, Clarifies Supreme Court – NDTV
- Why adultery was struck off IPC, and why a House panel wants to make it a crime again – The Indian Express
- Why Courts In India Consider Adultery As A Relic Of The Past – Outlook
- Parliamentary panel’s draft proposal to make adultery a crime contradicts landmark SC judgment – Frontline
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Adultery should be made a criminal offence.
b) Adultery shouldn’t be made a criminal offence.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Mammootty’s Kaathal shows a language problem. What’s the Malayalam word for gay?
For the Left:
How PM Modi’s sortie in Tejas signifies India’s confidence in defence indigenisation
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Police suspensions (Punjab) – The state government has suspended six policemen, in addition to Bathinda Superintendent of Police Gurbinder Singh, over a security lapse during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Ferozepur in January 2022. This incident, which led to a massive controversy, involved Modi’s convoy being stuck on a flyover for over 15 minutes due to a roadblock by protestors. The suspended officials include two Deputy Superintendents of Police, two Inspectors, a Sub-Inspector, and an Assistant Sub-Inspector.
Why it matters: The policemen have been charged under Section 8 of the Punjab Civil Services Rule for alleged dereliction of duty. At the time, Punjab’s Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi had dismissed the security lapse claim, suggesting that there was no threat to Modi’s security and that the plan was abruptly changed.
PM at meditation centre (Telangana) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed over 40,000 people at the world’s largest meditation centre, Kanha Shanti Vanam, and numerous others virtually, for a collective meditation session. Praising the centre’s progress under Daaji’s leadership, Modi highlighted the significance of practices like meditation, yoga, and Ayurveda in India’s resurgence. He identified women, youth, labour, and entrepreneurial empowerment as crucial for a robust India.
Why it matters: The session at Kanha Shanti Vanam, a key spiritual hub, underscores the blend of spirituality and policy in addressing national issues. The focus on meditation and yoga aligns with the government’s emphasis on indigenous practices and their role in empowering different societal segments.
Research Centre inaugurated (Odisha) – The Odisha Research Centre (ORC) was inaugurated in Bhubaneswar by Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, along with Odisha Governor Raghubar Das and Chhattisgarh Governor Biswa Bhusan Harichandan. This centre is aligned with the National Education Policy 2020’s emphasis on multi-disciplinary education, encouraging IITs and IIMs to expand beyond their specialisations. The ORC will conduct extensive research in various fields, including art, culture, archaeology, agriculture, commerce, science and technology, healthcare, and future technology.
Why it matters: The ORC aims to develop innovative frameworks to explore Odisha’s history, culture, economy, and society. Collaboratively established with organizations like ICSSR, Indian Knowledge Systems Division, IIM Sambalpur, IIT Kharagpur, and IIT Bhubaneswar, the ORC will prepare a development roadmap for Odisha and the Odia language for the state’s centenary in 2036 and India’s independence centenary in 2047.
Tribute to 26/11 heroes (Maharashtra) – Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, along with spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, attended the ‘Global Peace Honours’ event at the Gateway of India to pay tribute to the heroes of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. The event, organized by the Divyaj Foundation, was a solemn occasion to honour the sacrifices of the martyrs. It included the participation of notable personalities like actors Jackie Shroff, Rupali Ganguly, and Zayed Khan. Amruta Fadnavis, founder of Divyaj Foundation, emphasized the event as a symbol of unity and a testament to Mumbai’s resilient spirit.
Why it matters: This event represents a significant moment of remembrance and tribute to the brave individuals who lost their lives during the 26/11 attacks. It highlights the continued importance of unity and resilience in the face of terrorism and serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made for the country’s safety.
Dairy development plan (Assam) – The Assam government signed an MoU with the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) to enhance the dairy sector in the state. The initiative aims to increase milk production to 39 lakh litres per day, moving towards self-sufficiency in milk and egg production. Currently producing 29 lakh litres daily, the state plans to add 10 lakh litres more through six mega processing plants.
Why it matters: This move is part of the Assam Dairy Development Plan, which also commemorates National Milk Day. The joint venture between NDDB and the Assam government, established with a target of ₹2,000 crore, focuses on processing 10 lakh litres of milk across six new units in seven years.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹8.45 trillion – As of September 30, 2023, among India’s leading 15 capital goods and engineering firms listed on the stock market, 13 companies with available data for the September 2023 quarter reported a collective order book of ₹8.45 trillion. This total marks the highest recorded since the fiscal year 2018-19.