India Gets Rid of It's Anti-Adultery Law

October 26, 2018

On September 27, the Supreme Court of India ruled a law prohibiting extramarital sex. While some social factions, such as the Bharatiya Janata (BJP) political party -- which Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is a part of -- object to the Supreme Court ruling due to concerns that rates of infidelity may increase as a result, this decision is being hailed as a massive victory for Indian political progressives and women's rights activists.


 Photo: Julian Yu on Unsplash 


Before its elimination, India’s adultery law, specifically Section 497 of India’s penal code, allowed only for a man to prosecute another man engaging in sexual relations with his wife. It notably did not allow for a woman to litigate against an adulterous husband. This led critics to deride the law as extremely sexist and conducive to objectifying women as the legal property of men. In fact, during the judicial proceedings concerning the adultery law, Supreme Court Justice D.Y. Chandrachud blasted the law as seeking to “control the sexuality of woman [and] hits the autonomy and dignity of woman.”  


Although critics like the BJP think that a better solution to reforming India’s legal system would be to implement legislation that allows for the prosecution of both male and female perpetrators, it would be legally inefficient for abortion to remain a crime as divorce is always a legal way to terminate a failed marriage.

Another argument that was frequently made against the adultery law was that it was extremely archaic. According to Rekha Sharma, who leads India’s National Commission for Women, this was an “outdated law” from the colonial British era” (which ended in 1947) “that should have been ended long ago.” Aside from combating sexist policies, the purging of a colonial law from India’s legal code clearly shows an impressive modernization effort on the part of the Indian government.


Tuhin Chakraborty is an 18 year old freshman at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. He is considering studying History and Political Science there. His favorite book is Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. Tuhin believes that success is gaining the respect of everyone who knows you. He steps up for Civic Engagement: getting young people involved in politics and community action.


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