Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). = (i) Section 497 is struck down as unconstitutional being violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. (ii) Section 198(2) of the Cr.P.C. which contains the procedure for prosecution under Chapter XX of the I.P.C. shall be unconstitutional only to the extent that it is applicable to the offence of Adultery under Section 497. (iii) The decisions in Sowmithri Vishnu (supra), V. Rewathi (supra) and W. Kalyani (supra) hereby stand overruled.

1
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 194 OF 2017
Joseph Shine …Petitioner(s)
VERSUS
Union of India …Respondent(s)
J U D G M E N T
Dipak Misra, CJI (For himself and A.M. Khanwilkar, J.)
The beauty of the Indian Constitution is that it includes ‗I‘
‗you‘ and ‗we‘. Such a magnificent, compassionate and
monumental document embodies emphatic inclusiveness which
has been further nurtured by judicial sensitivity when it has
developed the concept of golden triangle of fundamental rights. If
we have to apply the parameters of a fundamental right, it is an
expression of judicial sensibility which further enhances the
beauty of the Constitution as conceived of. In such a situation,
the essentiality of the rights of women gets the real requisite
space in the living room of individual dignity rather than the
2
space in an annexe to the main building. That is the
manifestation of concerned sensitivity. Individual dignity has a
sanctified realm in a civilized society. The civility of a civilization
earns warmth and respect when it respects more the
individuality of a woman. The said concept gets a further accent
when a woman is treated with the real spirit of equality with a
man. Any system treating a woman with indignity, inequity and
inequality or discrimination invites the wrath of the Constitution.
Any provision that might have, few decades back, got the stamp
of serene approval may have to meet its epitaph with the efflux of
time and growing constitutional precepts and progressive
perception. A woman cannot be asked to think as a man or as
how the society desires. Such a thought is abominable, for it
slaughters her core identity. And, it is time to say that a
husband is not the master. Equality is the governing parameter.
All historical perceptions should evaporate and their obituaries
be written. It is advisable to remember what John Stuart Mill had
observed:-
―The legal subordination of one sex to another –
is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief
hindrances to human improvement; and that it
ought to be replaced by a system of perfect
3
equality, admitting no power and privilege on
the one side, nor disability on the other.‖1
We are commencing with the aforesaid prefatory note as we
are adverting to the constitutional validity of Section 497 of the
Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 198 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure (CrPC).
2. At this juncture, it is necessary to state that though there is
necessity of certainty of law, yet with the societal changes and
more so, when the rights are expanded by the Court in respect of
certain aspects having regard to the reflective perception of the
organic and living Constitution, it is not apposite to have an
inflexible stand on the foundation that the concept of certainty of
law should be allowed to prevail and govern. The progression in
law and the perceptual shift compels the present to have a
penetrating look to the past.
3. When we say so, we may not be understood that precedents
are not to be treated as such and that in the excuse of perceptual
shift, the binding nature of precedent should not be allowed to
retain its status or allowed to be diluted. When a constitutional
court faces such a challenge, namely, to be detained by a
precedent or to grow out of the same because of the normative

1
On the Subjection of Women, Chapter 1 (John Stuart Mill, 1869)
4
changes that have occurred in the other arenas of law and the
obtaining precedent does not cohesively fit into the same, the
concept of cohesive adjustment has to be in accord with the
growing legal interpretation and the analysis has to be different,
more so, where the emerging concept recognises a particular
right to be planted in the compartment of a fundamental right,
such as Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. In such a
backdrop, when the constitutionality of a provision is assailed,
the Court is compelled to have a keen scrutiny of the provision in
the context of developed and progressive interpretation. A
constitutional court cannot remain entrenched in a precedent,
for the controversy relates to the lives of human beings who
transcendentally grow. It can be announced with certitude that
transformative constitutionalism asserts itself every moment and
asserts itself to have its space. It is abhorrent to any kind of
regressive approach. The whole thing can be viewed from
another perspective. What might be acceptable at one point of
time may melt into total insignificance at another point of time.
However, it is worthy to note that the change perceived should
not be in a sphere of fancy or individual fascination, but should
be founded on the solid bedrock of change that the society has
5
perceived, the spheres in which the legislature has responded
and the rights that have been accentuated by the constitutional
courts. To explicate, despite conferring many a right on women
within the parameters of progressive jurisprudence and
expansive constitutional vision, the Court cannot conceive of
women still being treated as a property of men, and secondly,
where the delicate relationship between a husband and wife does
not remain so, it is seemingly implausible to allow a criminal
offence to enter and make a third party culpable.
4. We may presently state the nature of the lis.
5. The instant writ petition has been filed under Article 32 of
the Constitution of India challenging the validity of Section 497
IPC. A three-Judge Bench, on the first occasion, taking note of
the authorities in Yusuf Abdul Aziz v. State of Bombay2,
Sowmithri Vishnu v. Union of India and another3, V.
Revathi v. Union of India and others4 and W. Kalyani v.
State through Inspector of Police and another5 and
appreciating the submissions advanced by the learned counsel
for the petitioner, felt the necessity to have a re-look at the

2
1954 SCR 930 : AIR 1954 SC 321
3
(1985)Supp SCC 137 : AIR 1985 SC 1618
4
(1988)2 SCC 72
5
(2012) 1 SCC 358
6
constitutionality of the provision. At that juncture, the Court
noted that:-
“Prima facie, on a perusal of Section 497 of
the Indian Penal Code, we find that it grants
relief to the wife by treating her as a victim.
It is also worthy to note that when an
offence is committed by both of them, one is
liable for the criminal offence but the other
is absolved. It seems to be based on a
societal presumption. Ordinarily, the
criminal law proceeds on gender neutrality
but in this provision, as we perceive, the
said concept is absent. That apart, it is to be
seen when there is conferment of any
affirmative right on women, can it go to the
extent of treating them as the victim, in all
circumstances, to the peril of the husband.
Quite apart from that, it is perceivable from
the language employed in the Section that
the fulcrum of the offence is destroyed once
the consent or the connivance of the
husband is established. Viewed from the
said scenario, the provision really creates a
dent on the individual independent identity
of a woman when the emphasis is laid on
the connivance or the consent of the
husband. This tantamounts to
subordination of a woman where the
Constitution confers equal status. A time
has come when the society must realise that
a woman is equal to a man in every field.
This provision, prima facie, appears to be
quite archaic. When the society progresses
and the rights are conferred, the new
generation of thoughts spring, and that is
why, we are inclined to issue notice.‖
That is how the matter has been placed before us.
7
6. At this stage, one aspect needs to be noted. At the time of
initial hearing before the three-Judge Bench, the decision in
Yusuf Abdul Aziz (supra) was cited and the cited Law Report
reflected that the judgment was delivered by four learned Judges
and later on, it was noticed, as is reflectible from the Supreme
Court Reports, that the decision was rendered by a Constitution
Bench comprising of five Judges of this Court.
7. The said factual discovery will not detain us any further. In
Yusuf Abdul Aziz (supra), the Court was dealing with the
controversy that had travelled to this Court while dealing with a
different fact situation. In the said case, the question arose
whether Section 497 contravened Articles 14 and 15 of the
Constitution of India. In the said case, the appellant was being
prosecuted for adultery under Section 497 IPC. As soon as the
complaint was filed, the husband applied to the High Court of
Bombay to determine the constitutional question under Article
228 of the Constitution. The Constitution Bench referring to
Section 497 held thus:-
―3. Under Section 497 the offence of
adultery can only be committed by a man
but in the absence of any provision to the
contrary the woman would be punishable as
an abettor. The last sentence in Section 497
prohibits this. It runs—
8
―In such case the wife shall not be
punishable as an abettor.‖ It is said that
this offends Articles 14 and 15.
The portion of Article 15 on which the
appellant relies is this:
―The State shall not discriminate against
any citizen on grounds only of … sex.‖
But what he overlooks is that that is subject
to clause (3) which runs—
―Nothing in this article shall prevent the
State from making any special provision for
women ….‖
The provision complained of is a special
provision and it is made for women,
therefore it is saved by clause (3).
4. It was argued that clause (3) should be
confined to provisions which are beneficial
to women and cannot be used to give them
a licence to commit and abet crimes. We are
unable to read any such restriction into the
clause; nor are we able to agree that a
provision which prohibits punishment is
tantamount to a licence to commit the
offence of which punishment has been
prohibited.
5. Article 14 is general and must be read
with the other provisions which set out the
ambit of fundamental rights. Sex is a sound
classification and although there can be no
discrimination in general on that ground,
the Constitution itself provides for special
provisions in the case of women and
children. The two articles read together
validate the impugned clause in Section 497
of the Indian Penal Code.
9
6. The appellant is not a citizen of India. It
was argued that he could not invoke Articles
14 and 15 for that reason. The High Court
held otherwise. It is not necessary for us to
decide this question in view of our decision
on the other issue.‖
On a reading of the aforesaid passages, it is manifest that
the Court treated the provision to be a special provision made for
women and, therefore, saved by clause (3) of Article 15. Thus, the
Court proceeded on the foundation of affirmative action.
8. In this context, we may refer to the observation made by the
Constitution Bench in Central Board of Dawoodi Bohra
Community and another v. State of Maharashtra and
another6 while making a reference to a larger Bench. The said
order reads thus:-
―12. Having carefully considered the
submissions made by the learned Senior
Counsel for the parties and having
examined the law laid down by the
Constitution Benches in the above said
decisions, we would like to sum up the legal
position in the following terms:
(1) The law laid down by this Court in a
decision delivered by a Bench of larger
strength is binding on any subsequent
Bench of lesser or coequal strength.
(2) A Bench of lesser quorum cannot
disagree or dissent from the view of the law
taken by a Bench of larger quorum. In case

6
(2005) 2 SCC 673
10
of doubt all that the Bench of lesser quorum
can do is to invite the attention of the Chief
Justice and request for the matter being
placed for hearing before a Bench of larger
quorum than the Bench whose decision has
come up for consideration. It will be open
only for a Bench of coequal strength to
express an opinion doubting the correctness
of the view taken by the earlier Bench of
coequal strength, whereupon the matter
may be placed for hearing before a Bench
consisting of a quorum larger than the one
which pronounced the decision laying down
the law the correctness of which is doubted.
(3)The above rules are subject to two
exceptions: (i) the abovesaid rules do not
bind the discretion of the Chief Justice in
whom vests the power of framing the roster
and who can direct any particular matter to
be placed for hearing before any particular
Bench of any strength; and (ii) in spite of the
rules laid down hereinabove, if the matter
has already come up for hearing before a
Bench of larger quorum and that Bench
itself feels that the view of the law taken by
a Bench of lesser quorum, which view is in
doubt, needs correction or reconsideration
then by way of exception (and not as a rule)
and for reasons given by it, it may proceed
to hear the case and examine the
correctness of the previous decision in
question dispensing with the need of a
specific reference or the order of the Chief
Justice constituting the Bench and such
listing. Such was the situation in Raghubir
Singh7 and Hansoli Devi8.‖

7
Union of India and Anr. v. Raghubir Singh (dead) by Lrs. etc., (1989) 2 SCC 754
8 Union of India & Anr. v. Hansoli Devi & Ors., (2002) 7 SCC 273
11
In the light of the aforesaid order, it was necessary to list
the matter before a Constitution Bench consisting of five Judges.
As noted earlier, considering the manner in which we intend to
deal with the matter, it is not necessary to refer to a larger
Bench.
9. Sections 497 and 498 of IPC read thus:-
―Section 497 : Adultery
Whoever has sexual intercourse with a
person who is and whom he knows or has
reason to believe to be the wife of another
man, without the consent or connivance of
that man, such sexual intercourse not
amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of
the offence of adultery, and shall be
punished with imprisonment of either
description for a term which may extend to
five years, or with fine, or with both. In such
case the wife shall not be punishable as an
abettor.
Section 498 : Enticing or taking away or
detaining with criminal intent a married
woman
Whoever takes or entices away any woman
who is and whom he knows or has reason to
believe to be the wife of any other man, from
that man, or from any person having the
care of her on behalf of that man, with
intent that she may have illicit intercourse
with any person, or conceals or detains with
that intent any such woman, shall be
punished with imprisonment of either
description for a term which may extend to
two years, or with fine, or with both.‖
12
10. Section 198 of CrPC provides for prosecution for offences
against marriage. Section 198 is reproduced below:-
―198. Prosecution for offences against
marriage.—(1) No Court shall take
cognizance of an offence punishable under
Chapter XX of the Indian Penal Code (45 of
1860) except upon a complaint made by
some person aggrieved by the offence:
Provided that-
(a) Where such person is under the age of
eighteen years or is an idiot or a lunatic, or
is from sickness or infirmity unable to make
a complaint, or is a woman who, according
to the local customs and manners, ought
not to be compelled to appear in public,
some other person may, with the leave of
the Court, make a complaint on his or her
behalf;
(b) where such person is the husband and
he is serving in any of the Armed Forces of
the Union under conditions which are
certified by his Commanding Officer as
precluding him from obtaining leave of
absence to enable him to make a complaint
in person, some other person authorised by
the husband in accordance with the
provisions of sub- section (4) may make a
complaint on his behalf;
(c) where the person aggrieved by an offence
punishable under section 494 or section
495 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860 ) is
the wife, complaint may be made on her
behalf by her father, mother, brother, sister,
son or daughter or by her father’ s or
mother’ s brother or sister 2, or, with the
leave of the Court, by any other person
13
related to her by blood, marriage or
adoption.
(2) For the purposes of sub-section (1), no
person other than the husband of the
woman shall be deemed to be aggrieved by
any offence punishable under section 497 or
section 498 of the said Code: Provided that
in the absence of the husband, some person
who had care of the woman on his behalf at
the time when such offence was com- mitted
may, with the leave of the Court, make a
complaint on his behalf.
(3) When in any case falling under clause (a)
of the proviso to sub-section (1), the
complaint is sought to be made on behalf of
a person under the age of eighteen years or
of a lunatic by a person who has not been
appointed or declared by a competent
authority to be the guardian of the person of
the minor or lunatic, and the Court is
satisfied that there is a guardian so
appointed or declared, the Court shall,
before granting the application for leave,
cause notice to be given to such guardian
and give him a reasonable opportunity of
being heard.
(4) The authorisation referred to in clause
(b) of the proviso to sub-section (1), shall be
in writing, shall be signed or otherwise
attested by the husband, shall contain a
statement to the effect that he has been
informed of the allegations upon which the
complaint is to be founded, shall be
countersigned by his Commanding Officer,
and shall be accompanied by a certificate
signed by that Officer to the effect that leave
of absence for the purpose of making a
complaint in person cannot for the time
being be granted to the husband.
14
(5) Any document purporting to be such an
authorisation and complying with the
provisions of sub-section (4), and any
document purporting to be a certificate
required by that sub-section shall, unless
the contrary is proved, be presumed to be
genuine and shall be received in evidence.
(6) No Court shall take cognizance of an
offence under section 376 of the Indian
Penal Code (45 of 1860), where such offence
consists of sexual intercourse by a man with
his own wife, the wife being under 3
[eighteen years of age], if more than one
year has elapsed from the date of the
commission of the offence.
(7) The provisions of this section apply to
the abetment of, or attempt to commit, an
offence as they apply to the offence.‖
11. On a perusal of the aforesaid provision, it is clear that the
husband of the woman has been treated to be a person aggrieved
for the offences punishable under Sections 497 and 498 of the
IPC. The rest of the proviso carves out an exception as to who is
entitled to file a complaint when the husband is absent. It may
be noted that the offence is non-cognizable.
12. The three-Judge Bench, while referring the matter, had
briefly dwelled upon the impact of the provision. To appreciate
the constitutional validity, first, we shall deal with the earlier
pronouncements and the principles enunciated therein and how
we can have a different perspective of such provisions. We have
15
already referred to what has been stated in Yusuf Abdul Aziz
(supra).
13. In Sowmithri Vishnu (supra), a petition preferred under
Article 32 of the Constitution challenged the validity of Section
497 IPC. We do not intend to advert to the factual matrix. It was
contended before the three-Judge Bench that Section 497 confers
upon the husband the right to prosecute the adulterer but it does
not confer any right upon the wife to prosecute the woman with
whom her husband has committed adultery; that Section 497
does not confer any right on the wife to prosecute the husband
who has committed adultery with another woman; and that
Section 497 does not take in cases where the husband has
sexual relations with an unmarried woman with the result that
husbands have a free licence under the law to have extramarital
relationships with unmarried women. That apart, the submission
was advanced that Section 497 is a flagrant instance of ‗gender
discrimination‘, ‗legislative despotism‘ and ‗male chauvinism‘. At
first blush, it may appear as if it is a beneficial legislation
intended to serve the interests of women but, on closer
examination, it would be found that the provision contained in
the section is a kind of ―romantic paternalism‖ which stems from
16
the assumption that women, like chattels, are the property of
men.
14. The Court referred to the submissions and held thus:-
―…..The argument really comes to this that
the definition should be recast by extending
the ambit of the offence of adultery so that,
both the man and the woman should be
punishable for the offence of adultery. Were
such an argument permissible, several
provisions of the penal law may have to be
struck down on the ground that, either in
their definition or in their prescription of
punishment, they do not go far enough. For
example, an argument could be advanced as
to why the offence of robbery should be
punishable with imprisonment for ten years
under Section 392 of the Penal Code but the
offence of adultery should be punishable
with a sentence of five years only: ―Breaking
a matrimonial home is no less serious a
crime than breaking open a house.‖ Such
arguments go to the policy of the law, not to
its constitutionality, unless, while
implementing the policy, any provision of
the Constitution is infringed. We cannot
accept that in defining the offence of
adultery so as to restrict the class of
offenders to men, any constitutional
provision is infringed. It is commonly
accepted that it is the man who is the
seducer and not the woman. This position
may have undergone some change over the
years but it is for the Legislature to consider
whether Section 497 should be amended
appropriately so as to take note of the
―transformation‖ which the society has
undergone….‖
17
Proceeding further, the three-Judge Bench held that the
offence of adultery as defined in that Section can only be
committed by a man, not by a woman. Indeed, the Section
expressly provides that the wife shall not be punishable even as
an abettor. No grievance can then be made that the Section does
not allow the wife to prosecute the husband for adultery. The
contemplation of the law, evidently, is that the wife, who is
involved in an illicit relationship with another man, is a victim
and not the author of the crime. The offence of adultery, as
defined in Section 497, is considered by the Legislature as an
offence against the sanctity of the matrimonial home, an act
which is committed by a man, as it generally is. Therefore, those
men who defile that sanctity are brought within the net of the
law. In a sense, the same point is reverted to; who can prosecute
whom for which offence depends, firstly, on the definition of the
offence and, secondly, upon the restrictions placed by the law of
procedure on the right to prosecute.
15. The Court further held:-
―…..Since Section 497 does not contain a
provision that she must be impleaded as a
necessary party to the prosecution or that
she would be entitled to be heard, the
section is said to be bad. Counsel is right
that Section 497 does not contain a
18
provision for hearing the married woman
with whom the accused is alleged to have
committed adultery. But, that does not
justify the proposition that she is not
entitled to be heard at the trial. We have no
doubt that if the wife makes an application
in the trial court that she should be heard
before a finding is recorded on the question
of adultery, the application would receive
due consideration from the court. There is
nothing, either in the substantive or the
adjectival criminal law, which bars the court
from affording a hearing to a party, which is
likely to be adversely affected, directly and
immediately, by the decision of the court. In
fact, instances are not unknown in criminal
law where, though the prosecution is in the
charge of the Public Prosecutor, the private
complainant is given permission to oversee
the proceedings. One step more, and the
wife could be allowed a hearing before an
adverse finding is recorded that, as alleged
by her husband, the accused had
committed adultery with her. The right of
hearing is a concomitant of the principles of
natural justice, though not in all situations.
That right can be read into the law in
appropriate cases. Therefore, the fact that a
provision for hearing the wife is not
contained in Section 497 cannot render that
section unconstitutional as violating Article
21.‖
After so stating, the Court placed reliance on Yusuf Abdul
Aziz (supra) and held that the same does not offend Articles 14
and 15 of the Constitution and opined that the stability of
marriages is not an ideal to be scorned. Being of this view, the
Court dismissed the petition.
19
16. In V. Revathi v. Union of India and others9, the Court
analysed the design of the provision and ruled:-
―…..Thus the law permits neither the
husband of the offending wife to prosecute
his wife nor does the law permit the wife to
prosecute the offending husband for being
disloyal to her. Thus both the husband and
the wife are disabled from striking each
other with the weapon of criminal law. The
petitioner wife contends that whether or not
the law permits a husband to prosecute his
disloyal wife, the wife cannot be lawfully
disabled from prosecuting her disloyal
husband…..‖
It placed heavy reliance on the three-Judge Bench in
Sowmithri Vishnu (supra) and proceeded to state that the
community punishes the ‗outsider‘ who breaks into the
matrimonial home and occasions the violation of sanctity of the
matrimonial tie by developing an illicit relationship with one of
the spouses subject to the rider that the erring ‗man‘ alone can
be punished and not the erring woman. It further went on to say
that it does not arm the two spouses to hit each other with the
weapon of criminal law. That is why, neither the husband can
prosecute the wife and send her to jail nor can the wife prosecute
the husband and send him to jail. There is no discrimination

9
(1988) 2 SCC 72
20
based on sex. While the outsider who violates the sanctity of the
matrimonial home is punished, a rider has been added that if the
outsider is a woman, she is not punished. There is, thus, reverse
discrimination in ―favour‖ of the woman rather than ―against‖
her. The law does not envisage the punishment of any of the
spouses at the instance of each other. Thus, there is no
discrimination against the woman insofar as she is not permitted
to prosecute her husband. A husband is not permitted because
the wife is not treated as an offender in the eye of law. The wife is
not permitted as Section 198(1) read with Section 198(2) does not
permit her to do so. In the ultimate analysis, the law has meted
out even-handed justice to both of them in the matter of
prosecuting each other or securing the incarceration of each
other. Thus, no discrimination has been practised in
circumscribing the scope of Section 198(2) CrPC and fashioning
it in such a manner that the right to prosecute the adulterer is
restricted to the husband of the adulteress but has not been
extended to the wife of the adulterer. Expressing this view, the
Court held that the provision is not vulnerable to the charge of
hostile discrimination.
21
17. In W. Kalyani v. State Thro’ Inspector of Police and
another10, the Court held:-
―10. The provision is currently under
criticism from certain quarters for showing
a strong gender bias for it makes the
position of a married woman almost as a
property of her husband. But in terms of the
law as it stands, it is evident from a plain
reading of the section that only a man can
be proceeded against and punished for the
offence of adultery. Indeed, the section
provides expressly that the wife cannot be
punished even as an abettor. Thus, the
mere fact that the appellant is a woman
makes her completely immune to the charge
of adultery and she cannot be proceeded
against for that offence.‖
Be it noted, the issue of constitutional validity did not arise
in the said case.
18. At this juncture, we think it seemly to state that we are only
going to deal with the constitutional validity of Section 497 IPC
and Section 198 CrPC. The learned counsel for the petitioner
submits that the provision by its very nature is arbitrary and
invites the frown of Article 14 of the Constitution. In Shayara
Bano v. Union of India and others11, the majority speaking
through Nariman, J., ruled thus :-

10 (2012) 1 SCC 358
11 (2017) 9 SCC 1
22
―60. Hard as we tried, it is difficult to
discover any ratio in this judgment, as one
part of the judgment contradicts another
part. If one particular statutory enactment
is already under challenge, there is no
reason why other similar enactments which
were also challenged should not have been
disposed of by this Court. Quite apart from
the above, it is a little difficult to appreciate
such declination in the light of Prem Chand
Garg (supra). This judgment, therefore, to
the extent that it is contrary to at least two
Constitution 346 Bench decisions cannot
possibly be said to be good law.
61. It is at this point that it is necessary to
see whether a fundamental right has been
violated by the 1937 Act insofar as it seeks
to enforce Triple Talaq as a rule of law in the
Courts in India.
62. Article 14 of the Constitution of India is
a facet of equality of status and opportunity
spoken of in the Preamble to the
Constitution. The Article naturally divides
itself into two parts- (1) equality before the
law, and (2) the equal protection of the law.
Judgments of this Court have referred to the
fact that the equality before law concept has
been derived from the law in the U.K., and
the equal protection of the laws has been
borrowed from the 14th Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States of
America. In a revealing judgment, Subba
Rao, J., dissenting, in State of U.P. v.
Deoman Upadhyaya, (1961) 1 SCR 14 at 34
further went on to state that whereas
equality before law is a negative concept, the
equal protection of the law has positive
content. The early judgments of this Court
referred to the ―discrimination‖ aspect of
Article 14, and evolved a rule by which
subjects could be classified. If 347 the
23
classification was ―intelligible‖ having regard
to the object sought to be achieved, it would
pass muster under Article 14‘s antidiscrimination
aspect. Again, Subba Rao, J.,
dissenting, in Lachhman Das v. State of
Punjab, (1963) 2 SCR 353 at 395, warned
that:
―50……Overemphasis on the doctrine
of classification or an anxious and
sustained attempt to discover some
basis for classification may gradually
and imperceptibly deprive the Article of
its glorious content.‖
He referred to the doctrine of classification
as a ―subsidiary rule‖ evolved by courts to
give practical content to the said Article.
63. In the pre-1974 era, the judgments of
this Court did refer to the ―rule of law‖ or
―positive‖ aspect of Article 14, the
concomitant of which is that if an action is
found to be arbitrary and, therefore,
unreasonable, it would negate the equal
protection of the law contained in Article 14
and would be struck down on this ground.
In S.G. Jaisinghani v. Union of India, (1967)
2 SCR 703, this Court held:
―In this context it is important to
emphasize that the absence of
arbitrary power is the first essential of
the rule of law upon which our whole
constitutional system is based. In a
system governed by rule of law, 348
discretion, when conferred upon
executive authorities, must be confined
within clearly defined limits. The rule
of law from this point of view means
that decisions should be made by the
application of known principles and
rules and, in general, such decisions
24
should be predictable and the citizen
should know where he is. If a decision
is taken without any principle or
without any rule it is unpredictable
and such a decision is the antithesis of
a decision taken in accordance with
the rule of law. (See Dicey — ―Law of
the Constitution‖ — 10th Edn.,
Introduction cx). ―Law has reached its
finest moments‖, stated Douglas, J. in
United States v. Wunderlick [342 US
98],
―9…..when it has freed man from the
unlimited discretion of some ruler….
Where discretion, is absolute, man has
always suffered‖. It is in this sense
that the rule of law may be said to be
the sworn enemy of caprice.
Discretion, as Lord Mansfield stated it
in classic terms in the case of John
Wilkes [(1770) 4 Burr. 2528 at 2539],
―…..means sound discretion
guided by law. It must be
governed by rule, not by humour
: it must not be arbitrary, vague,
and fanciful……‖.‖
This was in the context of service rules
being seniority rules, which applied to the
Income Tax Department, being held to be
violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of
India.‖
19. Thereafter, our learned brother referred to the authorities in
State of Mysore v. S.R. Jayaram12, Indira Nehru Gandhi v.
Raj Narain13, E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu14, Maneka

12 (1968) 1 SCR 349
13 (1975) Supp SCC 1
25
Gandhi v. Union of India15, A.L. Kalra v. Project and
Equipment Corporation of India Ltd.16
, Ajay Hasia v. Khalid
Mujib Sehravardi17
, K.R. Lakshmanan v. State of T.N.18 and
two other Constitution Bench judgments in Mithu v. State of
Punjab19 and Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration20 and,
eventually, came to hold thus:-
―It is, therefore, clear from a reading of even
the aforesaid two Constitution Bench
judgments that Article 14 has been referred
to in the context of the constitutional
invalidity of statutory law to show that such
statutory law will be struck down if it is
found to be ―arbitrary‖.‖
And again:-
―…..The test of manifest arbitrariness,
therefore, as laid down in the aforesaid
judgments would apply to invalidate
legislation as well as subordinate legislation
under Article 14. Manifest arbitrariness,
therefore, must be something done by the
legislature capriciously, irrationally and/or
without adequate determining principle.
Also, when something is done which is
excessive and disproportionate, such
legislation would be manifestly arbitrary. We
are, therefore, of the view that arbitrariness
in the sense of manifest arbitrariness as

14 (1974) 4 SCC 3
15 (1978) 1 SCC 248
16 (1984) 3 SCC 316
17 (1981) 1 SCC 722
18 (1996) 2 SCC 226
19 (1983) 2 SCC 277
20 (1978) 4 SCC 494
26
pointed out by us above would apply to
negate legislation as well under Article 14.‖
20. We respectfully concur with the said view.
21. In Yusuf Abdul Aziz (supra), the Court understood the
protection of women as not discriminatory but as being an
affirmative provision under clause (3) of Article 15 of the
Constitution. We intend to take the path of expanded horizon as
gender justice has been expanded by this Court.
22. We may now proceed to test the provision on the touchstone
of the aforesaid principles. On a reading of the provision, it is
demonstrable that women are treated as subordinate to men
inasmuch as it lays down that when there is connivance or
consent of the man, there is no offence. This treats the woman
as a chattel. It treats her as the property of man and totally
subservient to the will of the master. It is a reflection of the
social dominance that was prevalent when the penal provision
was drafted.
23. As we notice, the provision treats a married woman as a
property of the husband. It is interesting to note that Section 497
IPC does not bring within its purview an extra marital
relationship with an unmarried woman or a widow. The
dictionary meaning of ―adultery‖ is that a married person
27
commits adultery if he has sex with a woman with whom he has
not entered into wedlock. As per Black‘s Law Dictionary,
‗adultery‘ is the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married person
with a person other than the offender‘s husband or wife.
However, the provision has made it a restricted one as a
consequence of which a man, in certain situations, becomes
criminally liable for having committed adultery while, in other
situations, he cannot be branded as a person who has committed
adultery so as to invite the culpability of Section 497 IPC.
Section 198 CrPC deals with a ―person aggrieved‖. Sub-section
(2) of Section 198 treats the husband of the woman as deemed to
be aggrieved by an offence committed under Section 497 IPC and
in the absence of husband, some person who had care of the
woman on his behalf at the time when such offence was
committed with the leave of the court. It does not consider the
wife of the adulterer as an aggrieved person. The offence and the
deeming definition of an aggrieved person, as we find, is
absolutely and manifestly arbitrary as it does not even appear to
be rational and it can be stated with emphasis that it confers a
licence on the husband to deal with the wife as he likes which is
extremely excessive and disproportionate. We are constrained to
28
think so, as it does not treat a woman as an abettor but protects
a woman and simultaneously, it does not enable the wife to file
any criminal prosecution against the husband. Indubitably, she
can take civil action but the husband is also entitled to take civil
action. However, that does not save the provision as being
manifestly arbitrary. That is one aspect of the matter. If the
entire provision is scanned being Argus-eyed, we notice that on
the one hand, it protects a woman and on the other, it does not
protect the other woman. The rationale of the provision suffers
from the absence of logicality of approach and, therefore, we have
no hesitation in saying that it suffers from the vice of Article 14
of the Constitution being manifestly arbitrary.
24. Presently, we shall address the issue against the backdrop
of Article 21 of the Constitution. For the said purpose, it is
necessary to devote some space with regard to the dignity of
women and the concept of gender equality.
25. In Arun Kumar Agrawal and another v. National
Insurance Company Limited and others21, the issue related to
the criteria for determination of compensation payable to the
dependents of a woman who died in road accident. She did not

21 (2010) 9 SCC 218
29
have a regular income. Singhvi, J. rejected the stand relating to
determination of compensation by comparing a house wife to that
of a house keeper or a servant or an employee who works for a
fixed period. The learned Judge thought it unjust, unfair and
inappropriate. In that context, the learned Judge stated:-
―26. In India the courts have recognised that
the contribution made by the wife to the
house is invaluable and cannot be
computed in terms of money. The gratuitous
services rendered by the wife with true love
and affection to the children and her
husband and managing the household
affairs cannot be equated with the services
rendered by others. A wife/mother does not
work by the clock. She is in the constant
attendance of the family throughout the day
and night unless she is employed and is
required to attend the employer‘s work for
particular hours. She takes care of all the
requirements of the husband and children
including cooking of food, washing of
clothes, etc. She teaches small children and
provides invaluable guidance to them for
their future life. A housekeeper or
maidservant can do the household work,
such as cooking food, washing clothes and
utensils, keeping the house clean, etc., but
she can never be a substitute for a
wife/mother who renders selfless service to
her husband and children.‖
26. Ganguly, J., in his concurring opinion, referred to the
Australian Family Property Law and opined that the said law
30
had adopted a very gender sensitive approach. The learned
Judge reproduced:-
―the contribution made by a party to the
marriage to the welfare of the family
constituted by the parties to the marriage
and any children of the marriage, including
any contribution made in the capacity of a
homemaker or parent.‖
27. In State of Madhya Pradesh v. Madanlal22, the Court
held:-
―Dignity of a woman is a part of her nonperishable
and immortal self and no one
should ever think of painting it in clay.
There cannot be a compromise or settlement
as it would be against her honour which
matters the most. It is sacrosanct.
Sometimes solace is given that the
perpetrator of the crime has acceded to
enter into wedlock with her which is nothing
but putting pressure in an adroit manner;
and we say with emphasis that the Courts
are to remain absolutely away from this
subterfuge to adopt a soft approach to the
case, for any kind of liberal approach has to
be put in the compartment of spectacular
error. Or to put it differently, it would be in
the realm of a sanctuary of error.‖
28. In Pawan Kumar v. State of Himachal Pradesh23, the
Court, dealing with the concept of equality and dignity of a
woman, observed:-

22 (2015) 7 SCC 681
23 (2017) 7 SCC 780
31
―47 …in a civilized society eve-teasing is
causing harassment to women in
educational institutions, public places,
parks, railways stations and other public
places which only go to show that requisite
sense of respect for women has not been
socially cultivated. A woman has her own
space as a man has. She enjoys as much
equality under Article 14 of the Constitution
as a man does. The right to live with dignity
as guaranteed under Article 21 of the
Constitution cannot be violated by indulging
in obnoxious act of eve-teasing. It affects the
fundamental concept of gender sensitivity
and justice and the rights of a woman
under Article 14 of the Constitution. That
apart it creates an incurable dent in the
right of a woman which she has
under Article 15 of the Constitution. One is
compelled to think and constrained to
deliberate why the women in this country
cannot be allowed to live in peace and lead a
life that is empowered with a dignity and
freedom. It has to be kept in mind that she
has a right to life and entitled to love
according to her choice. She has an
individual choice which has been legally
recognized. It has to be socially respected.
No one can compel a woman to love. She
has the absolute right to reject.
48. In a civilized society male chauvinism
has no room. The Constitution of India
confers the affirmative rights on women and
the said rights are perceptible from Article
15 of the Constitution. When the right is
conferred under the Constitution, it has to
be understood that there is no
condescendation. A man should not put his
ego or, for that matter, masculinity on a
pedestal and abandon the concept of civility.
Egoism must succumb to law. Equality has
32
to be regarded as the summum bonum of
the constitutional principle in this context.‖
29. Lord Keith in R v. R24 declared:-
―marriage is in modern times regarded as a
partnership of equals, and no longer one in
which the wife must be the subservient
chattel of the husband.‖
30. Lord Denning25 states:-
―A wife is no longer her husband‘s chattel.
She is beginning to be regarded by the laws
as a partner in all affairs which are their
common concern.‖
31. In Shamima Farooqui v. Shahid Khan26, the Court
ruled:-
―Chivalry, a perverse sense of human
egotism, and clutching of feudal
megalomaniac ideas or for that matter, any
kind of condescending attitude have no
room. They are bound to be sent to the
ancient woods, and in the new horizon
people should proclaim their own ideas and
authority.‖
And again:-
―Any other idea floated or any song sung in
the invocation of male chauvinism is the
proposition of an alien, a total stranger – an
outsider. That is the truth in essentiality.‖

24 [1991] 4 All ER 481 at p. 484
25 The Due Process of Law (London, Butterworths, 1980, at page 212)
26 (2015) 5 SCC 705
33
32. In Voluntary Health Association of Punjab v. Union of
India27, one of us (Dipak Misra, J.), in his concurring opinion,
stated that women have to be regarded as equal partners in the
lives of men and it has to be borne in mind that they have equal
role in the society, that is, in thinking, participating and
leadership. The issue related to female foeticide and it was
stated thus:-
―21. When a female foeticide takes place,
every woman who mothers the child must
remember that she is killing her own child
despite being a mother. That is what
abortion would mean in social terms.
Abortion of a female child in its conceptual
eventuality leads to killing of a woman. Law
prohibits it; scriptures forbid it; philosophy
condemns it; ethics deprecate it, morality
decries it and social science abhors it.
Henrik Ibsen emphasised on the
individualism of woman. John Milton
treated her to be the best of all God‘s work.
In this context, it will be appropriate to
quote a few lines from Democracy in America
by Alexis de Tocqueville:
―If I were asked … to what the singular
prosperity and growing strength of that
people [Americans] ought mainly to be
attributed, I should reply: To the superiority
of their women.‖
22. At this stage, I may with profit
reproduce two paragraphs from Ajit Savant

27 (2013) 4 SCC 1
34
Majagvai v. State of Karnataka28: (SCC pp.
113-14, paras 3 & 4)
―3. Social thinkers, philosophers,
dramatists, poets and writers have
eulogised the female species of the human
race and have always used beautiful
epithets to describe her temperament and
personality and have not deviated from that
path even while speaking of her odd
behaviour, at times. Even in sarcasm, they
have not crossed the literary limit and have
adhered to a particular standard of nobility
of language. Even when a member of her
own species, Madame De Stael, remarked ‗I
am glad that I am not a man; for then I
should have to marry a woman‘, there was
wit in it. When Shakespeare wrote, ‗Age
cannot wither her; nor custom stale, her
infinite variety‘, there again was wit.
Notwithstanding that these writers have
cried hoarse for respect for ‗woman‘,
notwithstanding that Schiller said ‗Honour
women! They entwine and weave heavenly
roses in our earthly life‘ and
notwithstanding that the Mahabharata
mentioned her as the source of salvation,
crime against ‗woman‘ continues to rise and
has, today undoubtedly, risen to alarming
proportions.
4. It is unfortunate that in an age where
people are described as civilised, crime
against „female‟ is committed even when the
child is in the womb as the „female‟ foetus is
often destroyed to prevent the birth of a
female child. If that child comes into
existence, she starts her life as a daughter,
then becomes a wife and in due course, a
mother. She rocks the cradle to rear up her

28 (1997) 7 SCC 110
35
infant, bestows all her love on the child and
as the child grows in age, she gives to the
child all that she has in her own personality.
She shapes the destiny and character of the
child. To be cruel to such a creature is
unthinkable. To torment a wife can only be
described as the most hated and derisive act
of a human being.‖
[Emphasis supplied]
And again:-
―23. In Madhu Kishwar v. State of Bihar29
this Court had stated that Indian women
have suffered and are suffering
discrimination in silence.
―28. … Self-sacrifice and self-denial are their
nobility and fortitude and yet they have
been subjected to all inequities, indignities,
inequality and discrimination.‖ (SCC p. 148,
para 28)
24. The way women had suffered has been
aptly reflected by an author who has spoken
with quite a speck of sensibility:
―Dowry is an intractable disease for women,
a bed of arrows for annihilating self-respect,
but without the boon of wishful death.‖
25. Long back, Charles Fourier had stated:
―The extension of women‘s rights is the
basic principle of all social progress.‖
26. Recapitulating from the past, I may refer
to certain sayings in the Smritis which put
women in an elevated position. This Court

29 (1996) 5 SCC 125
36
in Nikku Ram case4 had already reproduced
the first line of the shloka. The second line
of the same which is also significant is as
follows:
Yatra tastu na pujyante sarvastatraphalah kriyah
A free translation of the aforesaid is reproduced
below:
―All the actions become unproductive in a place,
where they are not treated with proper respect and
dignity.‖
27. Another wise man of the past had his own way
of putting it:
Bhartr bhratr pitrijnati
swasruswasuradevaraih
Bandhubhisca striyah pujyah
bhusnachhadanasnaih
A free translation of the aforesaid is as
follows:
―The women are to be respected equally on a
par with husbands, brothers, fathers,
relatives, in-laws and other kith and kin
and while respecting, the women gifts like
ornaments, garments, etc. should be given
as token of honour.‖
28. Yet again, the sagacity got reflected in
following lines:
37
Atulam yatra tattejah sarvadevasarirajam
Ekastham tadabhunnari vyaptalokatrayam
tvisa
A free translation of the aforesaid is
reproduced below:
―The incomparable valour (effulgence) born
from the physical frames of all the gods,
spreading the three worlds by its radiance
and combining together took the form of a
woman.‖
29. From the past, I travel to the present
and respectfully notice what Lord Denning
had to say about the equality of women and
their role in the society:
―A woman feels as keenly, thinks as clearly,
as a man. She in her sphere does work as
useful as man does in his. She has as much
right to her freedom — to develop her
personality to the full as a man. When she
marries, she does not become the husband‘s
servant but his equal partner. If his work is
more important in life of the community,
her‘s is more important of the family.
Neither can do without the other. Neither is
above the other or under the other. They are
equals.‖
33. In Charu Khurana and others v. Union of India and
others30, speaking about the dignity of women, the Court held:-
―33. … Be it stated, dignity is the
quintessential quality of a personality and a
human frame always desires to live in the

30 (2015) 1 SCC 192
38
mansion of dignity, for it is a highly
cherished value. Clause (j) has to be
understood in the backdrop that India is a
welfare State and, therefore, it is the duty of
the State to promote justice, to provide
equal opportunity to all citizens and see
that they are not deprived of by reasons of
economic disparity. It is also the duty of the
State to frame policies so that men and
women have the right to adequate means of
livelihood. It is also the duty of the citizen to
strive towards excellence in all spheres of
individual and collective activity so that the
nation constantly rises to higher levels of
endeavour and achievement.‖
34. In Shakti Vahini v. Union of India and others31, the lis
was in a different context. The Court reproduced a passage from
Joseph J. Ellis which is also relevant for the present purpose. It
reads:-
―We don‘t live in a world in which there
exists a single definition of honour anymore,
and it‘s a fool that hangs onto the
traditional standards and hopes that the
world will come around him.‖
35. In the said case, a contention was advanced that the
existence of a woman is entirely dependent on the male view of
the reputation of the family, the community and the milieu. The
Court, in that context, observed:-
―5. …The collective behaves like a
patriarchal monarch which treats the wives,

31 (2018) 7 SCC 192
39
sisters and daughters subordinate, even
servile or self-sacrificing, persons moving in
physical frame having no individual
autonomy, desire and identity. The concept
of status is accentuated by the male
members of the community and a sense of
masculine dominance becomes the sole
governing factor of perceptive honour.‖
36. We have referred to the aforesaid as we are of the view that
there cannot be a patriarchal monarchy over the daughter or, for
that matter, husband‘s monarchy over the wife. That apart, there
cannot be a community exposition of masculine dominance.
37. Having stated about the dignity of a woman, in the context
of autonomy, desire, choice and identity, it is obligatory to refer
to the recent larger Bench decision in K.S. Puttaswamy and
another v. Union of India and others32 which, while laying
down that privacy is a facet of Article 21 of the Constitution, lays
immense stress on the dignity of an individual. In the said
judgment, it has been held:-
―108. Over the last four decades, our
constitutional jurisprudence has recognised the
inseparable relationship between protection of
life and liberty with dignity. Dignity as a
constitutional value finds expression in the
Preamble. The constitutional vision seeks the
realisation of justice (social, economic and
political); liberty (of thought, expression, belief,
faith and worship); equality (as a guarantee

32 (2017) 10 SCC 1
40
against arbitrary treatment of individuals) and
fraternity (which assures a life of dignity to every
individual). These constitutional precepts exist in
unity to facilitate a humane and compassionate
society. The individual is the focal point of the
Constitution because it is in the realisation of
individual rights that the collective well-being of
the community is determined. Human dignity is
an integral part of the Constitution. Reflections
of dignity are found in the guarantee against
arbitrariness (Article 14), the lamps of freedom
(Article 19) and in the right to life and personal
liberty (Article 21).
xxx xxxx xxx
119. To live is to live with dignity. The draftsmen
of the Constitution defined their vision of the
society in which constitutional values would be
attained by emphasising, among other freedoms,
liberty and dignity. So fundamental is dignity
that it permeates the core of the rights
guaranteed to the individual by Part III. Dignity
is the core which unites the fundamental rights
because the fundamental rights seek to achieve
for each individual the dignity of existence…‖
xxx xxx xxx
―298. Privacy of the individual is an essential
aspect of dignity. Dignity has both an intrinsic
and instrumental value. As an intrinsic value,
human dignity is an entitlement or a
constitutionally protected interest in itself. In its
instrumental facet, dignity and freedom are
inseparably inter-twined, each being a facilitative
tool to achieve the other. The ability of the
individual to protect a zone of privacy enables
the realization of the full value of life and liberty.
Liberty has a broader meaning of which privacy
is a subset. All liberties may not be exercised in
privacy. Yet others can be fulfilled only within a
41
private space. Privacy enables the individual to
retain the autonomy of the body and mind. The
autonomy of the individual is the ability to make
decisions on vital matters of concern to life.
Privacy has not been couched as an independent
fundamental right. But that does not detract
from the constitutional protection afforded to it,
once the true nature of privacy and its
relationship with those fundamental rights
which are expressly protected is understood.
Privacy lies across the spectrum of protected
freedoms. The guarantee of equality is a
guarantee against arbitrary state action. It
prevents the state from discriminating between
individuals. The destruction by the state of a
sanctified personal space whether of the body or
of the mind is violative of the guarantee against
arbitrary state action. Privacy of the body entitles
an individual to the integrity of the physical
aspects of personhood. The intersection between
one’s mental integrity and privacy entitles the
individual to freedom of thought, the freedom to
believe in what is right, and the freedom of selfdetermination.‖
xxx xxx xxx
―525. But most important of all is the cardinal
value of fraternity which assures the dignity of
the individual.359 The dignity of the individual
encompasses the right of the individual to
develop to the full extent of his potential. And
this development can only be if an individual has
autonomy over fundamental personal choices
and control over dissemination of personal
information which may be infringed through an
unauthorized use of such information. It is clear
that Article 21, more than any of the other
Articles in the fundamental rights chapter,
reflects each of these constitutional values in
full, and is to be read in consonance with these
values and with the international covenants that
42
we have referred to. In the ultimate analysis, the
fundamental right of privacy, which has so many
developing facets, can only be developed on a
case to case basis. Depending upon the
particular facet that is relied upon, either Article
21 by itself or in conjunction with other
fundamental rights would get attracted.‖
38. In this context, we may profitably refer to National Legal
Services Authority v. Union of India and others33 wherein A.K.
Sikri, J., in his concurring opinion, emphasizing on the concept
of dignity, has opined:-
―The basic principle of the dignity and freedom
of the individual is common to all nations,
particularly those having democratic set up.
Democracy requires us to respect and develop
the free spirit of human being which is
responsible for all progress in human history.
Democracy is also a method by which we
attempt to raise the living standard of the
people and to give opportunities to every person
to develop his/her personality. It is founded on
peaceful co-existence and cooperative living. If
democracy is based on the recognition of the
individuality and dignity of man, as a fortiori we
have to recognize the right of a human being to
choose his sex/gender identity which is integral
his/her personality and is one of the most basic
aspect of self-determination dignity and
freedom. In fact, there is a growing recognition
that the true measure of development of a
nation is not economic growth; it is human
dignity.‖

33 (2014) 5 SCC 438
43
39. Very recently, in Common Cause (A Registered Society) v.
Union of India and another34, one of us has stated:-
―… Human dignity is beyond definition. It may at
times defy description. To some, it may seem to be in
the world of abstraction and some may even
perversely treat it as an attribute of egotism or
accentuated eccentricity. This feeling may come from
the roots of absolute cynicism. But what really
matters is that life without dignity is like a sound
that is not heard. Dignity speaks, it has its sound, it
is natural and human. It is a combination of thought
and feeling, and, as stated earlier, it deserves respect
even when the person is dead and described as a
―body‖…..‖
And again:-
―The concept and value of dignity requires
further elaboration since we are treating it as an
inextricable facet of right to life that respects all
human rights that a person enjoys. Life is
basically self-assertion. In the life of a person,
conflict and dilemma are expected to be normal
phenomena. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in one of
his addresses, quoted a line from a Latin poet
who had uttered the message, ―Death plucks
my ear and says, Live- I am coming‖ . That is
the significance of living. But when a patient
really does not know if he/she is living till death
visits him/her and there is constant suffering
without any hope of living, should one be
allowed to wait? Should she/he be cursed to die
as life gradually ebbs out from her/his being?
Should she/he live because of innovative
medical technology or, for that matter, should
he/she continue to live with the support system
as people around him/her think that science in
its progressive invention may bring about an
innovative method of cure? To put it differently,

34 (2018) 5 SCC 1
44
should he/she be ―guinea pig for some kind of
experiment? The answer has to be an emphatic
―Not because such futile waiting mars the
pristine concept of life, corrodes 139 the essence
of dignity and erodes the fact of eventual choice
which is pivotal to privacy.‖
In Mehmood Nayyar Azam v. State of
Chhattisgarh and others, a two-Judge Bench
held thus:-
―1…… Albert Schweitzer, highlighting on
Glory of Life, pronounced with conviction and
humility, “the reverence of life offers me my
fundamental principle on morality”. The
aforesaid expression may appear to be an
individualistic expression of a great
personality, but, when it is understood in the
complete sense, it really denotes, in its
conceptual essentiality, and connotes, in its
macrocosm, the fundamental perception of a
thinker about the respect that life commands.
The reverence of life is insegragably
associated with the dignity of a human being
who is basically divine, not servile. A human
personality is endowed with potential infinity
and it blossoms when dignity is sustained.
The sustenance of such dignity has to be the
superlative concern of every sensitive soul.
The essence of dignity can never be treated as
a momentary spark of light or, for that
matter, ‘a brief candle’, or ‘a hollow bubble’.
The spark of life gets more resplendent when
man is treated with dignity sans humiliation,
for every man is expected to lead an
honourable life which is a splendid gift of
“creative intelligence”
40. In the said judgment, A.K. Sikri, J. reproduced a passage
from Professor Upendra Baxi‘s lecture in First Justice H.R.
Khanna Memorial Lecture which reads as follows:-
45
―I still need to say that the idea of dignity is a
metaethical one, that is it marks and maps a
difficult terrain of what it may mean to say
being ‘human’ and remaining ‘human’, or put
another way the relationship between ‘self’,
‘others’, and ‘society’. In this formulation the
word ‘respect’ is the keyword: dignity is respect
for an individual person based on the principle
of freedom and capacity to make choices and a
good or just social order is one which respects
dignity via assuring ‘contexts’ and ‘conditions’
as the ‘source of free and informed choice’.
Respect for dignity thus conceived is
empowering overall and not just because it,
even if importantly, sets constraints state, law,
and regulations.‖
41. From the aforesaid analysis, it is discernible that the Court,
with the passage of time, has recognized the conceptual equality
of woman and the essential dignity which a woman is entitled to
have. There can be no curtailment of the same. But, Section
497 IPC effectively does the same by creating invidious
distinctions based on gender stereotypes which creates a dent in
the individual dignity of women. Besides, the emphasis on the
element of connivance or consent of the husband tantamounts to
subordination of women. Therefore, we have no hesitation in
holding that the same offends Article 21 of the Constitution.
42. Another aspect needs to be addressed. The question we
intend to pose is whether adultery should be treated as a
criminal offence. Even assuming that the new definition of
46
adultery encapsules within its scope sexual intercourse with an
unmarried woman or a widow, adultery is basically associated
with the institution of marriage. There is no denial of the fact
that marriage is treated as a social institution and regard being
had to various aspects that social history has witnessed in this
country, the Parliament has always made efforts to maintain the
rights of women. For instance, Section 498-A IPC deals with
husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to
cruelty. The Parliament has also brought in the Protection of
Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. This enactment
protects women. It also enters into the matrimonial sphere. The
offences under the provisions of the said enactment are different
from the provision that has been conceived of under Section 497
IPC or, for that matter, concerning bringing of adultery within the
net of a criminal offence. There can be no shadow of doubt that
adultery can be a ground for any kind of civil wrong including
dissolution of marriage. But the pivotal question is whether it
should be treated as a criminal offence. When we say so, it is not
to be understood that there can be any kind of social licence that
destroys the matrimonial home. It is an ideal condition when the
wife and husband maintain their loyalty. We are not
47
commenting on any kind of ideal situation but, in fact, focusing
on whether the act of adultery should be treated as a criminal
offence. In this context, we are reminded of what Edmund
Burke, a famous thinker, had said, ―a good legislation should be
fit and equitable so that it can have a right to command
obedience‖. Burke would like to put it in two compartments,
namely, ‗equity‘ and ‗utility‘. If the principle of Burke is properly
understood, it conveys that laws and legislations are necessary to
serve and promote a good life.
43. Dealing with the concept of crime, it has been stated in
―Principles of Criminal Liability‖35 thus :-
―1. Definition of crime.—There is no
satisfactory definition of crime which will
embrace the many acts and omissions
which are criminal, and which will at the
same time exclude all those acts and
omissions which are not. Ordinarily a crime
is a wrong which affects the security or wellbeing
of the public generally so that the
public has an interest in its suppression. A
crime is frequently a moral wrong in that it
amounts to conduct which is inimical to the
general moral sense of the community. It is,
however, possible to instance many crimes
which exhibit neither of the foregoing
characteristics. An act may be made
criminal by Parliament simply because it is
criminal process, rather than civil, which

35 Halsbury‟s Laws of England, 4th Edn., Vol. 11 p.11,
48
offers the more effective means of
controlling the conduct in question.‖
44. In Kenny‟s Outlines of Criminal Law, 19th Edn., 1966 by
J.W. Cecil Turner, it has been stated that:-
―There is indeed no fundamental or inherent
difference between a crime and a tort. Any
conduct which harms an individual to some
extent harms society, since society is made
up of individuals; and therefore although it
is true to say of crime that is an offence
against society, this does not distinguish
crime from tort. The difference is one of
degree only, and the early history of the
common law shows how words which now
suggest a real distinction began rather as
symbols of emotion than as terms of
scientific classification.‖
And again:-
―So long as crimes continue (as would seem
inevitable) to be created by government
policy the nature of crime will elude true
definition. Nevertheless it is a broadly
accurate description to say that nearly every
instance of crime presents all of the three
following characteristics: (1) that it is a
harm, brought about by human conduct,
which the sovereign power in the State
desires to prevent; (2) that among the
measures of prevention selected is the
threat of punishment; (3) that legal
proceedings of a special kind are employed
to decide whether the person accused did in
fact cause the harm, and is, according to
law, to be held legally punishable for doing
so.‖
49
45. Stephen defines a ―crime‖ thus:-
―A crime is an unlawful act or default which
is an offence against the public, rendering
the person guilty of such act or default
liable to legal punishment. The process by
which such person is punished for the
unlawful act or default is carried on in the
name of the Crown; although any private
person, in the absence of statutory provision
to the contrary, may commence a criminal
prosecution. Criminal proceedings were
formerly called pleas of the Crown, because
the King, in whom centres the majesty of
the whole community, is supposed by the
law to be the person injured by every
infraction of the public rights belonging to
that community. Wherefore he is, in all
cases, the proper prosecutor for every public
offence.‖
46. Blackstone, while discussing the general nature of crime,
has defined crime thus:-
―A crime, or misdemeanour, is an act
committed or omitted, in violation of a
public law, either forbidding or commanding
it. This general definition comprehends both
crimes and misdemeanours; which, properly
speaking, are mere synonym terms: though,
in common usage, the word ―crimes‖ is
made to denote such offences as are of a
deeper and more atrocious dye; while
smaller faults, and omissions of less
consequence, are comprised under the
gentler name of ―misdemeanours‖ only.‖
47. In this regard, we may reproduce a couple of
paragraphs from Central Inland Water Transport
50
Corporation Limited and another v. Brojo Nath
Ganguly36. They read as under:-
―25. The story of mankind is punctuated by
progress and retrogression. Empires have risen
and crashed into the dust of history.
Civilizations have nourished, reached their
peak and passed away. In the year 1625,
Carew, C.J., while delivering the opinion of the
House of Lords in Re the Earldom of Oxford in
a dispute relating to the descent of that
Earldom, said:
―… and yet time hath his revolution, there
must be a period and an end of all
temporal things, finis rerum, an end of
names and dignities, and whatsoever is
terrene….‖
The cycle of change and experiment, rise and
fall, growth and decay, and of progress and
retrogression recurs endlessly in the history of
man and the history of civilization. T.S. Eliot in
the First Chorus from ―The Rock‖ said:
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying;
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment.‖
26. The law exists to serve the needs of the
society which is governed by it. If the law is to
play its allotted role of serving the needs of the
society, it must reflect the ideas and ideologies
of that society. It must keep time with the
heartbeats of the society and with the needs and
aspirations of the people. As the society
changes, the law cannot remain immutable. The

36 (1986) 3 SCC 156
51
early nineteenth century essayist and wit,
Sydney Smith, said: ―When I hear any man talk
of an unalterable law, I am convinced that he is
an unalterable fool.‖ The law must, therefore, in
a changing society march in tune with the
changed ideas and ideologies.”
48. Reproducing the same, the Court in Common Cause (A
Registered Society) (supra), has observed :-
―160. The purpose of saying so is only to
highlight that the law must take cognizance of
the changing society and march in consonance
with the developing concepts. The need of the
present has to be served with the interpretative
process of law. However, it is to be seen how
much strength and sanction can be drawn from
the Constitution to consummate the changing
ideology and convert it into a reality. The
immediate needs are required to be addressed
through the process of interpretation by the
Court unless the same totally falls outside the
constitutional framework or the constitutional
interpretation fails to recognize such
dynamism.‖
49. We have referred to the aforesaid theories and authorities to
understand whether adultery that enters into the matrimonial
realm should be treated as a criminal offence. There can be
many a situation and we do not intend to get into the same.
Suffice it to say, it is different from an offence committed under
Section 498-A or any violation of the Protection of Women from
Domestic Violence Act, 2005 or, for that matter, the protection
conceived of under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure
52
or Sections 306 or 304B or 494 IPC. These offences are meant to
sub-serve various other purposes relating to a matrimonial
relationship and extinction of life of a married woman during
subsistence of marriage. Treating adultery an offence, we are
disposed to think, would tantamount to the State entering into a
real private realm. Under the existing provision, the husband is
treated as an aggrieved person and the wife is ignored as a
victim. Presently, the provision is reflective of a tripartite
labyrinth. A situation may be conceived of where equality of
status and the right to file a case may be conferred on the wife.
In either situation, the whole scenario is extremely private. It
stands in contradistinction to the demand for dowry, domestic
violence, sending someone to jail for non-grant of maintenance or
filing a complaint for second marriage. Adultery stands on a
different footing from the aforesaid offences. We are absolutely
conscious that the Parliament has the law making power. We
make it very clear that we are not making law or legislating but
only stating that a particular act, i.e., adultery does not fit into
the concept of a crime. We may repeat at the cost of repetition
that if it is treated as a crime, there would be immense intrusion
into the extreme privacy of the matrimonial sphere. It is better to
53
be left as a ground for divorce. For any other purpose as the
Parliament has perceived or may, at any time, perceive, to treat it
as a criminal offence will offend the two facets of Article 21 of the
Constitution, namely, dignity of husband and wife, as the case
may be, and the privacy attached to a relationship between the
two. Let it be clearly stated, by no stretch of imagination, one
can say, that Section 498-A or any other provision, as mentioned
hereinbefore, also enters into the private realm of matrimonial
relationship. In case of the said offences, there is no third party
involved. It is the husband and his relatives. There has been
correct imposition by law not to demand dowry or to treat women
with cruelty so as to compel her to commit suicide. The said
activities deserve to be punished and the law has rightly provided
so.
50. In this regard, we may also note how the extramarital
relationship cannot be treated as an act for commission of an
offence under Section 306 IPC. In Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal
v. State of Gujarat37, the Court has held :-
―27. Section 306 refers to abetment of suicide
which says that if any person commits suicide,
whoever abets the commission of such suicide,
shall be punished with imprisonment for a term

37 (2013) 10 SCC 48
54
which may extend to 10 years and shall also be
liable to fine. The action for committing suicide
is also on account of mental disturbance caused
by mental and physical cruelty. To constitute an
offence under Section 306, the prosecution has
to establish that a person has committed
suicide and the suicide was abetted by the
accused. The prosecution has to establish
beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased
committed suicide and the accused abetted the
commission of suicide. But for the alleged extramarital
relationship, which if proved, could be
illegal and immoral, nothing has been brought
out by the prosecution to show that the accused
had provoked, incited or induced the wife to
commit suicide.”
[Emphasis added]
51. In the context of Section 498-A, the Court, in Ghusabhai
Raisangbhai Chorasiya v. State of Gujarat38, has opined that
even if the illicit relationship is proven, unless some other
acceptable evidence is brought on record to establish such high
degree of mental cruelty, the Explanation (a) to Section 498-A
IPC, which includes cruelty to drive the woman to commit
suicide, would not be attracted. The relevant passage from the
said authority is extracted below :-
―21. …True it is, there is some evidence about
the illicit relationship and even if the same is
proven, we are of the considered opinion that
cruelty, as envisaged under the first limb of
Section 498-A IPC would not get attracted. It
would be difficult to hold that the mental cruelty

38 (2015) 11 SCC 753
55
was of such a degree that it would drive the wife
to commit suicide. Mere extra-marital
relationship, even if proved, would be illegal and
immoral, as has been said in Pinakin
Mahipatray Rawal, but it would take a different
character if the prosecution brings some
evidence on record to show that the accused
had conducted in such a manner to drive the
wife to commit suicide. In the instant case, the
accused may have been involved in an illicit
relationship with Appellant 4, but in the
absence of some other acceptable evidence on
record that can establish such high degree of
mental cruelty, the Explanation to Section 498-
A IPC which includes cruelty to drive a woman
to commit suicide, would not be attracted.‖
[Emphasis added]
52. The purpose of referring to the aforesaid authorities is to
highlight how adultery has not been granted separate exclusive
space in the context of Sections 306 and 498-A IPC.
53. In case of adultery, the law expects the parties to remain
loyal and maintain fidelity throughout and also makes the
adulterer the culprit. This expectation by law is a command
which gets into the core of privacy. That apart, it is a
discriminatory command and also a socio-moral one. Two
individuals may part on the said ground but to attach criminality
to the same is inapposite.
54. We may also usefully note here that adultery as a crime is
no more prevalent in People‘s Republic of China, Japan,
56
Australia, Brazil and many western European countries. The
diversity of culture in those countries can be judicially taken note
of. Non-criminalisation of adultery, apart from what we have
stated hereinabove, can be proved from certain other facets.
When the parties to a marriage lose their moral commitment of
the relationship, it creates a dent in the marriage and it will
depend upon the parties how they deal with the situation. Some
may exonerate and live together and some may seek divorce. It is
absolutely a matter of privacy at its pinnacle. The theories of
punishment, whether deterrent or reformative, would not save
the situation. A punishment is unlikely to establish
commitment, if punishment is meted out to either of them or a
third party. Adultery, in certain situations, may not be the cause
of an unhappy marriage. It can be the result. It is difficult to
conceive of such situations in absolute terms. The issue that
requires to be determined is whether the said ‗act‘ should be
made a criminal offence especially when on certain occasions, it
can be the cause and in certain situations, it can be the result. If
the act is treated as an offence and punishment is provided, it
would tantamount to punishing people who are unhappy in
marital relationships and any law that would make adultery a
57
crime would have to punish indiscriminately both the persons
whose marriages have been broken down as well as those
persons whose marriages are not. A law punishing adultery as a
crime cannot make distinction between these two types of
marriages. It is bound to become a law which would fall within
the sphere of manifest arbitrariness.
55. In this regard, another aspect deserves to be noted. The
jurisprudence in England, which to a large extent, is adopted by
this country has never regarded adultery as a crime except for a
period of ten years in the reign of Puritanical Oliver Cromwell. As
we see the international perspective, most of the countries have
abolished adultery as a crime. We have already ascribed when
such an act is treated as a crime and how it faces the frown of
Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. Thinking of adultery from
the point of view of criminality would be a retrograde step. This
Court has travelled on the path of transformative
constitutionalism and, therefore, it is absolutely inappropriate to
sit in a time machine to a different era where the machine moves
on the path of regression. Hence, to treat adultery as a crime
would be unwarranted in law.
58
56. As we have held that Section 497 IPC is unconstitutional
and adultery should not be treated as an offence, it is
appropriate to declare Section 198 CrPC which deals with the
procedure for filing a complaint in relation to the offence of
adultery as unconstitutional. When the substantive provision
goes, the procedural provision has to pave the same path.
57. In view of the foregoing analysis, the decisions in
Sowmithri Vishnu (supra) and V. Revathi (supra) stand
overruled and any other judgment following precedents also
stands overruled.
58. Consequently, the writ petition is allowed to the extent
indicated hereinbefore.
.………………………….CJI.
(Dipak Misra)
.…………………………….J.
(A.M. Khanwilkar)
New Delhi;
September 27, 2018
1
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 194 OF 2017
JOSEPH SHINE … PETITIONER
VERSUS
UNION OF INDIA … RESPONDENT
J U D G M E N T
R.F. Nariman, J. (Concurring)
1. What is before us in this writ petition is the constitutional
validity of an archaic provision of the Indian Penal Code (―IPC‖),
namely, Section 497, which makes adultery a crime. Section
497 appears in Chapter XX of the IPC, which deals with
offences relating to marriage. Section 497 reads as follows:-
―497. Adultery.—Whoever has sexual intercourse
with a person who is and whom he knows or has
reason to believe to be the wife of another man,
without the consent or connivance of that man, such
sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of
rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be
2
punished with imprisonment of either description for
a term which may extend to five years, or with fine,
or with both. In such case the wife shall not be
punishable as an abettor.‖
The offence of bigamy, which is contained in Section 494 in the
same Chapter, is punishable with a longer jail term which may
extend to 7 years, but in this case, the husband or the wife, as
the case may be, is liable to be prosecuted and convicted.
Section 494 reads as follows:
―494. Marrying again during lifetime of husband
or wife.—Whoever, having a husband or wife living,
marries in any case in which such marriage is void
by reason of its taking place during the life of such
husband or wife, shall be punished with
imprisonment of either description for a term which
may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable
to fine.
Exception.—This section does not extend to any
person whose marriage with such husband or wife
has been declared void by a Court of competent
jurisdiction,
nor to any person who contracts a marriage during
the life of a former husband or wife, if such husband
or wife, at the time of the subsequent marriage, shall
have been continually absent from such person for
the space of seven years, and shall not have been
heard of by such person as being alive within that
time provided the person contracting such
subsequent marriage shall, before such marriage
takes place, inform the person with whom such
3
marriage is contracted of the real state of facts so
far as the same are within his or her knowledge.‖
It will be noticed that the crime of adultery punishes only a thirdparty
male offender as against the crime of bigamy, which
punishes the bigamist, be it a man or a woman. What is
therefore punished as ‗adultery‘ is not ‗adultery‘ per se but the
proprietary interest of a married man in his wife.
Almost all ancient religions/civilizations punished the sin of
adultery. In one of the oldest, namely, in Hammurabi‘s Code,
death by drowning was prescribed for the sin of adultery, be it
either by the husband or the wife. In Roman law, it was not a
crime against the wife for a husband to have sex with a slave or
an unmarried woman. The Roman lex Iulia de adulteriis
coercendis of 17 B.C., properly so named after Emperor
Augustus‘ daughter, Julia, punished Julia for adultery with
banishment. Consequently, in the case of adulterers generally,
both guilty parties were sent to be punished on different islands,
and part of their property was confiscated.
4
2. In Judaism, which again is an ancient religion, the Ten
Commandments delivered by the Lord to Moses on Mount Sinai
contains the Seventh Commandment – ―Thou shalt not commit
adultery‖ – set out in the book of Exodus in the Old Testament.
1
Equally, since the wages of sin is death, the book of Leviticus in
the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for the
adulterer as well as the adulteress.
2
3. In Christianity, we find adultery being condemned as
immoral and a sin for both men and women, as is evidenced by
St. Paul‘s letter to the Corinthians.
3
Jesus himself stated that a
man incurs sin the moment he looks at a woman with lustful
intent.
4 However, when it came to punishing a woman for
adultery, by stoning to death in accordance with the ancient
Jewish law, Jesus uttered the famous words, ―let him who has
not sinned, cast the first stone.‖5

1
Exodus 20:14 (King James Version).
2
Leviticus 20:10 (King James Version).
3
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (King James Version).
4 Matthew 5:27-28 (King James Version).
5
John, 8:7 (English Standard Version).
5
4. In this country as well, in the Manusmriti, Chapters 4.1346
and 8.3527
prescribes punishment for those who are addicted
to intercourse with wives of other men by punishments which
cause terror, followed by banishment. The Dharmasutras speak
with different voices. In the Apastamba Dharmasutra, adultery
is punishable as a crime, the punishment depending upon the
class or caste of the man and the woman.
8 However, in the
Gautama Dharmasutra, if a man commits adultery, he should
observe a life of chastity for two years; and if he does so with
the wife of a vedic scholar, for three years.9
5. In Islam, in An-Nur, namely, Chapter 24 of the Qur‘an,
Verses 2 and 6 to 9 read as follows:
―2. The adulteress and the adulterer, flog each of
them (with) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for
them detain you from obedience to Allah, if you
believe in Allah and the Last Day, and let a party of
believers witness their chastisement.‖10
xxx xxx xxx

6
THE LAWS OF MANU 150 (Translation by G. Buhler, Clarendon Press, UK, 1886).
7
Id., 315.
8 DHARMASUTRAS – THE LAW CODES OF APASTAMBA, GAUTAMA, BAUDHAYANA, AND VASISTHA 70-71
(Translation by Patrick Olivelle, Oxford University Press 1999).
9
Id., 116-117.
10 THE KORAN (AL–QUR‘AN): ARABIC-ENGLISH BILINGUAL EDITION WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY MOHAMED A.
‗ARAFA 363 (Maulana Muhammad Ali Translation, TellerBooks, 2018).
6
―6. And those who accuse their wives and have no
witnesses except themselves, let one of them testify
four times, bearing Allah to witness, that he is of
those who speak the truth.
7. And the fifth (time) that the curse of Allah be on
him, if he is of those who lie.
8. And it shall avert the chastisement from her, if she
testify four times, bearing Allah to witness, that he is
of those who lie.
9. And the fifth (time) that the wrath of Allah to be on
her, if he is of those who speak the truth.‖
11
What is interesting to note is that if there are no witnesses other
than the husband or the wife, and the husband testifies four
times that his wife has committed adultery, which is met by the
wife testifying four times that she has not, then earthly
punishment is averted. The wrath of Allah alone will be on the
head of he or she who has given false testimony – which wrath
will be felt only in life after death in the next world.
6. In sixth-century Anglo-Saxon England, the law created
―elaborate tables of composition‖ which the offended husband
could accept in lieu of blood vengeance. These tables were
schemes for payment of compensation depending upon the

11 Id.
7
degree of harm caused to the cuckolded husband. However, as
Christianity spread in England, adultery became morally wrong
and therefore, a sin, as well as a wrong against the husband.
Post 1066, the Normans who took over, viewed adultery not as
a crime against the State, but rather as an ecclesiastical
offence dealt with by the Church. The common law of England
prescribed an action in tort for loss of consortium based on the
property interest a husband had in his wife. Thus, the action for
conversation, which is compensation or damages, usually
represented a first step in obtaining divorce in medieval
England. In fact, adultery was the only ground for divorce in
seventeenth-century England, which had to be granted only by
Parliament. Interestingly enough, it was only after King Charles
I was beheaded in 1649, that adultery became a capital offence
in Cromwell‘s Puritanical England in the year 1650, which was
nullified as soon as King Charles II came back in what was
known as the ‗restoration of the monarchy‘. It will be seen
therefore, that in England, except for an eleven-year period
when England was ruled by the Puritans, adultery was never
considered to be a criminal offence. Adultery was only a tort for
8
which damages were payable to the husband, given his
proprietary interest in his wife.12 This tort is adverted to by a
1904 judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States in
Charles A. Tinker v. Frederick L. Colwell, 193 US 473
(1904), as follows:
―…… We think the authorities show the husband
had certain personal and exclusive rights with
regard to the person of his wife which are interfered
with and invaded by criminal conversation with her;
that such an act on the part of another man
constitutes an assault even when, as is almost
universally the case as proved, the wife in fact
consents to the act, because the wife is in law
incapable of giving any consent to affect the
husband‘s rights as against the wrongdoer, and that
an assault of this nature may properly be described
as an injury to the personal rights and property of
the husband, which is both malicious and willful……
The assault vi et armis is a fiction of law, assumed
at first, in early times, to give jurisdiction of the
cause of action as a trespass, to the courts, which
then proceeded to permit the recovery of damages
by the husband for his wounded feelings and
honour, the defilement of the marriage bed, and for
the doubt thrown upon the legitimacy of children.‖13
―We think that it is made clear by these references
to a few of the many cases on this subject that the
cause of action by the husband is based upon the

12 Linda Fitts Mischler, Personal Morals Masquerading as Professional Ethics: Regulations Banning Sex
between Domestic Relations Attorneys and Their Clients, 23 HARVARD WOMEN‘S LAW JOURNAL 1, 21-22
(2000) [―Linda Fitts Mischler‖].
13 Tinker v. Colwell, 193 U.S. 473, 481 (1904).
9
idea that the act of the defendant is a violation of the
marital rights of the husband in the person of his
wife, and so the act of the defendant is an injury to
the person and also to the property rights of the
husband.‖
14
To similar effect is the judgment in Pritchard v. Pritchard and
Sims, [1966] 3 All E.R. 601, which reconfirmed the origins of
adultery or criminal conversation as under:
―In 1857, when marriage in England was still a union
for life which could be broken only by private Act of
Parliament, there existed side by side under the
common law three distinct causes of action
available to a husband whose rights in his wife were
violated by a third party, who enticed her away, or
who harboured her or who committed adultery with
her. …… In the action for adultery known as criminal
conversation, which dates from before the time of
BRACTON, and consequently lay originally in
trespass, the act of adultery itself was the cause of
action and the damages punitive at large. It lay
whether the adultery resulted in the husband‘s
losing his wife‘s society and services or not. All
three causes of action were based on the
recognition accorded by the common law to the
husband‘s propriety interest in the person of his
wife, her services and earnings, and in the property
which would have been hers had she been feme
sole.‖15

14 Id., 485.
15 [1966] 3 All E.R. 601, 607.
10
7. In England, Section LIX of the Divorce and Matrimonial
Causes Act, 1857 abolished the common law action for criminal
conversation while retaining, by Section XXXIII of the same Act,
the power to award the husband damages for adultery
committed by the wife. This position continued right till 1923,
when the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1923 made adultery a
ground for divorce available to both spouses instead of only the
husband. The right of a husband to claim damages for adultery
was abolished very recently by the Law Reforms
(Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1970.16
8. In the United States, however, Puritans who went to make
a living in the American colonies, carried with them Cromwell‘s
criminal law, thereby making adultery a capital offence.
Strangely enough, this still continues in some of the States in
the United States. The American Law Institute, however, has
dropped the crime of adultery from its Model Penal Code as
adultery statutes are in general vague, archaic, and sexist.
None of the old reasons in support of such statutes, namely,

16 Section 4, Law Reforms (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1970.
11
the controlling of disease, the preventing of illegitimacy, and
preserving the traditional family continue to exist as of today. It
was also found that criminal adultery statutes were rarely
enforced in the United States and were, therefore, referred to
as ―dead letter statutes‖. This, plus the potential abuses from
such statutes continuing on the statute book, such as extortion,
blackmail, coercion etc. were stated to be reasons for removing
adultery as a crime in the Model Penal Code.
17
9. When we come to India, Lord Macaulay, in his draft Penal
Code, which was submitted to the Law Commissioners, refused
to make adultery a penal offence. He reasoned as follows:
―The following positions we consider as fully
established: first, that the existing laws for the
punishment of adultery are altogether inefficacious
for the purpose of preventing injured husbands of
the higher classes from taking the law into their own
hands; secondly, that scarcely any native of the
higher classes ever has recourse to the Courts of
law in a case of adultery for redress against either
his wife, or her gallant; thirdly, that the husbands
who have recourse in cases of adultery to the
Courts of law are generally poor men whose wives
have run away, that these husbands seldom have
any delicate feelings about the intrigue, but think
themselves injured by the elopement, that they

17 Linda Fitts Mischler, supra n. 12, 23-25.
12
consider their wives as useful members of their
small household, that they generally complain not of
the wound given to their affections, not of the stain
on their honor, but of the loss of a menial whom they
cannot easily replace, and that generally their
principal object is that the woman may be sent back.
The fiction by which seduction is made the subject
of an action in the English Courts is, it seems, the
real gist of most proceedings for adultery in the
Mofussil. The essence of the injury is considered by
the sufferer as lying in the ―per quod servitium
amisit.‖ Where the complainant does not ask to
have his wife again, he generally demands to be
reimbursed for the expenses of his marriage.
These things being established it seems to us that
no advantage is to be expected from providing a
punishment for adultery. The population seems to
be divided into two classes- those whom neither the
existing punishment nor any punishment which we
should feel ourselves justified in proposing will
satisfy, and those who consider the injury produced
by adultery as one for which a pecuniary
compensation will sufficiently atone. Those whose
feelings of honor are painfully affected by the
infidelity of their wives will not apply to the tribunals
at all. Those whose feelings are less delicate will be
satisfied by a payment of money. Under such
circumstances we think it best to treat adultery
merely as a civil injury.‖
xxx xxx xxx
―These arguments have not satisfied us that
adultery ought to be made punishable by law. We
cannot admit that a Penal code is by any means to
be considered as a body of ethics, that the
legislature ought to punish acts merely because
those acts are immoral, or that because an act is not
punished at all it follows that the legislature
13
considers that act as innocent. Many things which
are not punishable are morally worse than many
things which are punishable. The man who treats a
generous benefactor with gross in gratitude and
insolence, deserves more severe reprehension than
the man who aims a blow in a passion, or breaks a
window in a frolic. Yet we have punishments for
assault and mischief, and none for ingratitude. The
rich man who refuses a mouthful of rice to save a
fellow creature from death may be a far worse man
than the starving wretch who snatches and devours
the rice. Yet we punish the latter for theft, and we do
not punish the former for hard-heartedness.‖
xxx xxx xxx
―There is yet another consideration which we cannot
wholly leave out of sight. Though we well know that
the dearest interests of the human race are closely
connected with the chastity of women, and the
sacredness of the nuptial contract, we cannot but
feel that there are some peculiarities in the state of
society in this country which may well lead a
humane man to pause before he determines to
punish the infidelity of wives. The condition of the
women of this country is unhappily very different
from that of the women of England and France.
They are married while still children. They are often
neglected for other wives while still young. They
share the attentions of a husband with several
rivals. To make laws for punishing the inconstancy
of the wife while the law admits the privilege of the
husband to fill his zenana with women, is a course
which we are most reluctant to adopt. We are not so
visionary as to think of attacking by law an evil so
deeply rooted in the manners of the people of this
country as polygamy. We leave it to the slow, but we
trust the certain operation of education and of time.
But while it exists, while it continues to produce its
never failing effects on the happiness and
14
respectability of women, we are not inclined to throw
into a scale already too much depressed the
additional weight of the penal law. We have given
the reasons which lead us to believe that any
enactment on this subject would be nugatory. And
we are inclined to think that if not nugatory it would
be oppressive. It would strengthen hands already
too strong. It would weaken a class already too
weak. It will be time enough to guard the
matrimonial contract by penal sanctions when that
contract becomes just, reasonable, and mutually
beneficial.‖
18
10. However, when the Court Commissioners reviewed the
Penal Code, they felt that it was important that adultery be
made an offence. The reasons for so doing are set out as
follows:
―353. Having given mature consideration to the
subject, we have, after some hesitation, come to the
conclusion that it is not advisable to exclude this
offence from the Code. We think the reasons for
continuing to treat it as a subject for the cognizance
of the criminal courts preponderate. We conceive
that Colonel Sleeman is probably right in regarding
the difficulty of proving the offence according to the
requirement of the Mohammedan law of evidence,
which demands an amount of positive proof that is
scarcely ever to be had in such a case, as having
some effect in deterring the Natives from
prosecuting adulterers in our courts, although the

18 A PENAL CODE PREPARED BY THE INDIAN LAW COMMISSIONERS, AND PUBLISHED BY COMMAND OF THE
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF INDIA IN COUNCIL 91-93 (G.H. Huttmann, The Bengal Military Orphan Press,
1837).
15
Regulations allow of a conviction upon strong
presumption arising from circumstantial evidence.
This difficulty, if it has had the effect supposed, will
be removed, should the Code be adopted. Colonel
Sleeman‘s representation of the actual
consequences of the present system, which, while it
recognizes the offence, renders it, in the opinion of
the Natives, almost impossible to bring an offender
to justice, it will be observed, coincides with and
confirms practically Mr. Livingstone‘s view of the
result to be expected when the law refuses to
punish this offence. The injured party will do it for
himself; great crimes, assassinations, poisonings,
will be the consequence. The law here does not
refuse, but it fails to punish the offence, says
Colonel Sleeman, and poisonings are the
consequence.
354. Colonel Sleeman thinks that the
Commissioners have wrongly assumed that it is the
lenity of the existing law that it is complained of by
the Natives, and believes that they would be
satisfied with a less punishment for the offence than
the present law allows; viz. imprisonment for seven
years, if it were certain to follow the offender. He
proposes that the punishment of a man ―convicted
of seducing the wife of another‖ shall be
imprisonment which may extend to seven years, or
a fine payable to the husband or both imprisonment
and fine. The punishment of a married woman
―convicted of adultery‖ he would limit to
imprisonment for two years. We are not aware
whether or not he intends the difference in the terms
used to be significant of a difference in the nature of
the proof against the man and the woman
respectively.
355. While we think that the offence of adultery
ought not to be omitted from the Code, we would
limit its cognizance to adultery committed with a
16
married woman, and considering that there is much
weight in the last remark in Note Q, regarding the
condition of a women of this country, in deference to
it we would render the male offender alone liable to
punishment. We would, however, put the parties
accused of adultery on trial together, and empower
the Court, in the event of their conviction, to
pronounce a decree of divorce against the guilty
woman, if the husband sues for it, at the same time
that her paramour is sentenced to punishment by
imprisonment or fine. By Mr. Livingstone‘s Code, the
woman forfeits her ―matrimonial gains‖, but is not
liable to other punishment.
356. We would adopt Colonel Sleeman‘s
suggestion as to the punishment of the male
offender, limiting it to imprisonment not exceeding
five years, instead of seven years allowed at
present, and sanctioning the imposition of a fine
payable to the husband as an alternative, or in
addition.
357. The punishment prescribed by the Code of
Louisiana is imprisonment not more than six
months, or fine not exceeding 2,000 dollars, or both.
By the French Code, the maximum term of
imprisonment is two years, with fine in addition,
which may amount to 2,000 francs.
358. If the offence of adultery is admitted into the
Penal Code, there should be a provision in the Code
of Procedure to restrict the right of prosecuting to
the injured husband, agreeably to Section 2, Act II of
1845.‖
19
(emphasis supplied)

19 COPIES OF THE SPECIAL REPORTS OF THE INDIAN LAW COMMISSIONERS 76 (James C. Melvill, East India
House, 1847).
17
These are some of the reasons that led to the enactment of
Section 497, IPC.
11. At this stage, it is important to note that by Section 199 of
the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, it was only the husband
who was to be deemed to be aggrieved by an offence
punishable under Section 497, IPC. Thus, Section 199 stated:
―199. Prosecution for adultery or enticing a
married woman.— No Court shall take cognizance
of an offence under section 497 or section 498 of
the Indian Penal Code (XLV of 1860), except upon a
complaint made by the husband of the woman, or, in
his absence, by some person who had care of such
woman on his behalf at the time when such offence
was committed.‖
12. Even when this Code was replaced by the Code of
Criminal Procedure (―CrPC‖), 1973, Section 198 of the CrPC,
1973 continued the same provision with a proviso that in the
absence of the husband, some person who had care of the
woman on his behalf at the time when such offence was
committed may, with the leave of the Court, make a complaint
on his behalf. The said Section reads as follows:
18
―198. Prosecution for offences against
marriage.— (1) No Court shall take cognizance of
an offence punishable under Chapter XX of the
Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) except upon a
complaint made by some person aggrieved by the
offence:
Provided that—
(a) where such person is under the age of
eighteen years, or is an idiot or a lunatic, or
is from sickness or infirmity unable to make
a complaint, or is a woman who, according
to the local customs and manners, ought
not to be compelled to appear in public,
some other person may, with the leave of
the Court, make a complaint on his or her
behalf;
(b) where such person is the husband and
he is serving in any of the Armed Forces of
the Union under conditions which are
certified by his Commanding Officer as
precluding him from obtaining leave of
absence to enable him to make a
complaint in person, some other person
authorised by the husband in accordance
with the provisions of sub-section (4) may
make a complaint on his behalf;
(c) where the person aggrieved by an
offence punishable under Section 494 or
Section 495 of the Indian Penal Code (45
of 1860) is the wife, complaint may be
made on her behalf by her father, mother,
brother, sister, son or daughter or by her
father‘s or mother‘s brother or sister, or,
with the leave of the Court, by any other
person related to her by blood, marriage or
adoption.
19
(2) For the purposes of sub-section (1), no person
other than the husband of the woman shall be
deemed to be aggrieved by any offence punishable
under Section 497 or Section 498 of the said Code:
Provided that in the absence of the husband,
some person who had care of the woman on his
behalf at the time when such offence was
committed may, with the leave of the Court, make a
complaint on his behalf.
(3) When in any case falling under clause (a) of the
proviso to sub-section (1), the complaint is sought to
be made on behalf of a person under the age of
eighteen years or of a lunatic by a person who has
not been appointed or declared by a competent
authority to be the guardian of the person of the
minor or lunatic, and the Court is satisfied that there
is a guardian so appointed or declared, the Court
shall, before granting the application for leave,
cause notice to be given to such guardian and give
him a reasonable opportunity of being heard.
(4) The authorisation referred to in clause (b) of the
proviso to sub-section (1), shall be in writing, shall
be signed or otherwise attested by the husband,
shall contain a statement to the effect that he has
been informed of the allegations upon which the
complaint is to be founded, shall be countersigned
by his Commanding Officer, and shall be
accompanied by a certificate signed by that Officer
to the effect that leave of absence for the purpose of
making a complaint in person cannot for the time
being be granted to the husband.
(5) Any document purporting to be such an
authorisation and complying with the provisions of
sub-section (4), and any document purporting to be
a certificate required by that sub-section shall,
unless the contrary is proved, be presumed to be
genuine and shall be received in evidence.
20
(6) No Court shall take cognizance of an offence
under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of
1860), where such offence consists of sexual
intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife
being under eighteen years of age, if more than one
year has elapsed from the date of the commission
of the offence.
(7) The provisions of this section apply to the
abetment of, or attempt to commit, an offence as
they apply to the offence.‖
At this stage, it is important to advert to some of the judgments
of the High Courts and our Court. In Yusuf Abdul Aziz v.
State, 1952 ILR Bom 449, a Division Bench of the Bombay
High Court, consisting of M.C. Chagla, C.J. and P.B.
Gajendragadkar, J. held that Section 497 of the IPC did not
contravene Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution. However, in
an instructive passage, the learned Chief Justice stated:
―…… Mr. Peerbhoy is right when he says that the
underlying idea of Section 497 is that wives are
properties of their husbands. The very fact that this
offence is only cognizable with the consent of the
husband emphasises that point of view. It may be
argued that Section 497 should not find a place in
any modern Code of law. Days are past, we hope,
when women were looked upon as property by their
husbands. But that is an argument more in favour of
doing away with Section 497 altogether.‖
20

20 1952 ILR Bombay 449, 454.
21
An appeal to this Court in Yusuf Abdul Aziz v. State of
Bombay, 1954 SCR 930, (―Yusuf Abdul Aziz‖), met with the
same result.
This Court, through Vivian Bose, J., held that the last part of
Section 497, which states that the wife shall not be punishable
as an abettor of the offence of adultery, does not offend Articles
14 and 15 in view of the saving provision contained in Article
15(3), being a special provision made in favour of women.
This is an instance of Homer nodding. Apart from a limited ratio
based upon a limited argument, the judgment applies a
constitutional provision which is obviously inapplicable as
Article 15(3), which states that, ―nothing in this article shall
prevent the State from making a special provision for women‖,
would refer to the ―State‖ as either Parliament or the State
Legislatures or the Executive Government of the Centre or the
States, set up under the Constitution after it has come into
force. Section 497 is, in constitutional language, an ―existing
law‖ which continues, by virtue of Article 372(1), to apply, and
22
could not, therefore, be said to be a law made by the ―State‖,
meaning any of the entities referred to above.
13. We have noticed a judgment of the Division Bench of the
Bombay High Court in Dattatraya Motiram More v. State of
Bombay, AIR 1953 Bom 311, in which the Division Bench
turned down a submission that Article 15(3) is confined to laws
made after the Constitution of India comes into force and would
also apply to existing law thus:
―8. An argument was advanced by Mr. Patel that Art.
15(3) only applies to future legislation and that as far
as all laws in force before the commencement of the
Constitution were concerned, those laws can only
be tested by Art. 15(1) and not by Art. 15(1) read
with Art. 15(3). Mr. Patel contends that Art. 15(3)
permits the State in future to make a special
provision for women and children, but to the extent
the laws in force are concerned Art. 15(1) applies,
and if the laws in force are inconsistent with Art.
15(1), those laws must be held to be void. Turning
to Art. 13(1), it provides:
―All laws in force in the territory of India
immediately before the commencement of this
Constitution, in so far as they are inconsistent
with the provisions of this Part, shall, to the
extent of such inconsistency, be void.‖
Therefore, before a law in force can be declared to
be void it must be found to be inconsistent with one
of the provisions of Part III which deals with
23
Fundamental Rights, and the fundamental right
which is secured to the citizen under Art. 15 is not
the unlimited right under Art. 15(1) but the right
under Art. 15(1) qualified by Art. 15(3). It is
impossible to argue that the Constitution did not
permit laws to have special provision for women if
the laws were passed before the Constitution came
into force, but permitted the Legislature to pass laws
in favour of women after the Constitution was
enacted. If a law discriminating in favour of women
is opposed to the fundamental rights of citizens,
there is no reason why such law should continue to
remain on the statute book. The whole scheme of
Art. 13 is to make laws, which are inconsistent with
Part III, void, not only if they were in force before the
commencement of the Constitution, but also if they
were enacted after the Constitution came into force.
Mr. Patel relies on the various provisos to Art. 19
and he says that in all those provisos special
mention is made to existing laws and also to the
State making laws in future. Now, the scheme of Art.
19 is different from the scheme of Art. 15. Provisos
to Art. 19 in terms deal with law whether existing or
to be made in future by the State, whereas Art.
15(3) does not merely deal with laws but deals
generally with any special provision for women and
children, and therefore it was not necessary in Art.
15(3) to mention both existing laws and laws to be
made in future. But the exception made to Art. 15(1)
by Art. 15(3) is an exception which applies both to
existing laws and to laws which the State may make
in future.‖
14. We are of the view that this paragraph does not represent
the law correctly. In fact, Article 19(2)-(6) clearly refers to
―existing law‖ as being separate from ―the State making any
24
law‖, indicating that the State making any law would be laws
made after the Constitution comes into force as opposed to
―existing law‖, which are pre-constitutional laws enacted before
the Constitution came into force, as is clear from the definition
of ―existing law‖ contained in Article 366(10), which reads as
under:
―366. Definitions.—In this Constitution, unless the
context otherwise requires, the following
expressions have the meanings hereby respectively
assigned to them, that is to say—
xxx xxx xxx
(10) ―existing law‖ means any law, Ordinance, order,
bye-law, rule or regulation passed or made before
the commencement of this Constitution by any
Legislature, authority or person having power to
make such a law, Ordinance, order, bye-law, rule or
regulation;‖
15. Article 15(3) refers to the State making laws which
therefore, obviously cannot include existing law. Article 15(3) is
in this respect similar to Article 16(4), which reads as follows:
―16. Equality of opportunity in matters of public
employment.—
xxx xxx xxx
25
(4) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State
from making any provision for the reservation of
appointments or posts in favour of any backward
class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is
not adequately represented in the services under
the State.
The vital difference in language between Articles 15(3) and
16(4) on the one hand, and Article 19(2)-(6) on the other, must
thus be given effect.
16. Coming back to Yusuf Abdul Aziz (supra), the difference
in language between Article 15(3) and Article 19(2)-(6) was not
noticed. The limited ratio of this judgment merely refers to the
last sentence in Section 497 which it upholds. Its ratio does not
extend to upholding the entirety of the provision or referring to
any of the arguments made before us for striking down the
provision as a whole.
17. We then come to Sowmithri Vishnu v. Union of India
and Anr., (1985) Supp SCC 137, (―Sowmithri Vishnu‖). In this
case, an Article 32 petition challenged the constitutional validity
of Section 497 of the Penal Code on three grounds which are
set out in paragraph 6 of the judgment. Significantly, the
26
learned counsel in that case argued that Section 497 is a
flagrant instance of ‗gender discrimination‘, ‗legislative
despotism‘, and ‗male chauvinism‘. This Court repelled these
arguments stating that they had a strong emotive appeal but no
valid legal basis to rest upon. The first argument, namely, an
argument of discrimination was repelled by stating that the
ambit of the offence of adultery should make the woman
punishable as well. This was repelled by saying that such
arguments go to the policy of the law and not its
constitutionality. This was on the basis that it is commonly
accepted that it is the man who is the seducer and not the
woman. Even in 1985, the Court accepted that this archaic
position may have undergone some change over the years, but
it is for the legislature to consider whether Section 497 be
amended appropriately so as to take note of the transformation
that society has undergone.
The Court then referred to the 42nd Law Commission Report,
1971, which recommended the retention of Section 497, with
the modification that, even the wife, who has sexual relations
27
with a person other than her husband, should be made
punishable for adultery. The dissenting note of Mrs. Anna
Chandi was also taken note of, where the dissenter stated that
this is the right time to consider the question whether the
offence of adultery, as envisaged in Section 497, is in tune with
our present-day notions of women‘s status in marriage.
The second ground was repelled stating that a woman is the
victim of the crime, and as the offence of adultery is considered
as an offence against the sanctity of the matrimonial home, only
those men who defile that sanctity are brought within the net of
the law. Therefore, it is of no moment that Section 497 does not
confer any right on the wife to prosecute the husband who has
committed adultery with another woman.
The third ground, namely, that Section 497 is underinclusive
inasmuch as a husband who has sexual relations with an
unmarried woman is not within the net of the law, was repelled
stating that an unfaithful husband may invite a civil action by the
wife for separation, and that the Legislature is entitled to deal
with the evil where it is felt and seen most.
28
A challenge on the ground of Article 21 was also repelled,
stating that the fact that a provision for hearing the wife is not
contained in Section 497 cannot render that Section
unconstitutional. This Court then referred to the judgment in
Yusuf Abdul Aziz (supra) and stated that since it was a 1954
decision, and 30 years had passed since then, this Court was
examining the position afresh. The Court ended with the
sermon, ―stability of marriages is not an ideal to be scorned.‖
18. In V. Revathi v. Union of India and Ors., (1988) 2 SCC
72, this Court, after referring to Sowmithri Vishnu (supra),
repelled a similar challenge to Section 198 of the CrPC, 1973.
After referring to Sowmithri Vishnu (supra), since Section 497,
IPC and Section 198, CrPC go hand in hand and constitute a
‗legislative packet‘ to deal with the offence of adultery
committed by an outsider, the challenge to the said Section
failed.
19. International trends worldwide also indicate that very few
nations continue to treat adultery as a crime, though most
29
nations retain adultery for the purposes of divorce laws. Thus,
adultery continues to be a criminal offence in Afghanistan,
Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan,
Philippines, United Arab Emirates, some states of the United
States of America, Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Egypt, Morocco, and some parts of Nigeria.
On the other hand, a number of jurisdictions have done away
with adultery as a crime. The People‘s Republic of China,
Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, the
Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Austria, the Republic
of Ireland, Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago,
Seychelles etc. are some of the jurisdictions in which it has
been done away with. In South Korea21 and Guatemala,22
provisions similar to Section 497 have been struck down by the
constitutional courts of those nations.

21 2009 Hun-Ba 17, (26.02.2015) [Constitutional Court of South Korea].
22 Expediente 936-95, (07.03.1996), República de Guatemala Corte de Constitucionalidad [Constitutional
Court of Guatemala].
30
20. The Supreme Court of Namibia, in an instructive
judgment,23 went into whether the criminal offence of adultery
would protect marriages and reduce the incidence of adultery. It
said:
―[45] But does the action protect marriages from
adultery? For the reasons articulated by both the
SCA and the Constitutional Court, I do not consider
that the action can protect marriage as it does not
strengthen a weakening marriage or breathe life into
one which is in any event disintegrating. [DE v. RH,
2015 (5) SA 83 (CC) (Constitutional Court of South
Africa) para 49]. The reasoning set out by the SCA
is salutary and bears repetition:
‗But the question is: if the protection of marriage
is one of its main goals, is the action successful
in achieving that goal? The question becomes
more focused when the spotlight is directed at
the following considerations:
(a) First of all, as was pointed out by the
German Bundesgericht in the passage
from the judgment (JZ 1973, 668) from
which I have quoted earlier, although
marriage is —
‗a human institution which is
regulated by law and protected by
the Constitution and which, in turn,
creates genuine legal duties. Its
essence . . . consists in the

23 James Sibongo v. Lister Lutombi Chaka and Anr. (Case No. SA77-14) (19.08.2016) [Supreme Court of
Namibia].
31
readiness, founded in morals, of the
parties to the marriage to create and
to maintain it.‘
If the parties to the marriage have lost
that moral commitment, the marriage will
fail, and punishment meted out to a third
party is unlikely to change that.
(b) Grave doubts are expressed by many
about the deterrent effect of the action.
In most other countries it was concluded
that the action (no longer) has any
deterrent effect and I have no reason to
think that the position in our society is all
that different. Perhaps one reason is that
adultery occurs in different
circumstances. Every so often it
happens without any premeditation,
when deterrence hardly plays a role. At
the other end of the scale, the adultery is
sometimes carefully planned and the
participants are confident that it will not
be discovered. Moreover, romantic
involvement between one of the spouses
and a third party can be as devastating
to the marital relationship as (or even
more so than) sexual intercourse.
(c) If deterrence is the main purpose,
one would have thought that this could
better be achieved by retaining the
imposition of criminal sanctions or by the
grant of an interdict in favour of the
innocent spouse against both the guilty
spouse and the third party to prevent
future acts of adultery. But, as we know,
the crime of adultery had become
abrogated through disuse exactly 100
32
years ago while an interdict against
adultery has never been granted by our
courts (see, for example, Wassenaar v
Jameson
, supra at 352H
– 353H). Some
of the reasons given in Wassenaar as to
why an interdict would not be
appropriate are quite enlightening and
would apply equally to the
appropriateness of a claim for damages.
These include, firstly, that an interdict
against the guilty spouse is not possible
because he or she commits no delict.
Secondly, that as against a third party

‗it interferes with, and restricts the
rights and freedom that the third
party ordinarily has of using and
disposing of his body as he
chooses; . . . it also affects the
relationship of the third party with
the claimant’s spouse, who is and
cannot be a party to the interdict,
and therefore indirectly interferes
with, and restricts her rights and
freedom of, using and disposing of
her body as she chooses
‘. [At
353E.]
(d) In addition the deterrence argument
seems to depart from the assumption
that adultery is the cause of the
breakdown of a marriage, while it is now
widely recognised that causes for the
breakdown in marriages are far more
complex. Quite frequently adultery is
found to be the result and not the cause
of an unhappy marital relationship.
Conversely stated, a marriage in which
the spouses are living in harmony is
33
hardly likely to be broken up by a third
party.‘‖24
21. Coming back to Section 497, it is clear that in order to
constitute the offence of adultery, the following must be
established:
(i) Sexual intercourse between a married woman and a
man who is not her husband;
(ii) The man who has sexual intercourse with the married
woman must know or has reason to believe that she
is the wife of another man;
(iii) Such sexual intercourse must take place with her
consent, i.e., it must not amount to rape;
(iv) Sexual intercourse with the married woman must
take place without the consent or connivance of her
husband.
22. What is apparent on a cursory reading of these
ingredients is that a married man, who has sexual intercourse

24 Id., 17-19.
34
with an unmarried woman or a widow, does not commit the
offence of adultery. Also, if a man has sexual intercourse with a
married woman with the consent or connivance of her husband,
he does not commit the offence of adultery. The consent of the
woman committing adultery is material only for showing that the
offence is not another offence, namely, rape.
23. The background in which this provision was enacted now
needs to be stated. In 1860, when the Penal Code was
enacted, the vast majority of the population in this country,
namely, Hindus, had no law of divorce as marriage was
considered to be a sacrament. Equally, a Hindu man could
marry any number of women until 1955. It is, therefore, not far
to see as to why a married man having sexual intercourse with
an unmarried woman was not the subject matter of the offence.
Since adultery did not exist as a ground in divorce law, there
being no divorce law, and since a man could marry any number
of wives among Hindus, it was clear that there was no sense in
punishing a married man in having sex with an unmarried
woman as he could easily marry her at a subsequent point in
35
time. Two of the fundamental props or bases of this archaic law
have since gone. Post 1955-1956, with the advent of the ―Hindu
Code‖, so to speak, a Hindu man can marry only one wife; and
adultery has been made a ground for divorce in Hindu Law.
Further, the real heart of this archaic law discloses itself when
consent or connivance of the married woman‘s husband is
obtained – the married or unmarried man who has sexual
intercourse with such a woman, does not then commit the
offence of adultery. This can only be on the paternalistic notion
of a woman being likened to chattel, for if one is to use the
chattel or is licensed to use the chattel by the ―licensor‖,
namely, the husband, no offence is committed. Consequently,
the wife who has committed adultery is not the subject matter of
the offence, and cannot, for the reason that she is regarded
only as chattel, even be punished as an abettor. This is also for
the chauvinistic reason that the third-party male has ‗seduced‘
her, she being his victim. What is clear, therefore, is that this
archaic law has long outlived its purpose and does not square
with today‘s constitutional morality, in that the very object with
36
which it was made has since become manifestly arbitrary,
having lost its rationale long ago and having become in today‘s
day and age, utterly irrational. On this basis alone, the law
deserves to be struck down, for with the passage of time,
Article 14 springs into action and interdicts such law as being
manifestly arbitrary. That legislation can be struck down on the
ground of manifest arbitrariness is no longer open to any doubt,
as has been held by this Court in Shayara Bano v. Union of
India and Ors., (2017) 9 SCC 1, as follows:
―101. …… Manifest arbitrariness, therefore, must be
something done by the legislature capriciously,
irrationally and/or without adequate determining
principle. Also, when something is done which is
excessive and disproportionate, such legislation
would be manifestly arbitrary. We are, therefore, of
the view that arbitrariness in the sense of manifest
arbitrariness as pointed out by us above would
apply to negate legislation as well under Article 14.‖
24. It is clear, therefore, that the ostensible object of Section
497, as pleaded by the State, being to protect and preserve the
sanctity of marriage, is not in fact the object of Section 497 at
all, as has been seen hereinabove. The sanctity of marriage
can be utterly destroyed by a married man having sexual
37
intercourse with an unmarried woman or a widow, as has been
seen hereinabove. Also, if the husband consents or connives at
such sexual intercourse, the offence is not committed, thereby
showing that it is not sanctity of marriage which is sought to be
protected and preserved, but a proprietary right of a husband.
Secondly, no deterrent effect has been shown to exist, or ever
to have existed, which may be a legitimate consideration for a
State enacting criminal law. Also, manifest arbitrariness is writ
large even in cases where the offender happens to be a
married woman whose marriage has broken down, as a result
of which she no longer cohabits with her husband, and may in
fact, have obtained a decree for judicial separation against her
husband, preparatory to a divorce being granted. If, during this
period, she has sex with another man, the other man is
immediately guilty of the offence.
25. The aforesaid provision is also discriminatory and
therefore, violative of Article 14 and Article 15(1). As has been
held by us hereinabove, in treating a woman as chattel for the
purposes of this provision, it is clear that such provision
38
discriminates against women on grounds of sex only, and must
be struck down on this ground as well. Section 198, CrPC is
also a blatantly discriminatory provision, in that it is the husband
alone or somebody on his behalf who can file a complaint
against another man for this offence. Consequently, Section
198 has also to be held constitutionally infirm.
26. We have, in our recent judgment in Justice K.S.
Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors.,
(2017) 10 SCC 1, (―Puttaswamy‖), held:
―108. Over the last four decades, our constitutional
jurisprudence has recognised the inseparable
relationship between protection of life and liberty
with dignity. Dignity as a constitutional value finds
expression in the Preamble. The constitutional
vision seeks the realisation of justice (social,
economic and political); liberty (of thought,
expression, belief, faith and worship); equality (as a
guarantee against arbitrary treatment of individuals)
and fraternity (which assures a life of dignity to
every individual). These constitutional precepts exist
in unity to facilitate a humane and compassionate
society. The individual is the focal point of the
Constitution because it is in the realisation of
individual rights that the collective well-being of the
community is determined. Human dignity is an
integral part of the Constitution. Reflections of
dignity are found in the guarantee against
arbitrariness (Article 14), the lamps of freedom
39
(Article 19) and in the right to life and personal
liberty (Article 21).‖
xxx xxx xxx
―298. Privacy of the individual is an essential aspect
of dignity. Dignity has both an intrinsic and
instrumental value. As an intrinsic value, human
dignity is an entitlement or a constitutionally
protected interest in itself. In its instrumental facet,
dignity and freedom are inseparably intertwined,
each being a facilitative tool to achieve the other.
The ability of the individual to protect a zone of
privacy enables the realisation of the full value of life
and liberty. Liberty has a broader meaning of which
privacy is a subset. All liberties may not be
exercised in privacy. Yet others can be fulfilled only
within a private space. Privacy enables the
individual to retain the autonomy of the body and
mind. The autonomy of the individual is the ability to
make decisions on vital matters of concern to life.
Privacy has not been couched as an independent
fundamental right. But that does not detract from the
constitutional protection afforded to it, once the true
nature of privacy and its relationship with those
fundamental rights which are expressly protected is
understood. Privacy lies across the spectrum of
protected freedoms. The guarantee of equality is a
guarantee against arbitrary State action. It prevents
the State from discriminating between individuals.
The destruction by the State of a sanctified personal
space whether of the body or of the mind is violative
of the guarantee against arbitrary State action.
Privacy of the body entitles an individual to the
integrity of the physical aspects of personhood. The
intersection between one’s mental integrity and
privacy entitles the individual to freedom of thought,
the freedom to believe in what is right, and the
freedom of self-determination. When these
40
guarantees intersect with gender, they create a
private space which protects all those elements
which are crucial to gender identity. The family,
marriage, procreation and sexual orientation are all
integral to the dignity of the individual. Above all, the
privacy of the individual recognises an inviolable
right to determine how freedom shall be exercised.
An individual may perceive that the best form of
expression is to remain silent. Silence postulates a
realm of privacy. An artist finds reflection of the soul
in a creative endeavour. A writer expresses the
outcome of a process of thought. A musician
contemplates upon notes which musically lead to
silence. The silence, which lies within, reflects on
the ability to choose how to convey thoughts and
ideas or interact with others. These are crucial
aspects of personhood. The freedoms under Article
19 can be fulfilled where the individual is entitled to
decide upon his or her preferences. Read in
conjunction with Article 21, liberty enables the
individual to have a choice of preferences on
various facets of life including what and how one will
eat, the way one will dress, the faith one will
espouse and a myriad other matters on which
autonomy and self-determination require a choice to
be made within the privacy of the mind. The
constitutional right to the freedom of religion under
Article 25 has implicit within it the ability to choose a
faith and the freedom to express or not express
those choices to the world. These are some
illustrations of the manner in which privacy facilitates
freedom and is intrinsic to the exercise of liberty.
The Constitution does not contain a separate article
telling us that privacy has been declared to be a
fundamental right. Nor have we tagged the
provisions of Part III with an alpha-suffixed right to
privacy: this is not an act of judicial redrafting.
Dignity cannot exist without privacy. Both reside
within the inalienable values of life, liberty and
41
freedom which the Constitution has recognised.
Privacy is the ultimate expression of the sanctity of
the individual. It is a constitutional value which
straddles across the spectrum of fundamental rights
and protects for the individual a zone of choice and
self-determination.‖
xxx xxx xxx
―482. Shri Sundaram has argued that rights have to
be traced directly to those expressly stated in the
fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution for
such rights to receive protection, and privacy is not
one of them. It will be noticed that the dignity of the
individual is a cardinal value, which is expressed in
the Preamble to the Constitution. Such dignity is not
expressly stated as a right in the fundamental rights
chapter, but has been read into the right to life and
personal liberty. The right to live with dignity is
expressly read into Article 21 by the judgment
in Jolly George Varghese v. Bank of Cochin [Jolly
George Varghese v. Bank of Cochin, (1980) 2 SCC
360], at para 10. Similarly, the right against bar
fetters and handcuffing being integral to an
individual’s dignity was read into Article 21 by the
judgment in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Admn. [Sunil
Batra v. Delhi Admn., (1978) 4 SCC 494 : 1979 SCC
(Cri) 155], at paras 192, 197-B, 234 and 241 and
Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Admn. [Prem
Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Admn., (1980) 3 SCC 526 :
1980 SCC (Cri) 815], at paras 21 and 22. It is too
late in the day to canvas that a fundamental right
must be traceable to express language in Part III of
the Constitution. As will be pointed out later in this
judgment, a Constitution has to be read in such a
way that words deliver up principles that are to be
followed and if this is kept in mind, it is clear that the
concept of privacy is contained not merely in
42
personal liberty, but also in the dignity of the
individual.‖
xxx xxx xxx
―525. But most important of all is the cardinal value
of fraternity which assures the dignity of the
individual. [In 1834, Jacques-Charles DuPont de
l’Eure associated the three terms liberty, equality
and fraternity together in the Revue Républicaine,
which he edited, as follows: ―Any man aspires to
liberty, to equality, but he cannot achieve it without
the assistance of other men, without fraternity.‖
Many of our decisions recognise human dignity as
being an essential part of the fundamental rights
chapter. For example, see Prem Shankar Shukla v.
Delhi Admn., (1980) 3 SCC 526 at para 21, Francis
Coralie Mullin v. UT of Delhi, (1981) 1 SCC 608 at
paras 6, 7 and 8, Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of
India, (1984) 3 SCC 161 at para 10, Maharashtra
University of Health Sciences v. Satchikitsa
Prasarak Mandal, (2010) 3 SCC 786 at para
37, Shabnam v. Union of India, (2015) 6 SCC 702 at
paras 12.4 and 14 and Jeeja Ghosh v. Union of
India, (2016) 7 SCC 761 at para 37.] The dignity of
the individual encompasses the right of the
individual to develop to the full extent of his
potential. And this development can only be if an
individual has autonomy over fundamental personal
choices and control over dissemination of personal
information which may be infringed through an
unauthorised use of such information. It is clear that
Article 21, more than any of the other articles in the
fundamental rights chapter, reflects each of these
constitutional values in full, and is to be read in
consonance with these values and with the
international covenants that we have referred to. In
the ultimate analysis, the fundamental right to
privacy, which has so many developing facets, can
43
only be developed on a case-to-case basis.
Depending upon the particular facet that is relied
upon, either Article 21 by itself or in conjunction with
other fundamental rights would get attracted.‖
The dignity of the individual, which is spoken of in the Preamble
to the Constitution of India, is a facet of Article 21 of the
Constitution. A statutory provision belonging to the hoary past
which demeans or degrades the status of a woman obviously
falls foul of modern constitutional doctrine and must be struck
down on this ground also.
27. When we come to the decision of this Court in Yusuf
Abdul Aziz (supra), it is clear that this judgment also does not,
in any manner, commend itself or keep in tune with modern
constitutional doctrine. In any case, as has been held above, its
ratio is an extremely limited one as it upheld a wife not being
punishable as an abettor which is contained in Section 497,
IPC. The focus on whether the provision as a whole would be
constitutionally infirm was not there in the aforesaid judgment.
At this stage, it is necessary to advert to Chief Justice Chagla‘s
foresight in the Bombay High Court judgment which landed up
44
in appeal before this Court in Yusuf Abdul Aziz’s (supra).
Chief Justice Chagla had stated that since the underlying idea
of Section 497 is that wives are properties of their husbands,
Section 497 should not find a place in any modern Code of law,
and is an argument in favour of doing away with Section 497
altogether. The day has long since arrived when the Section
does, in fact, need to be done away with altogether, and is
being done away with altogether.
28. In Sowmithri Vishnu (supra), this Court upheld Section
497 while repelling three arguments against its continuance, as
has been noticed hereinabove. This judgment also must be
said to be swept away by the tidal wave of recent judgments
expanding the scope of the fundamental rights contained in
Articles 14, 15, and 21. Ancient notions of the man being the
seducer and the woman being the victim permeate the
judgment, which is no longer the case today. The moving times
have not left the law behind as we have just seen, and so far as
engaging the attention of law makers when reform of penal law
is undertaken, we may only hasten to add that even when the
45
CrPC was fully replaced in 1973, Section 198 continued to be
on the statute book. Even as of today, Section 497 IPC
continues to be on the statute book. When these sections are
wholly outdated and have outlived their purpose, not only does
the maxim of Roman law, cessante ratione legis, cessat ipsa
lex, apply to interdict such law, but when such law falls foul of
constitutional guarantees, it is this Court‘s solemn duty not to
wait for legislation but to strike down such law. As recently as in
Shayara Bano (supra), it is only the minority view of Khehar,
C.J.I. and S. Abdul Nazeer, J., that one must wait for the law to
change legislatively by way of social reform. The majority view
was the exact opposite, which is why Triple Talaq was found
constitutionally infirm and struck down by the majority. Also, we
are of the view that the statement in this judgment that stability
of marriages is not an ideal to be scorned, can scarcely be
applied to this provision, as we have seen that marital stability
is not the object for which this provision was enacted. On all
these counts, therefore, we overrule the judgment in Sowmithri
Vishnu (supra). Equally, the judgment in V. Revathi (supra),
which upheld the constitutional validity of Section 198 must, for
46
similar reasons, be held to be no longer good law. We,
therefore, declare that Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code,
1860 and Section 198 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
are violative of Articles 14, 15(1), and 21 of the Constitution of
India and are, therefore, struck down as being invalid.
……………………………..J.
(R.F. Nariman)
New Delhi;
September 27, 2018.
1
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO 194 OF 2017
JOSEPH SHINE …Petitioner
VERSUS
UNION OF INDIA …Respondent
J U D G M E N T
Index
A Gender: the discursive struggle
B Judicial discourse on adultery
C Relics of the past
D Across frontiers
E Confronting patriarchy
F ‘The Good Wife’
F.1 The entrapping cage
G Denuding identity – women as sexual property
G.1 Exacting fidelity: the intimacies of marriage
H Towards transformative justice
PART A
2
Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J
A Gender: the discursive struggle
1 Our Constitution is a repository of rights, a celebration of myriad freedoms
and liberties. It envisages the creation of a society where the ideals of equality,
dignity and freedom triumph over entrenched prejudices and injustices. The
creation of a just, egalitarian society is a process. It often involves the
questioning and obliteration of parochial social mores which are antithetical to
constitutional morality. The case at hand enjoins this constitutional court to make
an enquiry into the insidious permeation of patriarchal values into the legal order
and its role in perpetuating gender injustices.
2 Law and society are intrinsically connected and oppressive social values
often find expression in legal structures. The law influences society as well but
societal values are slow to adapt to leads shown by the law. The law on adultery
cannot be construed in isolation. To fully comprehend its nature and impact,
every legislative provision must be understood as a ‘discourse’ about social
structuring.1 However, the discourse of law is not homogenous.2
In the context
particularly of Section 497, it regards individuals as ‘gendered citizens’.
3
In doing
so, the law creates and ascribes gender roles based on existing societal

1 Ratna Kapur and Brenda Cossman, Subversive Sites: Feminist Engagements with Law in India, Sage Publications
(1996) at page 40
2
Ibid at page 41
3
Ibid
PART A
3
stereotypes. An understanding of law as a ‘discourse’ would lead to the
recognition of the role of law in creating ‘gendered identities’.
4
3 Over the years, legal reform has had a significant role in altering the
position of women in societal orderings. This is seen in matters concerning
inheritance and in the protection against domestic violence. However, in some
cases, the law operates to perpetuate an unequal world for women. Thus,
depending on the manner in which it is used, law can act as an agent of social
change as well as social stagnation. Scholar Patricia Williams, who has done
considerable work on the critical race theory, is sanguine about the possibility of
law engendering progressive social transformation:
“It is my deep belief that theoretical legal understanding and
social transformation need not be oxymoronic”5
The Constitution, both in text and interpretation, has played a significant role in
the evolution of law from being an instrument of oppression to becoming one of
liberation. Used in a liberal perspective, the law can enhance democratic values.
As an instrument which preserves the status quo on the other hand, the law
preserves stereotypes and legitimises unequal relationships based on preexisting
societal discrimination. Constantly evolving, law operates as an
important “site for discursive struggle”, where ideals compete and new visions
are shaped.6
. In regarding law as a “site of discursive struggle”, it becomes

4
Ibid
5 Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights, Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1991)
6 Ratna Kapur and Brenda Cossman, Subversive Sites: Feminist Engagements with Law in India, Sage Publications
(1996) at page 41
PART A
4
imperative to examine the institutions and structures within which legal discourse
operates:7
“The idea of neutral dialogue is an idea which denies history,
denies structure, denies the positioning of subjects.”8
In adjudicating on the rights of women, the Court must not lose sight of the
institutions and values which have forced women to a shackled existence so far.
To fully recognise the role of law and society in shaping the lives and identities of
women, is also to ensure that patriarchal social values and legal norms are not
permitted to further obstruct the exercise of constitutional rights by the women of
our country.
4 In the preceding years, the Court has evolved a jurisprudence of rightsgranting
primacy to the right to autonomy, dignity and individual choice. The right
to sexual autonomy and privacy has been granted the stature of a Constitutional
right. In confronting the sources of gendered injustice which threaten the rights
and freedoms promised in our Constitution, we set out to examine the validity of
Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code. In doing so, we also test the
constitutionality of moral and societal regulation of women and their intimate lives
through the law.

7
Ibid
8 Gayatri Spivak, The Post Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogies, Routledge (1990)
PART B
5
B Judicial discourse on adultery
5 This Court, on earlier occasions, has tested the constitutionality of Section
497 of the Indian Penal Code as well as Section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal
Procedure.
Section 497 reads thus:
“Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and
whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of
another man, without the consent or connivance of that man,
such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape,
is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be punished with
imprisonment of either description for a term which may
extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case
the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.”
Section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure reads thus:
“(2) For the purposes of sub- section (1), no person other
than the husband of the woman shall be deemed to be
aggrieved by any offence punishable under section 497 or
section 498 of the said Code: Provided that in the absence of
the husband, some person who had care of the woman on his
behalf at the time when such offence was com- mitted may,
with the leave of the Court, make a complaint on his behalf.”
6 The decision of the Constitution Bench in Yusuf Abdul Aziz v State of
Bombay9
, arose from a case where the appellant was being prosecuted for
adultery under Section 497. On a complaint being filed, he moved the High Court
to determine the constitutional question about the validity of the provision, under

9 1954 SCR 930
PART B
6
Article 228. The High Court decided against the appellant10, but Chief Justice
Chagla made an observation about the assumption underlying Section 497:
“Mr Peerbhoy is right when he says that the underlying idea
of Section 497 is that wives are properties of their husbands.
The very fact that the offence is only cognizable with the
consent of the husband emphasises that point of view. It may
be argued that Section 497 should not find a place in any
modern Code of law. Days are past, when women were
looked upon as property by their husbands.”
A narrow challenge was addressed before this Court. The judgment of Justice
Vivian Bose records the nature of the challenge:
“3. Under Section 497 the offence of adultery can only be
committed by a man but in the absence of any provision to
the contrary the woman would be punishable as an abettor.
The last sentence in Section 497 prohibits this. It runs—
“In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor”.
It is said that this offends Articles 14 and 15.”
Hence, the challenge was only to the prohibition on treating the wife as an
abettor. It was this challenge which was dealt with and repelled on the ground
that Article 14 must be read with the other provisions of Part III which prescribe
the ambit of the fundamental rights. The prohibition on treating the wife as an
abettor was upheld as a special provision which is saved by Article 15(3). The
conclusion was that:
“5. Article 14 is general and must be read with the other
provisions which set out the ambit of fundamental rights. Sex
is a sound classification and although there can be no
discrimination in general on that ground, the Constitution itself
provides for special provisions in the case of women and
children. The two articles read together validate the impugned
clause in Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code.”

10 AIR 1951 Bom 470
PART B
7
7 The challenge was to a limited part of Section 497: that which prohibited a
woman from being prosecuted as an abettor. Broader issues such as whether (i)
the punishment for adultery violates Article 21; (ii) the statutory provision suffers
from manifest arbitrariness; (iii) the legislature has, while ostensibly protecting
the sanctity of marriage, invaded the dignity of women; and (iv) Section 497
violates Article 15(1) by enforcing gender stereotypes were neither addressed
before this Court nor were they dealt with.
This Court construed the exemption granted to women from criminal sanctions as
a ‘special provision’ for the benefit of women and thus, protected under Article
15(3) of the Constitution. In Union of India v Elphinstone Spinning and
Weaving Co. Ltd,
11 a Constitution Bench of this Court held:
“17…When the question arises as to the meaning of a certain
provision in a statute it is not only legitimate but proper to
read that provision in its context. The context means the
statute as a whole, the previous state of law, other statutes in
pari materia, the general scope of the statute and the mischief
that it was intended to remedy…”12
It is of particular relevance to examine the mischief that the provision intends to
remedy. 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.
It was aimed at preventing the woman from exercising her sexual agency. Thus,
Section 497 was never conceived to benefit women. In fact, the provision is
steeped in stereotypes about women and their subordinate role in marriage. The

11 (2001) 4 SCC 139
12 Ibid. at page 164
PART B
8
patriarchal underpinnings of the law on adultery become evident when the
provision is considered as a whole.
8 In the subsequent decision of the three judge Bench in Sowmithri Vishnu
v Union of India13
, the court proceeded on the basis that the earlier decision in
Yusuf Abdul Aziz had upheld Section 497 against a challenge based on Articles
14 and 15 of the Constitution. This is not a correct reading or interpretation of the
judgment.
9 Sowmithri Vishnu did as a matter of fact consider the wider constitutional
challenge on the ground that after the passage of thirty years, “particularly in the
light of the alleged social transformation in the behavioural pattern of women in
matters of sex”, it had become necessary that the matter be revisited. Sowmithri
Vishnu arose in a situation where a petition for divorce by the appellant against
her husband on the ground of desertion was dismissed with the finding that it
was the appellant who had deserted her husband. The appellant’s husband then
sued for divorce on the ground of desertion and adultery. Faced with this petition,
the appellant urged that a decree for divorce on the ground of desertion may be
passed on the basis of the findings in the earlier petition. She, however, opposed
the effort of the husband to urge the ground of adultery. While the trial court
accepted the plea of the husband to assert the ground of adultery, the High Court
held in revision that a decree of divorce was liable to be passed on the ground of
desertion, making it unnecessary to inquire into adultery. While the petition for

13 1985 Supp SCC 137
PART B
9
divorce was pending against the appellant, her husband filed a complaint under
Section 497 against the person with whom the appellant was alleged to be in an
adulterous relationship. The appellant then challenged the constitutional validity
of Section 497.
The judgment of the three judge Bench indicates that three grounds of challenge
were addressed before this Court : first, while Section 497 confers a right on the
husband to prosecute the adulterer, it does not confer upon the wife to prosecute
the woman with whom her husband has committed adultery; second, Section
497 does not confer a right on the wife to prosecute her husband who has
committed adultery with another woman; and third, Section 497 does not cover
cases where a man has sexual relations with an unmarried woman. The
submission before this Court was that the classification under Section 497 was
irrational and ‘arbitrary’. Moreover, it was also urged that while facially, the
provision appears to be beneficial to a woman, it is in reality based on a notion of
paternalism “which stems from the assumption that women, like chattels, are the
property of men.”
10 The decision in Sowmithri Vishnu dealt with the constitutional challenge
by approaching the discourse on the denial of equality in formal, and rather
narrow terms. Chandrachud, CJ speaking for the three judge Bench observed
that by definition, the offence of adultery can be committed by a man and not by
a woman. The court construed the plea of the petitioner as amounting to a
PART B
10
suggestion that the definition should be recast in a manner that would make the
offence gender neutral. The court responded by observing that this was a matter
of legislative policy and that the court could invalidate the provision only if a
constitutional violation is established. The logic of the court, to the effect that
extending the ambit of a statutory definition is a matter which requires legislative
change is unexceptionable. The power to fashion an amendment to the law lies
with the legislature. But this only leads to the conclusion that the court cannot
extend the legislative prescription by making the offence gender neutral. It does
not answer the fundamental issue as to whether punishment for adultery is valid
in constitutional terms. The error in Sowmithri Vishnu lies in holding that there
was no constitutional infringement. The judgment postulates that:
“7…It is commonly accepted that it is the man who is the
seducer and not the woman. This position may have
undergone some change over the years but it is for the
Legislature to consider whether Section 497 should be
amended appropriately so as to take note of the
“transformation” which the society has undergone. The Law
Commission of India in its Forty-second Report, 1971,
recommended the retention of Section 497 in its present form
with the modification that, even the wife, who has sexual
relations with a person other than her husband, should be
made punishable for adultery. The suggested modification
was not accepted by the Legislature. Mrs Anna Chandi, who
was in the minority, voted for the deletion of Section 497 on
the ground that “it is the right time to consider the question
whether the offence of adultery as envisaged in Section 497
is in tune with our present-day notions of woman’s status in
marriage”. The report of the Law Commission shows that
there can be two opinions on the desirability of retaining a
provision like the one contained in Section 497 on the statute
book. But, we cannot strike down that section on the ground
that it is desirable to delete it.”14

14 Ibid. at page 141
PART B
11
These observations indicate that the constitutional challenge was addressed
purely from the perspective of the argument that Section 497 is not gender
neutral, in allowing only the man but not to the woman in a sexual relationship to
be prosecuted. The court proceeded on the assumption, which it regards as
“commonly accepted that it is the man who is the seducer and not the woman.”
Observing that this position may have undergone some change, over the years,
the decision holds that these are matters for the legislature to consider and that
the desirability of deleting Section 497 is not a ground for invalidation.
11 The decision in Sowmithri Vishnu has left unanswered the fundamental
challenge which was urged before the Court. Under Article 14, the challenge was
that the statutory provision treats a woman purely as the property of her
husband. That a woman is regarded no more than as a possession of her
husband is evidenced in Section 497, in more than one context. The provision
stipulates that a man who has sexual intercourse with the wife of another will not
be guilty of offence if the husband of the woman were to consent or, (worse still,
to connive. In this, it is evident that the legislature attributes no agency to the
woman. Whether or not a man with whom she has engaged in sexual intercourse
is guilty of an offence depends exclusively on whether or not her husband is a
consenting individual. No offence exists if her husband were to consent. Even if
her husband were to connive at the act, no offence would be made out. The
mirror image of this constitutional infirmity is that the wife of the man who has
engaged in the act has no voice or agency under the statute. Again, the law does
PART B
12
not make it an offence for a married man to engage in an act of sexual
intercourse with a single woman. His wife is not regarded by the law as a person
whose agency and dignity is affected. The underlying basis of not penalising a
sexual act by a married man with a single woman is that she (unlike a married
woman) is not the property of a man (as the law would treat her to be if she is
married). Arbitrariness is writ large on the provision. The problem with Section
497 is not just a matter of under inclusion. The court in Sowmithri Vishnu
recognised that an under-inclusive definition is not necessarily discriminatory and
that the legislature is entitled to deal with the evil where it is felt and seen the
most. The narrow and formal sense in which the provisions of Article 14 have
been construed is evident again from the following observations:
“8…The contemplation of the law, evidently, is that the wife,
who is involved in an illicit relationship with another man, is a
victim and not the author of the crime. The offence of
adultery, as defined in Section 497, is considered by the
Legislature as an offence against the sanctity of the
matrimonial home, an act which is committed by a man, as it
generally is. Therefore, those men who defile that sanctity are
brought within the net of the law. In a sense, we revert to the
same point: Who can prosecute whom for which offence
depends, firstly, on the definition of the offence and, secondly,
upon the restrictions placed by the law of procedure on the
right to prosecute.”15
The decision of the three judge Bench does not address the central challenge to
the validity of Section 497. Section 497, in its effort to protect the sanctity of
marriage, has adopted a notion of marriage which does not regard the man and
the woman as equal partners. It proceeds on the subjection of the woman to the
will of her husband. In doing so, Section 497 subordinates the woman to a

15 Ibid. at page 142
PART B
13
position of inferiority thereby offending her dignity, which is the core of Article 21.
Significantly, even the challenge under Article 21 was addressed on behalf of the
petitioner in that case in a rather narrow frame. The argument before this Court
was that at the trial involving an offence alleged to have been committed under
Section 497, the woman with whom the accused is alleged to have had sexual
intercourse would have no right of being heard. It was this aspect alone which
was addressed in Sowmithri Vishnu when the court held that such a right of
being heard can be read in an appropriate case. Ultimately, the court held that:
“12…It is better, from the point of view of the interests of the
society, that at least a limited class of adulterous relationships
is punishable by law. Stability of marriages is not an ideal to
be scorned.”16
Sowmithri Vishnu has thus proceeded on the logic that in specifying an offence,
it is for the legislature to define what constitutes the offence. Moreover, who can
prosecute and who can be prosecuted, are matters which fall within the domain
of the law. The inarticulate major premise of the judgment is that prosecution for
adultery is an effort to protect the stability of marriages and if the legislature has
sought to prosecute only a limited class of ‘adulterous relationships’, its choice
could not be questioned. ‘Sowmithri Vishnu’ fails to deal with the substantive
aspects of constitutional jurisprudence which have a bearing on the validity of
Section 497: the guarantee of equality as a real protection against arbitrariness,
the guarantee of life and personal liberty as an essential recognition of dignity,
autonomy and privacy and above all gender equality as a cornerstone of a truly
equal society. For these reasons, the decision in Sowmithri Vishnu cannot be

16 Ibid. at page 144
PART B
14
regarded as a correct exposition of the constitutional position. Sowmithri Vishnu
is overruled.
12 The decision of a two judge Bench in V Revathi v Union of India17
involved a challenge to Section 497 (read with Section 198(2) of the Code of
Criminal Procedure) which disables a wife from prosecuting her husband for
being involved in an adulterous relationship. The court noted that Section 497
permits neither the husband of the offending wife to prosecute her nor does it
permit the wife to prosecute her offending husband for being disloyal. This
formal sense of equality found acceptance by the court. The challenge was
repelled by relying on the decision in Sowmithri Vishnu. Observing that Section
497 and Section 198(2) constitute a “legislative packet”, the court observed that
the provision does not allow either the wife to prosecute an erring husband or a
husband to prosecute the erring wife. In the view of the court, this indicated that
there is no discrimination on the ground of sex. In the view of the court :
“5…The law does not envisage the punishment of any of the
spouses at the instance of each other. Thus there is no
discrimination against the woman insofar as she is not
permitted to prosecute her husband. A husband is not
permitted because the wife is not treated as an offender in the
eye of law. The wife is not permitted as Section 198(1) read
with Section 198(2) does not permit her to do so. In the
ultimate analysis the law has meted out even-handed justice
to both of them in the matter of prosecuting each other or
securing the incarceration of each other. Thus no
discrimination has been practised in circumscribing the scope
of Section 198(2) and fashioning it so that the right to
prosecute the adulterer is restricted to the husband of the
adulteress but has not been extended to the wife of the
adulterer.”18

17 (1988) 2 SCC 72
18 Ibid. at page 76
PART C
15
13 The decision in Revathi is a reiteration of Sowmithri Vishnu. It applies
the doctrine of equality and the prohibition against discrimination on the ground
of sex in a formalistic sense. The logic of the judgment is that since neither of the
spouses (man or woman) can prosecute the erring spouse, the provision does
not discriminate on the ground of sex. Apart from reading equality in a narrow
confine, the judgment does not deal with crucial aspects bearing on the
constitutionality of the provision. Revathi, like Sowmithri Vishnu does not lay
down the correct legal principle.
C Relics of the past
“Our Massachusetts magistracy…have not been bold to put in
force the extremity of our righteous law against her. The
penalty thereof is death. But in their great mercy and
tenderness of heart they have doomed Mistress Prynne to
stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the
pillory, and then and thereafter, for the remainder of her
natural life to wear a mark of shame upon her bosom.”19
14 Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 makes adultery a punishable
offence against “whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom
he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the
consent or connivance of that man.” It goes on to state that, “in such case the
wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.” The offence applies only to the man
committing adultery. A woman committing adultery is not considered to be an

19 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Bantam Books (1850), at page 59
PART C
16
“abettor” to the offence. The power to prosecute for adultery rests only with the
husband of the woman.
Understanding the gendered nature of Section 497 needs an inquiry into the
origins of the provision itself as well as the offence of adultery more broadly. The
history of adultery throws light upon disparate attitudes toward male and female
infidelity, and reveals the double standard in law and morality that has been
applied to men and women.20
15 Throughout history, adultery has been regarded as an offence; it has been
treated as a religious transgression, as a crime deserving harsh punishment, as
a private wrong, or as a combination of these.21 The earliest recorded injunctions
against adultery are found in the ancient code of the Babylonian king
Hammurabi, dating from circa 1750 B.C. The code prescribed that a married
woman caught in adultery be bound to her lover and thrown into water so that
they drown together.22 By contrast, Assyrian law considered adultery to be a
private wrong for which the husband or father of the woman committing adultery
could seek compensation from her partner.23 English historian Faramerz
Dabhoiwala notes that the primary purpose of these laws was to protect the
property rights of men:

20 See David Turner, Adultery in The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Women in World History (2008)
21 Ibid
22 James A. Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, at page 10
23 Ibid, at page 11
PART C
17
“Indeed, since the dawn of history every civilisation had
prescribed severe laws against at least some kind of sexual
immorality. The oldest surviving legal codes (c.2100-1700
BCE), drawn up by the kings of Babylon made adultery
punishable by death and most other near Eastern and
classical culture also treated it as a serious offence…The
main concern of such laws was usually to uphold the honour
and property rights of fathers, husbands and higher status
groups…”24
16 In Ancient Greco-Roman societies, there existed a sexual double standard
according to which adultery constituted a violation of a husband’s exclusive
sexual access to his wife, for which the law allowed for acts of revenge.25 In 17
B.C., Emperor Augustus passed the Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis, which
stipulated that a father was allowed to kill his daughter and her partner when
caught committing adultery in his or her husband’s house.26 While in the Judaic
belief adultery merited death by stoning for both the adulteress and her partner,27
Christianity viewed adultery more as a moral and spiritual failure than as a public
crime.28 The penalties of the Lex Julia were made more severe by Christian
emperors. Emperor Constantine, for instance, introduced the death penalty for
adultery, which allowed the husband the right to kill his wife if she committed
adultery.29 Under the Lex Julia, adultery was primarily a female offence, and the
law reflected the sentiments of upper-class Roman males.30

24 Faramerz Dabhoiwala, The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution (2012), at page 5
25 David Turner, Adultery in The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Women in World History (2008), at page 30
26 Vern Bullough, Medieval Concepts of Adultery, at page 7
27 The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Women in World History, (Bonnie G Smith ed.), Oxford, at page 27
28 Martin Siegel, For Better or for Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, Vol. 30, Journal of Family Law (1991), at
page 46
29 Vern Bullough, Medieval Concepts of Adultery, at page 7
30 James A. Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, at page 27
PART C
18
17 Once monogamy came to be accepted as the norm in Britain between the
fourth and fifth centuries, adultery came to be recognized as a serious wrong that
interfered with a husband’s “rights” over his wife.31 The imposition of criminal
sanctions on adultery was also largely based on ideas and beliefs about sexual
morality which acquired the force of law in Christian Europe during the Middle
Ages.32 The development of canon law in the twelfth century enshrined the
perception of adultery as a spiritual misdemeanour. In the sixteenth century,
following the Reformation, adultery became a crucial issue because Protestants
placed new emphasis on marriage as a linchpin of the social and moral order.33
Several prominent sixteenth century reformers, including Martin Luther and John
Calvin, argued that a marriage was irreparably damaged by infidelity, and they
advocated divorce in such cases.34
Concerned with the “moral corruption” prevalent in England since the
Reformation, Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony introduced the death
penalty for committing adultery.
35 The strict morality of the early English colonists
is reflected in the famous 1850 novel ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Nathaniel
Hawthorne, in which an unmarried woman who committed adultery and bore a
child out of wedlock was made to wear the letter A (for adulterer) when she went
out in public; her lover was not so tagged, suggesting that women were punished

31 Jeremy D. Weinstein, Adultery, Law, and the State: A History, Vol. 38, Hastings Law Journal (1986), at page 202;
R. Huebner, A History of Germanic Private Law (F. Philbrick trans. 1918)
32 James A. Brundage, Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe, at page 6
33 David Turner, Adultery in The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Women in World History (2008), at page 30
34 Ibid.
35 The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Women in World History, (Bonnie G Smith ed.), Oxford, at page 30
PART C
19
more severely than men for adultery, especially when they had a child as
evidence.36
18 In 1650, England enacted the infamous Act for Suppressing the Detestable
Sins of Incest, Adultery and Fornication, which introduced the death penalty for
sex with a married woman.37 The purpose of the Act was as follows:
“For the suppressing of the abominable and crying sins
of…adultery… wherewith this Land is much defiled, and
Almighty God highly displeased; be it enacted…That in case
any married woman shall…be carnally known by any man
(other than her husband)…as well the man as the
woman…shall suffer death.”
The Act was a culmination of long-standing moral concerns about sexual
transgressions, sustained endeavours to regulate conjugal matters on a secular
plain, and a contemporaneous political agenda of socio-moral reform.38 It was
repealed in 1660 during the Restoration. The common law, however, was still
concerned with the effect of adultery by a married woman on inheritance and
property rights. It recognized the “obvious danger of foisting spurious offspring
upon her unsuspecting husband and bringing an illegitimate heir into his
family.”39 Accordingly, secular courts treated adultery as a private injury and a tort

36 James R. Mellow, Hawthorne’s Divided Genius, The Wilson Quarterly (1982)
37 Mary Beth Norton, Founding Mothers and Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (1996).
38 Keith Thomas, The Puritans and Adultery: The Act of 1650 Reconsidered, in Puritans and Revolutionaries: Essays
in Seventeenth-Century History Presented to Christopher Hill (Donald Pennington, Keith Thomas, eds.), at page 281
39 Charles E. Torcia, Wharton’s Criminal Law, Section 218, (1994) at page 528
PART C
20
for criminal conversation was introduced in the late 17th century, which allowed
the husband to sue his wife’s lover for financial compensation.40
19 In 19th century Britain, married women were considered to be chattel of
their husbands in law, and female adultery was subjected to ostracism far worse
than male adultery because of the problem it could cause for property inheritance
through illegitimate children.41 Consequently, many societies viewed chastity,
together with related virtues such as modesty, as more central components of a
woman’s honor and reputation than of a man’s.42 The object of adultery laws was
not to protect the bodily integrity of a woman, but to allow her husband to
exercise control over her sexuality, in order to ensure the purity of his own
bloodline. The killing of a man engaged in an adulterous act with one’s wife was
considered to be manslaughter, and not murder.43 In R v Mawgridge,
44 Judge
Holt wrote that:
“…[A] man is taken in adultery with another man’s wife, if the
husband shall stab the adulterer, or knock out his brains, this
is bare manslaughter: for Jealousy is the Rage of a Man and
Adultery is the highest invasion of property.”
(Emphasis supplied)
20 In his Commentaries on the Laws of England, William Blackstone wrote
that under the common law, “the very being or legal existence of the woman

40 J. E. Loftis, Congreve’s Way of the World and Popular Criminal Literature, Studies in English Literature, 1500 –
1900 36(3) (1996), at page 293
41 Joanne Bailey, Unquiet Lives: Marriage and Marriage Breakdown in England, 1660–1800 (2009), at page 143
42 David Turner, Adultery in The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Women in World History (2008), at page 28
43 Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book IV (1778), at page 191-192
44 (1707) Kel. 119
PART C
21
[was] suspended during the marriage, or at least [was] incorporated and
consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover,
she performe[d] everything.”45 In return for support and protection, the wife owed
her husband “consortium” of legal obligations, which included sexual
intercourse.46 Since adultery interfered with the husband’s exclusive entitlements,
it was considered to be the “highest possible invasion of property,” similar to
theft.47 In fact, civil actions for adultery evolved from actions for enticing away a
servant from a master and thus depriving the master of the quasi-proprietary
interest in his services.48
Faramerz Dabhoiwala notes that a man’s wife was considered to be his property,
and that another man’s “unlawful copulation” with her warranted punishment:
“…[T]he earliest English law codes, which date from this time,
evoke a society where women were bought and sold and
lived constantly under the guardianship of men. Even in
cases of consensual sex, its system of justice was mainly
concerned with the compensation one man should pay to
another for unlawful copulation with his female chattel.”
21 When the IPC was being drafted, adultery was not a criminal offence in
common law. It was considered to be an ecclesiastical wrong “left to the feeble
coercion of the Spiritual Court, according to the rules of Canon Law.”49 Lord
Thomas Babington Macaulay, Chairman of the First Law Commission of India

45 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England. Vol. I (1765), at pages 442 445
46 Vera Bergelson, Rethinking Rape-By-Fraud in Legal Perspectives on State Power: Consent and Control (Chris
Ashford, Alan Reed and Nicola Wake, eds.) (2016), at page 161
47 R v. Mawgridge, (1707) Kel. 119
48 Vera Bergelson, Rethinking Rape-By-Fraud in Legal Perspectives on State Power: Consent and Control (Chris
Ashford, Alan Reed and Nicola Wake, eds.) (2016), at page 161
49 Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book IV (1778), at pages 64-65
PART C
22
and principal architect of the IPC, considered the possibility of criminalizing
adultery in India, and ultimately concluded that it would serve little purpose.50
According to Lord Macaulay, the possible benefits from an adultery offence could
be better achieved through pecuniary compensation.51 Section 497 did not find a
place in the first Draft Penal Code prepared by Lord Macaulay. On an appraisal
of the facts and opinions collected from all three Presidencies about the
feasibility criminalizing adultery, he concluded in his Notes to the IPC that:
“…All the existing laws for the punishment of adultery are
altogether inefficacious for the purpose of preventing injured
husbands of the higher classes from taking the law into their
own hands; secondly; that scarcely any native of higher
classes ever has recourse to the courts of law in a case of
adultery for redress against either his wife, or her gallant;
thirdly, that the husbands who have recourse in case of
adultery to the Courts of law are generally poor men whose
wives have run away, that these husbands seldom have any
delicate feelings about the intrigue, but think themselves
injured by the elopement, that they consider wives as useful
members of their small households, that they generally
complain not of the wound given to their affections, not of the
stain on their honor , but of the loss of a menial whom they
cannot easily replace, and that generally their principal object
is that the women may be sent back.” These things being
established, it seems to us that no advantage is to be
expected from providing a punishment for adultery. We
think it best to treat adultery merely as a civil injury.”52

(Emphasis supplied)
22 The Law Commissioners, in their Second Report on the Draft Penal Code,
disagreed with Lord Macaulay’s view. Placing heavy reliance upon the status of
women in India, they concluded that:

50 Abhinav Sekhri, The Good, The Bad, And The Adulterous: Criminal Law And Adultery In India, Socio-Legal Review
(2016), at page 52
51 Ibid.
52 Macaulay’s Draft Penal Code (1837), Note Q
PART C
23
“While we think that the offence of adultery ought not to be
omitted from the code, we would limit its cognizance to
adultery committed with a married woman, and considering
that there is much weight in the last remark in note Q,
regarding the condition of the women, in this country, in
deference to it, we would render the male offender alone
liable to punishment. We would, however, put the parties
accused of adultery on trial “together”, and empower the
Court in the event of their conviction to pronounce a decree of
divorce against the guilty woman, if the husband sues for it, at
the same time that her paramour is sentenced to punishment
by imprisonment or fine.”53
The Law Commissioners’ decision to insert Section 497 into the IPC was rooted
in their concern about the possibility of the “natives” resorting to illegal measures
to avenge the injury in cases of adultery:
“The backwardness of the natives to have recourse to the
courts of redress in cases of adultery, [Colonel Sleeman]
asserts, “arises from the utter hopelessness on their part of
ever getting a conviction in our courts upon any evidence that
such cases admit of;” that is to say, in courts in which the
Mahommedan law is observed. “The rich man…not only feels
the assurance that he could not get a conviction, but dreads
the disgrace of appearing publicly in one court after another,
to prove…his own shame and his wife’s dishonor. He has
recourse to poison secretly, or with his wife’s consent; and
she will generally rather take it than be turned out into the
streets a degraded outcast. The seducer escapes with
impunity, he suffers nothing, while his poor victim suffers all
that human nature is capable of enduring…The silence of the
Penal Code will give still greater impunity to the seducers,
while their victims will, in three cases out of four, be
murdered, or driven to commit suicide. Where husbands are
in the habit of poisoning their guilty wives from the want of
legal means of redress, they will sometimes poison those who
are suspected upon insufficient grounds, and the innocent will
suffer.”54

53 Second Report on the Indian Penal Code (1847), at pages 134-35, cited from, Law Commission of India, Fortysecond
Report: Indian Penal Code, at page 365
54 A Penal Code prepared by The Indian Law Commissioners (1838), The Second Report on the Indian Penal Code,
at page 74
PART C
24
Section 497 and Section 198 are seen to treat men and women unequally, as
women are not subject to prosecution for adultery, and women cannot prosecute
their husbands for adultery. Additionally, if there is “consent or connivance” of the
husband of a woman who has committed adultery, no offence can be
established. In its 42nd Report, the Law Commission of India considered the
legislative history of Section 497 and the purported benefit of criminal sanctions
for adultery. The Committee concluded that, “though some of us were personally
inclined to recommend repeal of the section, we think on the whole that the time
has not yet come for making such a radical change in the existing position.”55 It
recommended that Section 497 be retained, but with a modification to make
women who commit adultery liable as well.
23 In its 156th Report, the Law Commission made a proposal which it believed
reflected the “‘transformation’ which the society has undergone,” by suggesting
removing the exemption from liability for women under Section 497.56 In 2003,
the Justice Malimath Committee recommended that Section 497 be made
gender-neutral, by substituting the words of the provision with “whosoever has
sexual intercourse with the spouse of any other person is guilty of adultery.”57
The Committee supported earlier proposals to not repeal the offence, but to
equate liability for the sexes:
“The object of the Section is to preserve the sanctity of
marriage. Society abhors marital infidelity. Therefore, there is
no reason for not meting out similar treatment to the wife who

55 Law Commission of India, 42nd Report: Indian Penal Code (1971), at page 326
56 Law Commission of India, 156th Report: Indian Penal Code (1997) at page 172
57 Report of the Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System (2003), at page 190
PART C
25
has sexual intercourse with a man (other than her
husband).”58
Neither the recommendations of the Law Commission nor those of the Malimath
Committee have been accepted by the Legislature. Though women are
exempted from prosecution under Section 497, the underlying notion upon which
the provision rests, which conceives of women as property, is extremely harmful.
The power to prosecute lies only with the husband (and not to the wife in cases
where her husband commits adultery), and whether the crime itself has been
committed depends on whether the husband provides “consent for the allegedly
adulterous act.”
24 Women, therefore, occupy a liminal space in the law: they cannot be
prosecuted for committing adultery, nor can they be aggrieved by it, by virtue of
their status as their husband’s property. Section 497 is also premised upon
sexual stereotypes that view women as being passive and devoid of sexual
agency. The notion that women are ‘victims’ of adultery and therefore require the
beneficial exemption under Section 497 has been deeply criticized by feminist
scholars, who argue that such an understanding of the position of women is
demeaning and fails to recognize them as equally autonomous individuals in
society.59 Effectively, Indian jurisprudence has interpreted the constitutional
guarantee of sex equality as a justification for differential treatment: to treat men

58 Ibid.
59 Abhinav Sekhri, The Good, The Bad, And The Adulterous: Criminal Law And Adultery In India, Socio-Legal Review
(2016), at page 63
PART C
26
and women differently is, ultimately, to act in women’s interests.60 The status of
Section 497 as a “special provision”61 operating for the benefit of women,
therefore, constitutes a paradigmatic example of benevolent patriarchy.
25 Throughout history, the law has failed to ask the woman question.62 It has
failed to interrogate the generalizations or stereotypes about the nature,
character and abilities of the sexes on which laws rest, and how these notions
affect women and their interaction with the law. A woman’s ‘purity’ and a man’s
marital ‘entitlement’ to her exclusive sexual possession may be reflective of the
antiquated social and sexual mores of the nineteenth century, but they cannot be
recognized as being so today. It is not the “common morality” of the State at any
time in history, but rather constitutional morality, which must guide the law. In any
democracy, constitutional morality requires the assurance of certain rights that
are indispensable for the free, equal, and dignified existence of all members of
society. A commitment to constitutional morality requires us to enforce the
constitutional guarantees of equality before law, non-discrimination on account of
sex, and dignity, all of which are affected by the operation of Section 497.

60 Brenda Cossman and Ratna Kapur, Subversive Sites: Feminist Engagements with Law in India (1996)
61 Yusuf Abdul Aziz v. State of Bombay, 1954 SCR 930
62 The ‘Woman Question’ was one of the great issues that occupied the middle of the nineteenth century, namely the
social purpose of women. It is used as a tool to enquire into the status of women in the law and how they interact
with and are affected by it; See Katherine T. Bartlett, Feminist Legal Methods, Harvard Law Review (1990)
PART D
27
D Across frontiers
26 The last few decades have been characterized by numerous countries
around the world taking measures to decriminalize the offence of adultery due to
the gender discriminatory nature of adultery laws as well as on the ground that
they violate the right to privacy. However, progressive action has primarily been
taken on the ground that provisions penalising adultery are discriminatory against
women either patently on the face of the law or in their implementation. Reform
towards achieving a more egalitarian society in practice has also been driven by
active measures taken by the United Nations and other international human
rights organizations, where it has been emphasized that even seemingly genderneutral
provisions criminalising adultery cast an unequal burden on women:63
“Given continued discrimination and inequalities faced by
women, including inferior roles attributed to them by
patriarchal and traditional attitudes, and power imbalances in
their relations with men, the mere fact of maintaining adultery
as a criminal offence, even when it applies to both women
and men, means in practice that women mainly will continue
to face extreme vulnerabilities, and violation of their human
rights to dignity, privacy and equality.”
The abolishing of adultery has been brought about in equal measure by
legislatures and courts. When decisions have been handed down by the judiciary
across the world, it has led to the creation of a rich body of transnational
jurisprudence. This section will focus on a few select comparative decisions
emanating from the courts of those countries where the provision criminalizing
adultery has been struck down through judicial action. The decisions of these

63 U N Working Group on Women’s Human Rights: Report (18 October, 2012), available at:
http://newsarchive.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12672&LangID=E
PART D
28
courts reflect how the treatment of the law towards adultery has evolved with the
passage of time and in light of changing societal values.
27 In 2015, the South Korean Constitutional Court,64 by a majority of 7-2
struck down Article 241 of the Criminal Law; a provision which criminalized
adultery with a term of imprisonment of two years as unconstitutional. In doing
so, South Korea joined a growing list of countries in Asia and indeed around the
world that have taken the measure of effacing the offence of adultery from the
statute books, considering evolving public values and societal trends. The
Constitutional Court had deliberated upon the legality of the provision four times
previously65, but chose to strike it down when it came before it in 2015, with the
Court’s judgement acknowledging the shifting public perception of individual
rights in their private lives.
The majority opinion of the Court was concurred with by five of the seven
judges66 who struck down the provision. The majority acknowledged that the
criminal provision had a legitimate legislative purpose in intending “to promote
the marriage system based on good sexual culture and practice and monogamy
and to preserve marital fidelity between spouses.” However, the Court sought to
strike a balance between the legitimate interest of the legislature in promoting the

64Case No: 2009Hun-Ba17, (Adultery Case), South Korea Constitutional Court (February 26, 2015), available at
http://english.ccourt.go.kr/cckhome/eng/decisions/majordecisions/majorDetail.do
65 Firstpost, South Korean court abolishes law that made adultery illegal, (February 26, 2015), available at
https://www.firstpost.com/world/south-korean-court-abolishes-law-saying-adultery-is-illegal-2122935.html
66 Opinion of Justice Park Han-Chul, Justice Lee Jin-Sung, Justice Kim Chang-Jong, Justice Seo Ki-Seog and Justice
Cho Yong-Ho (Adultery is Unconstitutional)
PART D
29
institution of marriage and marital fidelity vis-à-vis the fundamental right of an
individual to self-determination, which included sexual-self-determination, and
was guaranteed under Article 10 of their Constitution.67 The Court held:
“The right to self-determination connotes the right to sexual
self-determination that is the freedom to choose sexual
activities and partners, implying that the provision at issue
restricts the right to sexual self-determination of individuals. In
addition, the provision at Issue also restricts the right to
privacy protected under Article 17 of the Constitution in that it
restricts activities arising out of sexual life belonging to the
intimate private domain.”
The Court used the test of least restrictiveness, and began by acknowledging
that there no longer existed public consensus on the criminalization of adultery,
with the societal structure having changed from holding traditional family values
and a typeset role of family members to sexual views driven by liberal thought
and individualism. While recognizing that marital infidelity is immoral and
unethical, the Court stated that love and sexual life were intimate concerns, and
they should not be made subject to criminal law. Commenting on the balance
between an individual’s sexual autonomy vis-à-vis societal morality, the Court
remarked:
“…the society is changing into one where the private interest
of sexual autonomy is put before the social interest of sexual
morality and families from the perspective of dignity and
happiness of individuals.”68

67 Article 10 of the South Korean Constitution “All citizens are assured of human worth and dignity and have the right
to pursue happiness. It is the duty of the State to confirm and guarantee the fundamental and inviolable human
rights of individuals.”
68 Supra, note 64, Part V- A (3)(1) (‘Change in Public’s Legal Awareness’ under the head of ‘Appropriateness of
Means and Least Restrictiveness’)
PART D
30
Next, the Court analysed the appropriateness and effectiveness of criminal
punishment in curbing the offence of adultery. Addressing the question of
whether adultery should be regulated, the Court stated that modern criminal law
dictated that the State should not seek to interfere in an act that is not socially
harmful or deleterious to legal interests, simply because it is repugnant to
morality. Moreover, it held that the State had no business in seeking to control
an individual’s actions which were within the sphere of his or her constitutionally
protected rights of privacy and self-determination.
Moving on to the effectiveness of the provision at hand, the Court remarked that
criminalizing adultery did not help save a failing marriage. The Court remarked
that it was obvious that once a spouse was accused of adultery, the
consequence was generally intensified spousal conflict as opposed to the
possibility of family harmony:
“Existing families face breakdown with the invoking of the
right to file an accusation. Even after cancellation of the
accusation, it is difficult to hope for emotional recovery
between spouses. Therefore, the adultery crime can no
longer contribute to protecting the marital system or family
order. Furthermore, there is little possibility that a person who
was punished for adultery would remarry the spouse who had
made an accusation against himself/herself. It is neither
possible to protect harmonious family order because of the
intensified conflict between spouses in the process of criminal
punishment of adultery.”69

69 Supra, note 64, Part V- A (3)(3) (‘Effectiveness of Criminal Punishment’, under the head of ‘Appropriateness of
Means and Least Restrictiveness’)
PART D
31
Addressing the concern that an abolition of a penal consequence would result in
“chaos in sexual morality” or an increase of divorce due to adultery, the Court
concluded that there was no data at all to support these claims in countries
where adultery is repealed, stating:
“Rather, the degree of social condemnation for adultery has
been reduced due to the social trend to value the right to
sexual self-determination and the changed recognition on
sex, despite of the punishment of adultery. Accordingly, it is
hard to anticipate a general and special deterrence effect for
adultery from the perspective of criminal policy as it loses the
function of regulating behaviour.”70
The Court also analysed the argument that adultery provisions protected women:
“It is true that the existence of adultery crimes in the past
Korean society served to protect women. Women were
socially and economically underprivileged, and acts of
adultery were mainly committed by men. Therefore, the
existence of an adultery crime acted as psychological
deterrence for men, and, furthermore, enabled female
spouses to receive payment of compensation for grief or
divided assets from the male spouse on the condition of
cancelling the adultery accusation.
However, the changes of our society diluted the justification of
criminal punishment of adultery. Above all, as women’s
earning power and economic capabilities have improved with
more active social and economic activities, the premise that
women are the economically disadvantaged does not apply to
all married couples.”
Finally, the Court concluded its analysis by holding that the interests of enforcing
monogamy, protecting marriage and promoting marital fidelity, balanced against

70 Ibid.
PART D
32
the interference of the State in the rights to privacy and sexual autonomy were
clearly excessive and therefore failed the test of least restrictiveness.71
28 In 2007, the Ugandan Constitutional Court in Law Advocacy for Women
in Uganda v Attorney General of Uganda72, was called upon to rule on the
constitutionality of Section 154 of the Penal Code, on, the grounds that it violated
various protections granted by the Ugandan Constitution and meted out
discriminatory treatment between women and men. The law as it stood allowed a
married man to have a sexual relationship with an unmarried woman. Moreover,
only a man could be guilty of the offence of adultery when he had sexual
intercourse with a married woman. The same provision, however, penalized a
married woman who engaged in a sexual relationship with an unmarried or
married man outside of the marriage. The penalties for the offence also
prescribed a much stricter punishment for women as compared to their male
counterparts.73 The challenge was brought primarily under Article 21 of the
Ugandan Constitution, which guaranteed equality under the law, Article 24 which
mandates respect for human dignity and protection from inhuman treatment and
Article 33(1), which protected the rights of women under the Constitution. 74

71 Supra, note 64, Part V- A (5) (‘Balance of Interests & Conclusion’)
72 Constitutional Petitions Nos. 13 /05 /& 05 /06 in Law Advocacy for Women in Uganda v. Attorney General of
Uganda, (2007) UGCC 1 (5 April, 2007), available at
https://ulii.org/ug/judgment/constitutional-court/2007/1
73 Reuters: ‘Uganda scraps “sexist” adultery law’, (April 5, 2007), available at
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-adultery/uganda-scraps-sexist-adultery-law-idUSL0510814320070405
74 Constitutional Petitions Nos. 13 /05 /& 05 /06 in Law Advocacy for Women in Uganda v. Attorney General of
Uganda, [2007] UGCC 1 (5 April, 2007), available at
https://ulii.org/ug/judgment/constitutional-court/2007/1
PART D
33
The Respondent prayed that the Court consider making the provision of adultery
equal in its treatment of men and women, instead of striking it down completely.
However, in its holding, the Court denied this request, holding it could not
prescribe a punishment under penal law to change the statute. The Court held
that Section 154 of the Penal Code was wholly unconstitutional as being violative
of the provisions of the Constitution, and remarked:
“…the respondent did not point out to us areas that his Court
can or should modify and adapt to bring them in conformity
with the provisions of the Constitution. The section is a penal
one and this Court in our considered opinion cannot create a
sentence that the courts can impose on adulterous spouses.
Consequently, it is our finding that the provision of section
154 of the Penal Code Act is inconsistent with the stated
provisions of the Constitution and it is void.”75
29 In 2015, in DE v RH,
76 the Constitutional Court of South Africa held that an
aggrieved spouse could no longer seek damages against a third party in cases of
adultery. Madlanga J poignantly remarked on the preservation of marriage:
“…although marriage is ‘a human institution which is
regulated by law and protected by the Constitution and which,
in turn, creates genuine legal duties . . . Its essence . . .
consists in the readiness, founded in morals, of the parties to
the marriage to create and to maintain it’. If the parties to the
marriage have lost that moral commitment, the marriage will
fail and punishment meted out to a third party is unlikely to
change that.”77

75 Ibid.
76 DE v RH, [2015] ZACC 18
77 Ibid, at para 34
PART D
34
The decisions of the US Supreme Court bearing on the issue of privacy have
been analysed in an incisive article, titled “For Better or for Worse: Adultery,
Crime and The Constitution”78, by Martin Siegel. He presents three ways in which
adultery implicates the right to privacy. The first is that adultery must be viewed
as a constitutionally protected marital choice. Second, that certain adulterous
relationships are protected by the freedom of association and finally, that adultery
constitutes an action which is protected by sexual privacy.79 A brief study is also
undertaken on whether action penalizing adultery constitutes a legitimate interest
of the State.
The first privacy interest in adultery is the right to marital choice. The U.S.
Supreme Court has upheld the values of ‘fundamental liberty’, ‘freedom of
choice’ and ‘the ‘right to privacy’ in marriage. With this jurisprudence, the author
argues, it would be strange if a decision to commit adultery is not a treated as a
matter of marriage and family life as expressed in Cleveland Board80, ‘an act
occurring in marriage’, as held in Griswold81 or a ‘matter of marriage and family
life’ as elucidated in Carey.
82

78 Martin J. Siegel, For Better or For Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, Journal of Family Law, Vol.30, (1991)
45
79 Ibid, at page 46
80 Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 623 (1973)
81 Griswold, 381 U.S. 1 (1967)
82 Carey, v. Population Serv. Int’l, 431 U.S. 678
PART D
35
Siegel posits that a decision to commit adultery is a decision ‘relating to marriage
and family relationships’ and therefore, falls within the domain of protected
private choices. He observes that the essence of the offence is in fact the
married status of one of the actors, and the mere fact that the commission of the
act consisted of a mere sexual act or a series of them is legally irrelevant. If the
argument that adultery, though unconventional, is an act related to marriage and
therefore fundamentally private is accepted, then it deserves equal protection.
Siegel cites Laurence Tribe, on accepting the ‘unconventional variants’ that also
form a part of privacy:
“Ought the “right to marriage,” as elucidated by Griswold,
Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki, Boddie v. Connecticut and
Moore, also include marriage’s “unconventional variants”-in
this case the adulterous union?”83
The mere fact that adultery is considered unconventional in society does not
justify depriving it of privacy protection. The freedom of making choices also
encompasses the freedom of making an ‘unpopular’ choice. This was articulated
by Justice Blackmun in his dissent in Hardwick84:
“A necessary corollary of giving individuals freedom to choose
how to conduct their lives is acceptance of the fact that
different individuals will make different choices.”85
Siegel concludes that the privacy protections afforded to marriage must extend to
all choices made within the marriage:

83 Martin J. Siegel, For Better or For Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, Journal of Family Law, Vol.30, (1991)
70
84 Hardwick, 478 U.S.205
85 Ibid, at page 206
PART D
36
“The complexity and diversity among marriages make it all
the more important that the privacy associated with that
institution be construed to include all kinds of marriages,
sexually exclusive as well as open, ‘good’, as well as ‘bad’.”86
Siegel then proceeds to examine the next privacy interest in adultery, that of the
right to association. The right to freedom of association he states is ‘a close
constitutional relative of privacy’87
, and they often interact in an intertwined
manner. Siegel proceeds to explain that adultery must not simply be looked at as
an act of consensual adult sexual activity, as sexual activity may simply be one
element in a continuum of interactions between people:
“Sexual activity may be preliminary or incidental to a
developing association, or it may be its final culmination and
solidification. In either case, it is simply one more element of
the relationship. Two people may have sex upon first
meeting. In this case, associational interests seem less
important, although “loveless encounters are sometimes
prerequisites for genuine love relationships; to forbid the
former is, therefore, to inhibit the latter.”‘ 88
Next, Siegel examines the plausible protection of adultery through the lens of the
freedom of expression. Since the act of engaging in sexual activity can be
interpreted as being expressive, Siegel claims adultery might also implicate First
Amendment rights. In support he cites a body of case law89,where courts have
held that First Amendment rights are not limited to merely verbal expression but
also encompass the right to ‘expressive association’.

86 Martin J. Siegel, For Better or For Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, Journal of Family Law, Vol.30, (1991)
74
87 Ibid, at page 77
88 Ibid, at, page 78
89 Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 618 (1984)
PART D
37
In concluding his section on the right to associate, Siegel warns against the
dangers of classifying adultery solely as a sexual activity, as doing so would be
akin to protecting a part of the relationship and criminalizing the other. This would
be manifestly unjust:
“It is difficult, both theoretically and practically, to single out
the sexual contacts two people may have from the rest of
their relationship- to criminalize the one and constitutionally
protect as fundamental the other”. 90
Lastly, Siegel discusses the connection between adultery and the right to sexual
privacy. It is accepted that a right to privacy safeguards an individual’s deeply
personal choices which includes a recognition accorded to the inherently private
nature of all consensual adult sexual activity.91 This understanding of sexual
privacy found favour with the U.S. Supreme Court, which in Thornburgh v
American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists92 quoted Charles
Fried with approval:
“The concept of privacy embodies the moral fact that a
person belongs to himself and not to others nor to society as
a whole.”93
Siegel reiterates the underlying intangible value of adult consensual sexual
activity:

90 Martin J. Siegel, For Better or For Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, Journal of Family Law, Vol.30, (1991)
78
91 Martin J. Siegel, For Better or For Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, Journal of Family Law, Vol.30, (1991)
82
92 Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 476 U.S. 747 (1986)
93 Ibid, at Page 777
PART D
38
“The real importance of sexuality to humans, more so in
today’s world of effective birth control than ever, lies in the
possibilities for self-realization and definition inherent in
sexual choices. Sexual experience offers “selftranscendence,
expression of private fantasy, release of inner
tensions, and meaningful and acceptable expression of
regressive desires to be again the free child – unafraid to lose
control, playful, vulnerable, spontaneous, sensually loved.”94
Reflecting on the relationship between marital privacy and associational freedom,
Spiegel remarks the “heterogeneity of experience”, resulting in a variety of
choices, necessarily include the adulterous union which must be protected since
it is unrealistic to expect all individuals to conform to society’s idea of sexuality:
“Because sex is so much a part of our personhood, we should
not expect that people different in so many other ways will be
identical sexually. For some, adultery is a cruel betrayal, while
for others it is just comeuppance for years of spousal neglect.
In some marriages, sex is the epitome of commitment, while
in others spouses jointly and joyfully dispense with sexual
monogamy.”95
In concluding the author states that the foregoing three-layered analysis left no
room for doubt that adultery was a matter of marriage. It therefore deserved to be
protected like all other affairs occurring in marriage and implicated routine
privacy-based freedoms, and it was imperative to treat is as such. Spiegel
concludes by quoting the U.S. Supreme Court in Eisenstadt v Braid, on the
importance of protecting the power to make a ‘bad’ choice in a marriage:
“A marriage’s privacy and autonomy are the best routes to
safeguarding liberty and pluralism. This is no less true when

94 Martin J. Siegel, For Better or For Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, Journal of Family Law, Vol.30, (1991)
at page 85
95 Ibid, at Page 86
PART D
39
the power to choose, as it inevitably will, results in bad
choices. It is a confidence in nothing less than the theory
underscoring our entire political order: Our system of
government requires that we have faith in the ability of the
individual to decide wisely, if only he is fully appraised of the
merits of the controversy.”96
While acknowledging the interest that the State has in preserving the institution
of marriage, Siegel precisely points out the inefficacy of attaching criminal
sanctions to adultery in the following words:
“Even if we accept that a state is trying to foster the interests
of specific deceived spouses by its laws criminalizing
adultery, it is impossible to believe that a criminal penalty
imposed on one of the spouses would somehow benefit a
marriage instead of representing the final nail in its coffin. And
if deterrence of adultery is the goal, then the state’s failure to
arrest and prosecute offenders has long since removed any
fear of legal sanction.”97
Deborah L Rhode in her book titled “Adultery” argues that “intermittent
idiosyncratic invocations of adultery prohibitions do little to enforce marital vows
or reinforce confidence in the rule of law. There are better ways to signal respect
for the institution of marriage and better uses of law enforcement than policing
private, consensual sexual activity.”98

96 Eisenstadt v. Baird , 405 U.S. 438, 457 (1972)
97 Martin J. Siegel, For Better or For Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, Journal of Family Law, Vol.30, (1991)
89
98 Deborah Rhode, Adultery: Infidelity and the Law, (Harvard University Press, 2016)
PART E
40
E Confronting patriarchy
“Norms and ideals arise from the yearning that it is an
expression of freedom: it does not have to be this way, it
could be otherwise.”99
30 The petitioner urged that (i) The full realisation of the ideal of equality
enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution ought to be the endeavour of this
Court; (ii) the operation of Section 497 is a denial of equality to women in
marriage; and (iii) the provision is manifestly arbitrary and amounts to a violation
of the constitutional guarantee of substantive equality.
The act which constitutes the offence under Section 497 of the Penal Code is a
man engaging in sexual intercourse with a woman who is the “wife of another
man”. For the offence to arise, the man who engages in sexual intercourse must
either know or have reason to believe that the woman is married. Though a man
has engaged in sexual intercourse with a woman who is married, the offence of
adultery does not come into being where he did so with the consent or
connivance of her husband.
These ingredients of Section 497 lay bare several features which bear on the
challenge to its validity under Article 14. The fact that the sexual relationship
between a man and a woman is consensual is of no significance to the offence, if
the ingredients of the offence are established. What the legislature has

99 Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton University Press, 1990
PART E
41
constituted as a criminal offence is the act of sexual intercourse between a man
and a woman who is “the wife of another man”. No offence exists where a man
who has a subsisting marital relationship engages in sexual intercourse with a
single woman. Though adultery is considered to be an offence relating to
marriage, the legislature did not penalise sexual intercourse between a married
man and a single woman. Even though the man in such a case has a spouse,
this is considered to be of no legal relevance to defining the scope of the offence.
That is because the provision proceeds on the notion that the woman is but a
chattel; the property of her husband. The fact that he is engaging in a sexual
relationship outside marriage is of no consequence to the law. The woman with
whom he is in marriage has no voice of her own, no agency to complain. If the
woman who is involved in the sexual act is not married, the law treats it with
unconcern. The premise of the law is that if a woman is not the property of a
married man, her act would not be deemed to be ‘adulterous’, by definition.
31 The essence of the offence is that a man has engaged in an act of sexual
intercourse with the wife of another man. But if the man to whom she is married
were to consent or even to connive at the sexual relationship, the offence of
adultery would not be established. For, in the eyes of law, in such a case it is for
the man in the marital relationship to decide whether to agree to his spouse
engaging in a sexual act with another. Indeed, even if the two men (the spouse
of the woman and the man with whom she engages in a sexual act) were to
connive, the offence of adultery would not be made out.
PART E
42
32 Section 497 is destructive of and deprives a woman of her agency,
autonomy and dignity. If the ostensible object of the law is to protect the
‘institution of marriage’, it provides no justification for not recognising the agency
of a woman whose spouse is engaged in a sexual relationship outside of
marriage. She can neither complain nor is the fact that she is in a marital
relationship with a man of any significance to the ingredients of the offence. The
law also deprives the married woman who has engaged in a sexual act with
another man, of her agency. She is treated as the property of her husband. That
is why no offence of adultery would be made out if her husband were to consent
to her sexual relationship outside marriage. Worse still, if the spouse of the
woman were to connive with the person with whom she has engaged in sexual
intercourse, the law would blink. Section 497 is thus founded on the notion that a
woman by entering upon marriage loses, so to speak, her voice, autonomy and
agency. Manifest arbitrariness is writ large on the provision.
33 The test of manifest arbitrariness is rooted in Indian jurisprudence. In E P
Royappa v State of Tamil Nadu100
, Justice Bhagwati characterised equality as a
“dynamic construct” which is contrary to arbitrariness:
“85…Now, what is the content and reach of this great
equalising principle? It is a founding faith, to use the words of
Bose. J., “a way of life”, and it must not be subjected to a
narrow pedantic or lexicographic approach. We cannot
countenance any attempt to truncate its all-embracing scope
and meaning, for to do so would be to violate its activist
magnitude. Equality is a dynamic concept with many
aspects and dimensions and it cannot be “cribbed,

100 (1974) 4 SCC 3
PART E
43
cabined and confined” within traditional and doctrinaire
limits. From a positivistic point of view, equality is
antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and
arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule
of law in a republic while the other, to the whim and
caprice of an absolute monarch. Where an act is
arbitrary, it is implicit in it that it is unequal both
according to political logic and constitutional law and is
therefore violative of Article 14…”101

(Emphasis supplied)
The Constitution Bench in Shayara Bano v Union of India102 held the practice of
Triple Talaq to be unconstitutional. Justice Rohinton Nariman, in his concurring
opinion, applied the test of manifest arbitrariness to hold that the practice does
not pass constitutional muster:
“87. The thread of reasonableness runs through the
entire fundamental rights chapter. What is manifestly
arbitrary is obviously unreasonable and being contrary to
the rule of law, would violate Article 14. Further, there is an
apparent contradiction in the three-Judge Bench decision
in McDowell [State of A.P. v. McDowell and Co., (1996) 3
SCC 709] when it is said that a constitutional challenge can
succeed on the ground that a law is “disproportionate,
excessive or unreasonable”, yet such challenge would fail on
the very ground of the law being “unreasonable, unnecessary
or unwarranted”. The arbitrariness doctrine when applied to
legislation obviously would not involve the latter challenge but
would only involve a law being disproportionate, excessive or
otherwise being manifestly unreasonable. All the aforesaid
grounds, therefore, do not seek to differentiate between State
action in its various forms, all of which are interdicted if they
fall foul of the fundamental rights guaranteed to persons and
citizens in Part III of the Constitution.”
103

(Emphasis supplied)

101 Ibid. at page 38
102 (2017) 9 SCC 1
103 Ibid. at pages 91-92
PART E
44
On the application of the test of manifest arbitrariness to invalidate legislation, the
learned Judge held thus:
“ 101…there is no rational distinction between the two types
of legislation when it comes to this ground of challenge under
Article 14. The test of manifest arbitrariness, therefore, as laid
down in the aforesaid judgments would apply to invalidate
legislation as well as subordinate legislation under Article 14.
Manifest arbitrariness, therefore, must be something done by
the legislature capriciously, irrationally and/or without
adequate determining principle. Also, when something is
done which is excessive and disproportionate, such
legislation would be manifestly arbitrary. We are, therefore, of
the view that arbitrariness in the sense of manifest
arbitrariness as pointed out by us above would apply to
negate legislation as well under Article 14.”104
34 The decision in Shayara Bano, holds that legislation or state action which
is manifestly arbitrary would have elements of caprice and irrationality and would
be characterized by the lack of an adequately determining principle. An
“adequately determining principle” is a principle which is in consonance with
constitutional values. With respect to criminal legislation, the principle which
determines the “act” that is criminalized as well as the persons who may be held
criminally culpable, must be tested on the anvil of constitutionality. The principle
must not be determined by majoritarian notions of morality which are at odds with
constitutional morality.

104 Ibid. at page 99
PART E
45
In Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India, (“Navtej”)
105 Justice Indu Malhotra
emphasized the need for a “sound” or “rational principle” underlying a criminal
provision:
“ …Section 377 insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual
acts between adults in private, is not based on any sound or
rational principle…
Further, the phrase “carnal intercourse against the order of
nature” in Section 377 as a determining principle in a penal
provision, is too open-ended, giving way to the scope for
misuse against members of the LGBT community.”
35 The hypothesis which forms the basis of the law on adultery is the
subsistence of a patriarchal order. Section 497 is based on a notion of morality
which fails to accord with the values on which the Constitution is founded. The
freedoms which the Constitution guarantees inhere in men and women alike. In
enacting Section 497, the legislature made an ostensible effort to protect the
institution of marriage. ‘Ostensible’ it is, because the provision postulates a
notion of marriage which subverts the equality of spouses. Marriage in a
constitutional regime is founded on the equality of and between spouses. Each
of them is entitled to the same liberty which Part III guarantees. Each of them is
entitled to take decisions in accordance with his and her conscience and each
must have the ability to pursue the human desire for fulfilment. Section 497 is
based on the understanding that marriage submerges the identity of the woman.
It is based on a notion of marital subordination. In recognising, accepting and
enforcing these notions, Section 497 is inconsistent with the ethos of the
Constitution. Section 497 treats a woman as but a possession of her spouse. The

105 Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 OF 2016
PART E
46
essential values on which the Constitution is founded – liberty, dignity and
equality – cannot allow such a view of marriage. Section 497 suffers from
manifest arbitrariness.
36 While engrafting the provision into Chapter XX of the Penal Code – “of
offences relating to marriage” – the legislature has based the offence on an
implicit assumption about marriage. The notion which the law propounds and to
which it imposes the sanctions of penal law is that the marital tie subordinates
the role and position of the woman. In that view of marriage, the woman is bereft
of the ability to decide, to make choices and give free expression to her
personality. Human sexuality is an essential aspect of identity. Choices in
matters of sexuality are reflective of the human desire for expression. Sexuality
cannot be construed purely as a physiological attribute. In its associational
attributes, it links up with the human desire to be intimate with a person of one’s
choice. Sharing of physical intimacies is a reflection of choice. In allowing
individuals to make those choices in a consensual sphere, the Constitution
acknowledges that even in the most private of zones, the individual must have
the ability to make essential decisions. Sexuality cannot be dis-associated from
the human personality. For, to be human involves the ability to fulfil sexual
desires in the pursuit of happiness. Autonomy in matters of sexuality is thus
intrinsic to a dignified human existence. Human dignity both recognises and
protects the autonomy of the individual in making sexual choices. The sexual
choices of an individual cannot obviously be imposed on others in society and
PART E
47
are premised on a voluntary acceptance by consenting parties. Section 497
denudes the woman of the ability to make these fundamental choices, in
postulating that it is only the man in a marital relationship who can consent to his
spouse having sexual intercourse with another. Section 497 disregards the
sexual autonomy which every woman possesses as a necessary condition of her
existence. Far from being an equal partner in an equal relationship, she is
subjugated entirely to the will of her spouse. The provision is proffered by the
legislature as an effort to protect the institution of marriage. But it proceeds on a
notion of marriage which is one sided and which denies agency to the woman in
a marital tie. The ability to make choices within marriage and on every aspect
concerning it is a facet of human liberty and dignity which the Constitution
protects. In depriving the woman of that ability and recognising it in the man
alone, Section 497 fails to meet the essence of substantive equality in its
application to marriage. Equality of rights and entitlements between parties to a
marriage is crucial to preserve the values of the Constitution. Section 497
offends that substantive sense of equality and is violative of Article 14.
37 The procedural law which has been enacted in Section 198 of the Code of
Criminal Procedure 1973 re-enforces the stereotypes implicit in Section 497.
Cognizance of an offence under Chapter XX of the Penal Code can be taken by
a Court only upon a complaint of a person aggrieved. In the case of an offence
punishable under Section 497, only the husband of the woman is deemed to be
aggrieved by the offence. In any event, once the provisions of Section 497 are
PART E
48
held to offend the fundamental rights, the procedure engrafted in Section 198 will
cease to have any practical relevance.
38 Section 497 amounts to a denial of substantive equality. The decisions in
Sowmithri and Revathi espoused a formal notion of equality, which is contrary
to the constitutional vision of a just social order. Justness postulates equality. In
consonance with constitutional morality, substantive equality is “directed at
eliminating individual, institutional and systemic discrimination against
disadvantaged groups which effectively undermines their full and equal social,
economic, political and cultural participation in society.”106 To move away from a
formalistic notion of equality which disregards social realities, the Court must take
into account the impact of the rule or provision in the lives of citizens.
The primary enquiry to be undertaken by the Court towards the realisation of
substantive equality is to determine whether the provision contributes to the
subordination of a disadvantaged group of individuals.107 The disadvantage must
be addressed not by treating a woman as ‘weak’ but by construing her
entitlement to an equal citizenship. The former legitimizes patronising attitudes
towards women. The latter links true equality to the realisation of dignity. The
focus of such an approach is not simply on equal treatment under the law, but

106 Kathy Lahey, Feminist Theories of (In)equality, in Equality and Judicial Nuetrality (S.Martin and K.Mahoney (eds.)
(1987)
107 Ratna Kapur On Woman, Equality and the Constitution: Through the Looking Glass of Feminism in Gender and
Politics in India (Nivedita Menon ed.) (1993)
PART E
49
rather on the real impact of the legislation.108 Thus, Section 497 has to be
examined in the light of existing social structures which enforce the position of a
woman as an unequal participant in a marriage.
Catherine Mackinnon implores us to look more critically at the reality of this
family sphere, termed ‘‘personal,’’ and view the family as a “crucible of women’s
unequal status and subordinate treatment sexually, physically, economically, and
civilly.”109
In a social order which has enforced patriarchal notions of sexuality
upon women and which treats them as subordinate to their spouses in
heterosexual marriages, Section 497 perpetuates an already existing inequality.
39 Facially, the law may be construed to operate as an exemption from
criminal sanctions. However, when viewed in the context of a social structure
which considers the husband as the owner of the wife’s sexuality, the law
perpetuates a deeply entrenched patriarchal order. The true realisation of the
substantive content of equality must entail an overhaul of these social structures.
When all visible and invisible forms of inequality- social, cultural, economic,
political or sexual- are recognised and obliterated; a truly egalitarian existence
can be imagined.

108 Maureen Maloney, An Analysis of Direct Taxes in India: A Feminist Perspective, Journal of the Indian Law Institute
(1988)
109 Catherine A Mackinnon, Sex equality under the Constitution of India: Problems, prospects, and ‘personal laws’,
Oxford University Press and New York University School of Law (2006)
PART F
50
F ‘The Good Wife’
Article 15 of the Constitution reads thus:
“15. (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on
grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any
of them.”
(Emphasis supplied)
40 Article 15 prohibits the State from discriminating on grounds only of sex.
The Petitioners contend that (i) Section 497, in so far as it places a husband and
wife on a different footing in a marriage perpetuates sex discrimination; (ii)
Section 497 is based on the patriarchal conception of the woman as property,
entrenches gender stereotypes, and is consequently hit by Article 15.
From a joint reading of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 198(2)
of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the following propositions emerge:
i. Sexual relations by a married woman with another man outside her
marriage without the consent of her husband is criminalized;
ii. In an ‘adulterous relationship’, the man is punished for adultery, while the
woman is not (even as an abettor);
iii. Sexual relations by a married man with an unmarried woman are not
criminalized;
iv. Section 497 accords primacy to the consent of the husband to determine
whether criminality is attached to the man who has consensual sexual
PART F
51
relations with the spouse of the former. Consent or willingness of the
woman is irrelevant to the offence;
v. A man who has sexual relations with the spouse of another man is relieved
of the offence only if her spouse has consented or, even connived; and
vi. Section 497, IPC, read with Section 198, Cr.PC, gives the man the sole
right to lodge a complaint and precludes a woman from initiating criminal
proceedings.
41 The operation of Section 497, by definition, is confined to the sexual
relations of a woman outside her marriage. A man who has sexual intercourse
with a married woman without the consent or connivance of her husband, is
liable to be prosecuted under the Section. However, a married man may engage
in sexual relations outside marriage with a single woman without any
repercussion in criminal law. Though granted immunity from prosecution, a
woman is forced to consider the prospect of the penal action that will attach upon
the individual with whom she engages in a sexual act. To ensure the fidelity of
his spouse, the man is given the power to invoke the criminal sanction of the
State. In effect, her spouse is empowered to curtail her sexual agency. The
consent of the husband serves as the key to the exercise of the sexual agency of
his spouse. That the married woman is in a consensual relationship, is of no
consequence to the possible prosecution.
PART F
52
A married man may engage in sexual relations with an unmarried woman who is
not his wife without the fear of opening his partner to prosecution and without the
consent of his spouse. No recourse is provided to a woman against her husband
who engages in sexual relations outside marriage. The effect of Section 497 is to
allow the sexual agency of a married woman to be wholly dependent on the
consent or connivance of her husband. Though Section 497 does not punish a
woman engaging in adultery as an abettor, a married man and a married woman
are placed on different pedestals in respect to their actions. The effect of Section
497, despite granting immunity from prosecution to the married woman, is to
attach a notion of wrongdoing to the exercise of her sexual agency. Despite
exempting her from prosecution, the exercise of her sexual agency is contingent
on the consent or connivance of the husband. A husband is considered an
aggrieved party by the law if his wife engages in sexual intercourse with another
man, but the wife is not, if her husband does the same. Viewed from this angle,
Section 497 discriminates between a married man and a married woman to her
detriment on the ground of sex. This kind of discrimination is prohibited by the
non-discrimination guarantee in Article 15 of the Constitution. Section 497 also
places a woman within marriage and the man with whom she shares a sexual
relationship outside marriage on a different footing.
42 Section 497 criminalizes the conduct of the man who has sexual
intercourse with the wife of another without his consent. It exempts women from
criminal liability. Underlying this exemption is the notion that women, being
PART F
53
denuded of sexual agency, should be afforded the ‘protection’ of the law. In
criminalizing the accused who engages in the sexual relationship, the law
perpetuates a gender stereotype that men, possessing sexual agency are the
seducers, and that women, as passive beings devoid of sexual agency, are the
seduced. The notion that a woman is ‘submissive’, or worse still ‘naïve’ has no
legitimacy in the discourse of a liberal constitution. It is deeply offensive to
equality and destructive of the dignity of the woman. On this stereotype, Section
497 criminalizes only the accused man.
43 Pertinent to the present enquiry, is that the provision allows only the
husband to initiate a prosecution for adultery. The consent or connivance of the
husband precludes prosecution. If a husband consents, his spouse is effectively
granted permission to exercise her sexual agency with another individual. This
guarantees a degree of control to the husband over the sexual agency of his
spouse. As a relic of Victorian morality, this control over the sexual agency of the
spouse, views the wife as the property of the husband. Fidelity of the woman,
and the husband’s control over it, is seen as maintaining the ‘property’ interest of
a husband in his wife.110 In this view, a woman is confounded with things that can
be possessed. In construing the spouse as a passive or inanimate object, the law
on adultery seeks to punish a person who attempts theft on the property of the
husband. Coontz and Henderson write that the stabilization of property rights and

110 Phyllis Coleman, Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? You and Me, and the State Makes Three, Vol. 24, Indian Law
Review (1991)
PART F
54
the desire to pass on one’s property to legitimate heirs, were what motivated men
to restrict the sexual behavior of their wives.111
44 Underlying Section 497 is a gender stereotype that the infidelity of men is
normal, but that of a woman is impermissible. In condemning the sexual agency
of the woman, only the husband, as the ‘aggrieved’ party is given the right to
initiate prosecution. The proceedings once initiated, would be geared against the
person who committed an act of ‘theft’ or ‘trespass’ upon his spouse. Sexual
relations by a man with another man’s wife is therefore considered as theft of the
husband’s property. Ensuring a man’s control over the sexuality of his wife was
the true purpose of Section 497.
Implicit in seeking to privilege the fidelity of women in a marriage, is the
assumption that a woman contracts away her sexual agency when entering a
marriage. That a woman, by marriage, consents in advance to sexual relations
with her husband or to refrain from sexual relations outside marriage without the
permission of her husband is offensive to liberty and dignity. Such a notion has
no place in the constitutional order. Sexual autonomy constitutes an inviolable
core of the dignity of every individual. At the heart of the constitutional rights
guaranteed to every individual is a primacy of choice and the freedom to
determine one’s actions. Curtailing the sexual autonomy of a woman or

111 Women’s Work, Men’s Property: The Origins of Gender and Class (S Coontz and P Henderson eds.) (1986)
PART F
55
presuming the lack of consent once she enters a marriage is antithetical to
constitutional values.
45 A provision of law must not be viewed as operating in isolation from the
social, political, historical and cultural contexts in which it operates. In its
operation, law “permeates and is inseparable from everyday living and knowing,
and it plays an important role in shaping (legal) consciousness.”112 A contextual
reading of the law shows that it influences social practices, and makes
“asymmetries of power seem, if not invisible, natural and benign”.113 Section 497
has a significant social impact on the sexual agency of women. It builds on
existing gender stereotypes and bias and further perpetuates them. Cultural
stereotypes are more forgiving of a man engaging in sexual relations than a
woman. Women then are expected to be chaste before and faithful during
marriage. In restricting the sexual agency of women, Section 497 gives legal
recognition to socially discriminatory and gender-based norms. Sexual relations
for a woman were legally and socially permissible when it was within her
marriage. Women who committed adultery or non-marital sex were labeled
immoral, shameful, and were criminally condemned.

112 Rosemary Coombe, Is There a Cultural Studies of Law?, in A Companion to Cultural Studies, Toby Miller (ed.),
Oxford, (2001)
113 Austin Sarat, Jonathan Simon, Beyond Legal Realism?: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Studies, and the Situation of
Legal Scholarship, Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, (2001), at page 19
PART F
56
In Anuj Garg v Hotel Association of India,
114 this Court struck down Section 30
of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 which prohibited the employment of women in
premises where liquor or other intoxicating drugs were consumed by the public.
Holding that the law suffered from “incurable fixations of stereotype morality and
conception of sexual role”, the Court took into account “traditional cultural norms
as also the state of general ambience in the society” and held that “no law in its
ultimate effect should end up perpetuating the oppression of women.”
In Navtej, one of us (Chandrachud J.) held thus:
“A discriminatory act will be tested against constitutional
values. A discrimination will not survive constitutional scrutiny
when it is grounded in and perpetuates stereotypes about a
class constituted by the grounds prohibited in Article 15(1). If
any ground of discrimination, whether direct or indirect is
founded on a stereotypical understanding of the role of the
sex, it would not be distinguishable from the discrimination
which is prohibited by Article 15 on the grounds only of sex. If
certain characteristics grounded in stereotypes, are to be
associated with entire classes of people constituted as groups
by any of the grounds prohibited in Article 15(1), that cannot
establish a permissible reason to discriminate. Such a
discrimination will be in violation of the constitutional
guarantee against discrimination in Article 15(1).”
46 Section 497 rests on and perpetuates stereotypes about women and
sexual fidelity. In curtailing the sexual agency of women, it exacts sexual fidelity
from women as the norm. It perpetuates the notion that a woman is passive and
incapable of exercising sexual freedom. In doing so, it offers her ‘protection’ from
prosecution. Section 497 denudes a woman of her sexual autonomy in making its

114 (2008) 3 SCC 1
PART F
57
free exercise conditional on the consent of her spouse. In doing so, it
perpetuates the notion that a woman consents to a limited autonomy on entering
marriage. The provision is grounded in and has a deep social effect on how
society perceives the sexual agency of women. In reinforcing the patriarchal
structure which demands her controlled sexuality, Section 497 purports to serve
as a provision envisaged for the protection of the sanctity of marriage. In the
context of a constitutional vision characterized by the struggle to break through
the shackles of gender stereotypes and guarantee an equal citizenship, Section
497 entrenches stereotypes and existing structures of discrimination and has no
place in a constitutional order.
F.1 The entrapping cage
47 Section 497 exempts a woman from being punished as an abettor.
Underlying this exemption is the notion that a woman is the victim of being
seduced into a sexual relationship with a person who is not her husband. In
assuming that the woman has no sexual agency, the exemption seeks to be
justified on the ground of being a provision that is beneficial to women and
protected under Article 15(3) of the Constitution. This is contrary to the remedy
which Article 15(3) sought to embody. In Government of A P v P B
Vijayakumar,
115 a two judge Bench of this Court dealt with a challenge to subrule
(2) of Rule 22-A of the Andhra Pradesh State and Subordinate Service

115 (1995) 4 SCC 520
PART F
58
Rules, which gave women a preference in the matter of direct recruitment.
Speaking for the Court, Justice Sujata V Manohar held thus:
“7. The insertion of Clause (3) of Article 15 in relation to
women is a recognition of the fact that for centuries, women
of this country have been socially and economically
handicapped. As a result, they are unable to participate in the
socio-economic activities of the nation on a footing of
equality. It is in order to eliminate this socio-economic
backwardness of women and to empower them in a manner
that would bring about effective equality between men and
women that Article 15(3) is placed in Article 15. Its object is to
strengthen and improve the status of women…”116
In Independent Thought v Union of India,
117 Justice Madan B Lokur, speaking
for a two judge Bench of this Court, adverted to the drafting history of Article
15(3) and held thus:
“55. The response given by Dr. Ambedkar suggests that he
certainly favoured special provisions for women and children
with a view to integrate them into society and to take them out
of patriarchal control…118
56. What clearly emerges from this discussion is that Article
9(2) of the draft Constitution [now Article 15(3)] was intended
to discriminate in favour of women and children – a form of
affirmative action to their advantage.”119
48 Article 15(3) encapsulates the notion of ‘protective discrimination’. The
constitutional guarantee in Article 15(3) cannot be employed in a manner that
entrenches paternalistic notions of ‘protection’. This latter view of protection only
serves to place women in a cage. Article 15(3) does not exist in isolation. Articles

116 Ibid. at page 525
117 (2017) 10 SCC 800
118 Ibid. at page 837
119 Ibid. at page 837
PART G
59
14 to 18, being constituents of a single code on equality, supplement each other
and incorporate a non-discrimination principle. Neither Article 15(1), nor Article
15(3) allow discrimination against women. Discrimination which is grounded in
paternalistic and patriarchal notions cannot claim the protection of Article 15(3).
In exempting women from criminal prosecution, Section 497 implies that a
woman has no sexual agency and that she was ‘seduced’ into a sexual
relationship. Given the presumed lack of sexual agency, criminal exemption is
then granted to the woman in order to ‘protect’ her. The ‘protection’ afforded to
women under Section 497 highlights the lack of sexual agency that the section
imputes to a woman. Article 15(3) when read with the other Articles in Part III,
serves as a powerful remedy to remedy the discrimination and prejudice faced by
women for centuries. Article 15(3) as an enabling provision is intended to bring
out substantive equality in the fullest sense. Dignity and autonomy are crucial to
substantive equality. Hence, Article 15(3) does not protect a statutory provision
that entrenches patriarchal notions in the garb of protecting women.
G Denuding identity – women as sexual property
49 Charles Jean Marie wrote in 1911120 about the central forms of adultery as
an offence. The criminalisation of adultery came at a social cost: of disregarding
the agency of a woman as a sentient being.

120 Charles Jean Marie Letorneau, The Evolution of Marriage (2011)
PART G
60
“In all legislations the married woman is more or less openly
considered as the property of the husband and is very often
confounded, absolutely confounded, with things possessed.
To use her, therefore, without the authority of her owner is
theft…But adultery is not a common theft. An object, an inert
possession, are passive things; their owner may well punish
the thief who has taken them, but him only. In adultery, the
object of larceny, the wife, is a sentient and thinking
being- that is to say, an accomplice in the attempt on her
husband’s property in her own person; moreover he
generally has her in his keeping…”
The law on adultery is but a codified rule of patriarchy. Patriarchy has permeated
the lives of women for centuries. Ostensibly, society has two sets of standards of
morality for judging sexual behaviour.121 One set for its female members and
another for males.
122 Society ascribes impossible virtues to a woman and
confines her to a narrow sphere of behaviour by an expectation of conformity.
123
Raising a woman to a pedestal is one part of the endeavour. The second part is
all about confining her to a space. The boundaries of that space are defined by
what a woman should or should not be. A society which perceives women as
pure and an embodiment of virtue has no qualms of subjecting them to virulent
attack: to rape, honour killings, sex-determination and infanticide. As an
embodiment of virtue, society expects the women to be a mute spectator to and
even accepting of egregious discrimination within the home. This is part of the
process of raising women to a pedestal conditioned by male notions of what is
right and what is wrong for a woman. The notion that women, who are equally
entitled to the protections of the Constitution as their male counterparts, may be

121 Nandita Haksar, Dominance, Suppression and the Law in Women and the Law: Contemporary Problems (Lotika
Sarkar and B. Sivaramayya eds.), Vikas Publishing House (1994)
122 Ibid
123 Ibid
PART G
61
treated as objects capable of being possessed, is an exercise of subjugation and
inflicting indignity. Anachronistic conceptions of ‘chastity’ and ‘honour’ have
dictated the social and cultural lives of women, depriving them of the guarantees
of dignity and privacy, contained in the Constitution.
50 The right to privacy depends on the exercise of autonomy and agency by
individuals. In situations where citizens are disabled from exercising these
essential attributes, Courts must step in to ensure that dignity is realised in the
fullest sense. Familial structures cannot be regarded as private spaces where
constitutional rights are violated. To grant immunity in situations when rights of
individuals are in siege, is to obstruct the unfolding vision of the Constitution.
The opinion delivered on behalf of four judges in K S Puttaswamy v Union of
India124 has recognised the dangers of the “use of privacy as a veneer for
patriarchal domination and abuse of women.” On the delicate balance between
the competing interests of protecting privacy as well dignity of women in the
domestic sphere, the Court held:
“The challenge in this area is to enable the state to take the
violation of the dignity of women in the domestic sphere
seriously while at the same time protecting the privacy
entitlements of women grounded in the identity of gender and
liberty.”
124 (2017) 10 SCC 1
PART G
62
51 In “Seeing like a Feminist”, Nivedita Menon has recognized the patriarchal
family as the “basis for the secondary status of women in society.”
125 Menon
notes that ‘the personal is political’.126 Her scholarly work implores us to
recognise spaces which may be considered personal such as the bedroom and
kitchen. These spaces are immersed in power relations, but with ramifications for
the public sphere.127
Control over women’s sexuality is the key patriarchal assumption that underlies
family and marriage.
128 When it shifts to the ‘public’ as opposed to the ‘private’,
the misogyny becomes even more pronounced.129 Section 497 embodies this. By
the operation of the provision, women’s sexuality is sought to be controlled in a
number of ways. First, the husband and he alone is enabled to prosecute the
man with whom his wife has sexual relations. Even in cases where the
relationship is based on the consent of the woman, the law treats it as an
offence, denying a woman who has voluntarily entered into a consensual
relationship of her sexual agency. Second, such a relationship would be beyond
the reach of penal law if her husband consents to it. The second condition is a
telling reflection of the patriarchal assumption underlying the criminal provision:
that the husband is the owner of the wife’s sexual agency.
125 Nivedita Menon, Seeing like a Feminist, Zubaan Books (2012) at page 35
126 Ibid.
127 Ibid.
128 Ibid.
129 Ibid.
PART G
63
52 In remedying injustices, the Court cannot shy away from delving into the
‘personal’, and as a consequence, the ‘public’. It becomes imperative for us to
intervene when structures of injustice and persecution deeply entrenched in
patriarchy are destructive of constitutional freedom. But, in adjudicating on the
rights of women, the Court is not taking on a paternalistic role and “granting”
rights. The Court is merely interpreting the text of the Constitution to re-state
what is already set in ink- women are equal citizens of this nation, entitled to the
protections of the Constitution. Any legislation which results in the denial of these
Constitutional guarantees to women, cannot pass the test of constitutionality.

Patriarchy and paternalism are the underpinnings of Section 497. It needs no
iteration that misogyny and patriarchal notions of sexual control find no place in a
constitutional order which has recognised dignity as intrinsic to a person,
autonomy being an essential component of this right. The operation of Section
497 denotes that ‘adulterous women’ virtually exercise no agency; or at least not
enough agency to make them criminally liable.
130
They are constructed as
victims. As victims, they are to be protected by being exempt from sanctions of a
criminal nature.131 Not only is there a denial of sexual agency, women are also
not seen to be harmed by the offence.132 Thus, the provision is not simply about
protecting the sanctity of the marital relationship. It is all about protecting a
husband’s interest in his “exclusive access to his wife’s sexuality”.
133

130 Ratna Kapur and Brenda Cossman, Subversive Sites: Feminist Engagements with Law in India, Sage Publications
(1996) at page 119
131 Ibid.
132 Ibid.
133 Ibid. at page 120
PART G
64
53 Section 497 chains the woman to antediluvian notions of sexuality. Chief
Justice Dipak Misra in Navtej emphasised the importance of sexual autonomy as
a facet of individual liberty, thus protected under Article 21 of the Constitution:
“The sexual autonomy of an individual to choose his/her
sexual partner is an important pillar and an insegregable facet
of individual liberty. When the liberty of even a single person
of the society is smothered under some vague and archival
stipulation that it is against the order of nature or under the
perception that the majority population is peeved when such
an individual exercises his/her liberty despite the fact that the
exercise of such liberty is within the confines of his/her private
space, then the signature of life melts and living becomes a
bare subsistence and resultantly, the fundamental right of
liberty of such an individual is abridged.”
In Navtej, one of us (Chandrachud J.) held that the recognition of the autonomy
of an individual is an acknowledgement of the State’s respect for the capacity of
the individual to make individual choices:
“The right to privacy enables an individual to exercise his or
her autonomy, away from the glare of societal expectations.
The realisation of the human personality is dependent on the
autonomy of an individual. In a liberal democracy, recognition
of the individual as an autonomous person is an
acknowledgment of the State’s respect for the capacity of the
individual to make independent choices. The right to privacy
may be construed to signify that not only are certain acts no
longer immoral, but that there also exists an affirmative moral
right to do them.”
To characterise a woman as a passive object, denuded of agency, is a denial of
autonomy. The same judgment in Navtej has recognized sexual choices as an
essential attribute of autonomy, intimately connected to the self-respect of the
individual:
PART G
65
“In order to understand how sexual choices are an essential
attribute of autonomy, it is useful to refer to John Rawls’
theory on social contract. Rawls’ conception of the ‘Original
Position’ serves as a constructive model to illustrate the
notion of choice behind a “partial veil of ignorance.” Persons
behind the veil are assumed to be rational and mutually
disinterested individuals, unaware of their positions in society.
The strategy employed by Rawls is to focus on a category of
goods which an individual would desire irrespective of what
individuals’ conception of ‘good’ might be. These neutrally
desirable goods are described by Rawls as ‘primary social
goods’ and may be listed as rights, liberties, powers,
opportunities, income, wealth, and the constituents of selfrespect.
Rawls’s conception of self-respect, as a primary
human good, is intimately connected to the idea of
autonomy. Self-respect is founded on an individual’s
ability to exercise her native capacities in a competent
manner.”
(Emphasis supplied)
G.1 Exacting fidelity: the intimacies of marriage

54 Marriage as a social institution has undergone changes. Propelled by
access to education and by economic and social progress, women have found
greater freedom to assert their choices and preferences. The law must also
reflect their status as equals in a marriage, entitled to the constitutional
guarantees of privacy and dignity. The opinion delivered on behalf of four judges
in Puttaswamy held thus:
“130…As society evolves, so must constitutional doctrine.
The institutions which the Constitution has created must
adapt flexibly to meet the challenges in a rapidly growing
knowledge economy. Above all, constitutional interpretation is
but a process in achieving justice, liberty and dignity to every
citizen.”134

134 Ibid. at page 414
PART G
66
In Navtej, Justice Rohinton Nariman countered the assertion that the Court must
“not indulge in taking upon itself the guardianship of changing societal mores” by
holding thus:
“…The very purpose of the fundamental rights chapter in the
Constitution of India is to withdraw the subject of liberty and
dignity of the individual and place such subject beyond the
reach of majoritarian governments so that constitutional
morality can be applied by this Court to give effect to the
rights, among others, of ‘discrete and insular’ minorities.One
such minority has knocked on the doors of this Court as this
Court is the custodian of the fundamental rights of citizens.
These fundamental rights do not depend upon the
outcome of elections. And, it is not left to majoritarian
governments to prescribe what shall be orthodox in
matters concerning social morality. The fundamental
rights chapter is like the north star in the universe of
constitutionalism in India. Constitutional morality always
trumps any imposition of a particular view of social
morality by shifting and different majoritarian regimes.”
(Emphasis supplied)
55 Section 497 seeks the preservation of a construct of marriage in which
female fidelity is enforced by the letter of the law and by the coercive authority of
the state. Such a conception goes against the spirit of the rights-based
jurisprudence of this Court, which seeks to protect the dignity of an individual and
her “intimate personal choices”. It cannot be held that these rights cease to exist
once the woman enters into a marriage.
56 The identity of the woman must be as an ‘individual in her own right’. In
that sense, her identity does not get submerged as a result of her marriage.
Section 497 lays down the norm that the identity of a married woman is but as
the wife of her spouse. Underlying the norm is a notion of control over and
subjugation of the woman. Such notions cannot withstand scrutiny under a liberal
PART G
67
constitution. Chief Justice Dipak Misra in Navtej has drawn on the
interrelationship between ‘identity’ and ‘autonomy’:
“…Autonomy is individualistic. Under the autonomy principle,
the individual has sovereignty over his/her body. He/she can
surrender his/her autonomy wilfully to another individual and
their intimacy in privacy is a matter of their choice. Such
concept of identity is not only sacred but is also in recognition
of the quintessential facet of humanity in a person‘s nature.
The autonomy establishes identity and the said identity, in the
ultimate eventuate, becomes a part of dignity in an individual.
This dignity is special to the man/woman who has a right to
enjoy his/her life as per the constitutional norms and should
not be allowed to wither and perish like a mushroom. It is a
directional shift from conceptual macrocosm to cognizable
microcosm. When such culture grows, there is an affirmative
move towards a more inclusive and egalitarian society.”
This Court in Puttaswamy has elucidated that privacy is the entitlement of every
individual, with no distinction to be made on the basis of the individual’s position
in society.
“271.Every individual in society irrespective of social class or
economic status is entitled to the intimacy and autonomy
which privacy protects. It is privacy as an intrinsic and core
feature of life and personal liberty which enables an individual
to stand up against a programme of forced sterilization. Then
again, it is privacy which is a powerful guarantee if the State
were to introduce compulsory drug trials of non-consenting
men or women. The sanctity of marriage, the liberty of
procreation, the choice of a family life and the dignity of being
are matters which concern every individual irrespective of
social strata or economic well being. The pursuit of happiness
is founded upon autonomy and dignity. Both are essential
attributes of privacy which makes no distinction between the
birth marks of individuals.”135
57 It would be useful to refer to decisions of this Court which have
emphasised on the freedoms of individuals with respect to choices in
relationships. In Navtej, Chief Justice Misra highlighted the indignity suffered by

135 Ibid. at page 484
PART G
68
an individual when “acts within their personal sphere” are criminalised on the
basis of regressive social attitudes:
“An individual’s choice to engage in certain acts within their
private sphere has been restricted by criminalising the same
on account of the age old social perception. To harness such
an essential decision, which defines the individualism of a
person, by tainting it with criminality would violate the
individual’s right to dignity by reducing it to mere letters
without any spirit.”
The Chief Justice observed that the “organisation of intimate relations” between
“consenting adults” is a matter of complete personal choice and characterised
the “private protective sphere and realm of individual choice and autonomy” as a
personal right:
“It is true that the principle of choice can never be absolute
under a liberal Constitution and the law restricts one
individual‘s choice to prevent harm or injury to others.
However, the organisation of intimate relations is a
matter of complete personal choice especially between
consenting adults. It is a vital personal right falling within
the private protective sphere and realm of individual
choice and autonomy. Such progressive proclivity is
rooted in the constitutional structure and is an
inextricable part of human nature.”
(Emphasis supplied)
.
In Shakti Vahini, this Court has recognised the right to choose a partner as a
fundamental right under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. In Shafin Jahan,
“intimate personal choices” were held to be a protected sphere, with one of us
(Chandrachud J) stating:
“88.The choice of a partner whether within or outside
marriage lies within the exclusive domain of each individual.
PART G
69
Intimacies of marriage lie within a core zone of privacy, which
is inviolable.”

58 In Navtej, one of us (Chandrachud J) held that the right to sexual privacy
is a natural right, fundamental to liberty and a soulmate of dignity. The application
of Section 497 is a blatant violation of these enunciated rights. Will a trial to prove
adultery lead the wife to tender proof of her fidelity? In Navtej, the principle was
elucidated thus:
“In protecting consensual intimacies, the Constitution adopts
a simple principle: the state has no business to intrude into
these personal matters.”

In so far as two individuals engage in acts based on consent, the law cannot
intervene. Any intrusion in this private sphere would amount to deprivation of
autonomy and sexual agency, which every individual is imbued with.
In Puttaswamy, it was recognised that a life of dignity entails that the “inner
recesses of the human personality” be secured from “unwanted intrusion”:
“127.The right to privacy is an element of human dignity. The
sanctity of privacy lies in its functional relationship with
dignity. Privacy ensures that a human being can lead a life of
dignity by securing the inner recesses of the human
personality from unwanted intrusion. Privacy recognises the
autonomy of the individual and the right of every person to
make essential choices which affect the course of life. In
doing so privacy recognises that living a life of dignity is
essential for a human being to fulfil the liberties and freedoms
which are the cornerstone of the Constitution.”136

136 Ibid. at page 413
PART G
70
59 In criminalizing adultery, the legislature has imposed its imprimatur on the
control by a man over the sexuality of his spouse. In doing that, the statutory
provision fails to meet the touchstone of Article 21. Section 497 deprives a
woman of her autonomy, dignity and privacy. It compounds the encroachment on
her right to life and personal liberty by adopting a notion of marriage which
subverts true equality. Equality is subverted by lending the sanctions of the penal
law to a gender biased approach to the relationship of a man and a woman. The
statute confounds paternalism as an instrument for protecting marital stability. It
defines the sanctity of marriage in terms of a hierarchical ordering which is
skewed against the woman. The law gives unequal voices to partners in a
relationship.
This judgment has dwelt on the importance of sexual autonomy as a value which
is integral to life and personal liberty under Article 21. Individuals in a
relationship, whether within or outside marriage, have a legitimate expectation
that each will provide to the other the same element of companionship and
respect for choices. Respect for sexual autonomy, it must be emphasized is
founded on the equality between spouses and partners and the recognition by
each of them of the dignity of the other. Control over sexuality attaches to the
human element in each individual. Marriage – whether it be a sacrament or
contract – does not result in ceding of the autonomy of one spouse to another.
PART G
71
60 Recognition of sexual autonomy as inhering in each individual and of the
elements of privacy and dignity have a bearing on the role of the state in
regulating the conditions and consequences of marital relationships. There is a
fundamental reason which militates against criminalization of adultery. Its
genesis lies in the fact that criminalizing an act is not a valid constitutional
response to a sexual relationship outside the fold of marriage. Adultery in the
course of a subsisting marital relationship may, and very often does question the
commitment of the spouse to the relationship. In many cases, a sexual
relationship of one of the spouses outside of the marriage may lead to the end of
the marital relationship. But in other cases, such a relationship may not be the
cause but the consequence of a pre-existing disruption of the marital tie. All too
often, spouses who have drifted apart irrevocably may be compelled for reasons
personal to them to continue with the veneer of a marriage which has ended for
all intents and purposes. The interminably long delay of the law in the resolution
of matrimonial conflicts is an aspect which cannot be ignored. The realities of
human existence are too complex to place them in closed categories of right and
wrong and to subject all that is considered wrong with the sanctions of penal law.
Just as all conduct which is not criminal may not necessarily be ethically just, all
conduct which is inappropriate does not justify being elevated to a criminal
wrongdoing.
61 The state undoubtedly has a legitimate interest in regulating many aspects
of marriage. That is the foundation on which the state does regulate rights,
PART G
72
entitlements and duties, primarily bearing on its civil nature. Breach by one of the
spouses of a legal norm may constitute a ground for dissolution or annulment.
When the state enacts and enforces such legislation, it does so on the postulate
that marriage as a social institution has a significant bearing on the social fabric.
But in doing so, the state is equally governed by the norms of a liberal
Constitution which emphasise dignity, equality and liberty as its cardinal values.
The legitimate aims of the state may, it must be recognized, extend to imposing
penal sanctions for certain acts within the framework of marriage. Physical and
emotional abuse and domestic violence are illustrations of the need for legislative
intervention. The Indian state has legitimately intervened in other situations such
as by enacting anti dowry legislation or by creating offences dealing with the
harassment of women for dowry within a marital relationship. The reason why
this constitutes a legitimate recourse to the sovereign authority of the state to
criminalize conduct is because the acts which the state proscribes are
deleterious to human dignity. In criminalizing certain types of wrongdoing against
women, the state intervenes to protect the fundamental rights of every woman to
live with dignity. Consequently, it is important to underscore that this judgment
does not question the authority and even the duty of the state to protect the
fundamental rights of women from being trampled upon in unequal societal
structures. Adultery as an offence does not fit that paradigm. In criminalizing
certain acts, Section 497 has proceeded on a hypothesis which is deeply
offensive to the dignity of women. It is grounded in paternalism, solicitous of
patriarchal values and subjugates the woman to a position where the law
PART H
73
disregards her sexuality. The sexuality of a woman is part of her inviolable core.
Neither the state nor the institution of marriage can disparage it. By reducing the
woman to the status of a victim and ignoring her needs, the provision penalizing
adultery disregards something which is basic to human identity. Sexuality is a
definitive expression of identity. Autonomy over one’s sexuality has been central
to human urges down through the ages. It has a constitutional foundation as
intrinsic to autonomy. It is in this view of the matter that we have concluded that
Section 497 is violative of the fundamental rights to equality and liberty as
indeed, the right to pursue a meaningful life within the fold of Articles 14 and 21.
62 The hallmark of a truly transformative Constitution is that it promotes and
engenders societal change. To consider a free citizen as the property of another
is an anathema to the ideal of dignity. Section 497 denies the individual identity
of a married woman, based on age-old societal stereotypes which characterised
women as the property of their spouse. It is the duty of this Court to break these
stereotypes and promote a society which regards women as equal citizens in all
spheres of life- irrespective of whether these spheres may be regarded as ‘public’
or ‘private’.
H Towards transformative justice
63 Constitutional values infuse the letter of the law with meaning. True to its
transformative vision, the text of the Constitution has, time and again, been
interpreted to challenge hegemonic structures of power and secure the values of
PART H
74
dignity and equality for its citizens. One of the most significant of the battles for
equal citizenship in the country has been fought by women. Feminists have
overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers to ensure a more egalitarian
existence for future generations. However, the quest for equality continues.
While there has been a considerable degree of reform in the formal legal system,
there is an aspect of women’s lives where their subordination has historically
been considered beyond reproach or remedy. That aspect is the family. Marriage
is a significant social institution where this subordination is pronounced, with
entrenched structures of patriarchy and romantic paternalism shackling women
into a less than equal existence.
64 The law on adultery, conceived in Victorian morality, considers a married
woman the possession of her husband: a passive entity, bereft of agency to
determine her course of life. The provision seeks to only redress perceived harm
caused to the husband. This notion is grounded in stereotypes about permissible
actions in a marriage and the passivity of women. Fidelity is only expected of the
female spouse. This anachronistic conception of both, a woman who has entered
into marriage as well as the institution of marriage itself, is antithetical to
constitutional values of equality, dignity and autonomy.
In enforcing the fundamental right to equality, this Court has evolved a test of
manifest arbitrariness to be employed as a check against state action or
legislation which has elements of caprice, irrationality or lacks an adequate
PART H
75
determining principle. The principle on which Section 497 rests is the
preservation of the sexual exclusivity of a married woman – for the benefit of her
husband, the owner of her sexuality. Significantly, the criminal provision exempts
from sanction if the sexual act was with the consent and connivance of the
husband. The patriarchal underpinnings of Section 497 render the provision
manifestly arbitrary.
65 The constitutional guarantee of equality rings hollow when eviscerated of
its substantive content. To construe Section 497 in a vacuum (as did Sowmithri
Vishnu) or in formalistic terms (as did Revathi) is a refusal to recognise and
address the subjugation that women have suffered as a consequence of the
patriarchal order. Section 497 is a denial of substantive equality in that it reinforces
the notion that women are unequal participants in a marriage; incapable
of freely consenting to a sexual act in a legal order which regards them as the
sexual property of their spouse.
66 This Court has recognised sexual privacy as a natural right, protected
under the Constitution. To shackle the sexual freedom of a woman and allow the
criminalization of consensual relationships is a denial of this right. Section 497
denudes a married woman of her agency and identity, employing the force of law
to preserve a patriarchal conception of marriage which is at odds with
constitutional morality:
“Infidelity was born on the day that natural flows of sexual
desire were bound into the legal and formal permanence of
marriage; in the process of ensuring male control over
PART H
76
progeny and property, women were chained within the fetters
of fidelity.”137
Constitutional protections and freedoms permeate every aspect of a citizen’s life
– the delineation of private or public spheres become irrelevant as far as the
enforcement of constitutional rights is concerned. Therefore, even the intimate
personal sphere of marital relations is not exempt from constitutional scrutiny.
The enforcement of forced female fidelity by curtailing sexual autonomy is an
affront to the fundamental right to dignity and equality.
67 Criminal law must be in consonance with constitutional morality. The law
on adultery enforces a construct of marriage where one partner is to cede her
sexual autonomy to the other. Being antithetical to the constitutional guarantees
of liberty, dignity and equality, Section 497 does not pass constitutional muster.
We hold and declare that:
1) Section 497 lacks an adequately determining principle to criminalize
consensual sexual activity and is manifestly arbitrary. Section 497 is a
denial of substantive equality as it perpetuates the subordinate status
ascribed to women in marriage and society. Section 497 violates Article 14
of the Constitution;

137 Nivedita Menon, Seeing like a Feminist, Zubaan Books (2012) at page 135; quoting Archana Verma, Stree
Vimarsh Ke Mahotsav (2010)
PART H
77
2) Section 497 is based on gender stereotypes about the role of women and
violates the non-discrimination principle embodied in Article 15 of the
Constitution;
3) Section 497 is a denial of the constitutional guarantees of dignity, liberty,
privacy and sexual autonomy which are intrinsic to Article 21 of the
Constitution; and
4) Section 497 is unconstitutional.
The decisions in Sowmithri Vishnu and Revathi are overruled.

…..…..…………………………………………J
[Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud]
New Delhi;
September 27, 2018.

1
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO. 194 OF 2017
Joseph Shine …Petitioner
Versus
Union of India …Respondent
J U D G M E N T
INDU MALHOTRA, J.
1. The present Writ Petition has been filed to challenge the
constitutional validity of Section 497 of the Indian Penal
Code (hereinafter referred to as I.P.C.) which makes
„adultery‟ a criminal offence, and prescribes a
punishment of imprisonment upto five years and fine.
Section 497 reads as under:
―497. Adultery — Whoever has sexual
intercourse with a person who is and
whom he knows or has reason to
believe to be the wife of another man,
without the consent or connivance of
that man, such sexual intercourse not
2
amounting to the offence of rape, is
guilty of the offence of adultery, and
shall be punished with imprisonment of
either description for a term which may
extend to five years, or with fine, or
with both. In such case the wife shall
not be punishable as an abettor.‖
2. The Petitioner has also challenged Section 198(2) of the
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, (hereinafter referred to
as “Cr.P.C”). Section 198(2) reads as under:
―For the purpose of sub-section (1), no
person other than the husband of the
woman shall be deemed to be
aggrieved by any offence punishable
under section 497 or section 498 of the
said Code.
Provided that in the absence of the
husband, some person who had care
of the woman on his behalf at the time
when such offence was committed
may, with the leave of the Court, make
a complaint on his behalf.‖
3. The word „adultery‟
1 derives its origin from the French
word „avoutre‘, which has evolved from the Latin verb
„adulterium‘ which means “to corrupt.” The concept of a
wife corrupting the marital bond with her husband by

1 The New international Webster‟s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language,
Deluxe Encyclopedic Edition, Trident Press International (1996 Edn.) at page 21.
3
having a relationship outside the marriage, was termed
as „adultery‟.
This definition of adultery emanated from the historical
context of Victorian morality, where a woman considered
to be the „property‟ of her husband; and the offence was
committed only by the adulterous man. The adulterous
woman could not be proceeded against as an „abettor‟,
even though the relationship was consensual.
4. THE DOCTRINE OF COVERTURE
Adultery, as an offence, was not a crime under
Common Law, in England. It was punishable by the
ecclesiastical courts which exercised jurisdiction over
sacramental matters that included marriage, separation,
legitimacy, succession to personal property, etc.
2
In England, coverture determined the rights of married
women, under Common Law. A „feme sole‘ transformed
into a „feme covert‘ after marriage. „Feme covert‘ was
based on the doctrine of „Unity of Persons‟ – i.e. the
husband and wife were a single legal identity. This was

2 Outhwaite, R.B. (2007). The Rise and Fall of the English Ecclesiastical Courts, 1500–1860.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
4
based on notions of biblical morality that a husband and
wife were „one in flesh and blood‟. The effect of „coverture‟
was that a married woman‟s legal rights were subsumed
by that of her husband. A married woman could not own
property, execute legal documents, enter into a contract,
or obtain an education against her husband’s wishes, or
retain a salary for herself.3
The principle of „coverture‟ was described in William
Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England as
follows:4
― By marriage, the husband and wife
are one person in law: that is, the very
being or legal existence of the woman is
suspended during the marriage, or at
least is incorporated and consolidated
into that of the husband: under whose
wing, protection, and cover, she
performs everything; and is therefore
called in our law-French a feme-covert;
is said to be covert-baron, or under the
protection and influence of her
husband, her baron, or lord; and her
condition during her marriage is called
her coverture. Upon this principle, of a
union of person in husband and wife,
depend almost all the legal rights,
duties, and disabilities, that either of
them acquires by the marriage. I speak

3 Fernandez, Angela “Tapping Reeve, Nathan Dane, and James Kent: Three Fading
Federalists on Marital Unity.” Married Women and the Law: Coverture in England and the
Common Law World, edited by Tim Stretton and Krista J. Kesselring, McGill-Queen’s
University Press, 2013, pp. 192–216.
4 Blackstone‘s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Books III & IV (8th Edn.), 1778
5
not at present of the rights of property,
but of such as are merely personal. For
this reason, a man cannot grant
anything to his wife, or enter into
covenant with her: for the grant would
be to suppose her separate existence;
and to covenant with her, would be only
to covenant with himself: and therefore
it is also generally true, that all
contracts made between husband and
wife, when single, are voided by the
intermarriage.‖
(Emphasis supplied)
On this basis, a wife did not have an individual legal
liability for her misdeeds, since it was legally assumed
that she was acting under the orders of her husband, and
generally a husband and wife were not allowed to testify
either for, or against each other.
Medieval legal treatises, such as the Bracton5,
described the nature of „coverture‟ and its impact on
married women’s legal actions. Bracton (supra) states
that husbands wielded power over their wives, being their
„rulers‟ and „custodians of their property‟. The institution
of marriage came under the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical
courts. It made wives live in the shadow of their
husbands, virtually „invisible‟ to the law.

5 Bracton: De Legibus Et Consuetudinibus Angliæ (Bracton on the Laws and Customs of
England attributed to Henry of Bratton, c. 1210-1268) Vol III, pg. 115
Available at http://bracton.law.harvard.edu/index.html
6
The principle of coverture subsisted throughout the
marriage of the couple. It was not possible to obtain a
divorce through civil courts, which refused to invade into
the jurisdiction of the church. Adultery was the only
ground available to obtain divorce.
The origin of adultery under Common Law was
discussed in the English case Pritchard v. Pritchard and
Sims6, wherein it was held that:
―In 1857, when marriage in England
was still a union for life which could be
broken only by private Act of
Parliament, under the common law,
three distinct causes of action available
to a husband whose rights in his wife
were violated by a third party, who
enticed her away, or who harboured
her or who committed adultery with
her…In the action for adultery, known
as criminal conversation, which dates
from before the time of BRACTON, and
consequently lay originally in trespass,
the act of adultery itself was the cause
of action and the damages punitive at
large. It lay whether the adultery
resulted in the husband‘s losing his
wife‘s society and services or not. All
three causes of action were based on
the recognition accorded by the common
law to the husband‘s propriety which
would have been hers had she been
feme sole.‖
(Emphasis supplied)

6 [1966] 3 All E.R. 601
7
In the Victorian Era7, women were denied the exercise
of basic rights and liberties, and had little autonomy over
their choices. Their status was pari materia with that of
land, cattle and crop; forming a part of the „estate‟ of their
fathers as daughters prior to marriage, and as the „estate‟
of their husband post-marriage.
8
Lord Wilson in his Speech titled “Out of his shadow:
The long struggle of wives under English Law”
9 speaks of
the plight of women during this era:
―8. An allied consequence of the wife‘s
coverture was that she was not legally
able to enter into a contract. Apart from
anything else, she had no property
against which to enforce any order
against her for payment under a
contract; so it was only a small step for
the law to conclude that she did not
have the ability to enter into the
contract in the first place. If, however,
the wife went into a shop and ordered
goods, say of food or clothing, which the
law regarded as necessary for the
household, the law presumed, unless
the husband proved to the contrary,
that she had entered into the contract

7 1807 – 1901 A.D.
8 Margot Finn (1996). Women, Consumption and Coverture in England, c. 1760–1860.
The Historical Journal, 39, pp 703-722
9 The High Sheriff of Oxfordshire‟s Annual Law Lecture given by Lord Wilson on 9 October
2012
Available at: https://www.supremecourt.uk/docs/speech-121009.pdf
8
as his authorised agent. So the
shopkeeper could sue him for the price
if the wife had obtained the goods on
credit.
9. In the seventeenth century there was
a development in the law relating to this
so-called agency of necessity. It was an
attempt to serve the needs of wives
whose husbands had deserted them.
The law began to say that, if a deserted
wife had not committed adultery, she
could buy from the shopkeeper all such
goods as were necessary for her and,
even if (as was highly likely) the
husband had not authorised her to buy
them, he was liable to pay the
shopkeeper for them. But the
shopkeeper had a problem. How was
he to know whether the wife at the
counter had been deserted and had not
committed adultery? Sometimes a
husband even placed a notice in the
local newspaper to the effect, true or
untrue, that his wife had deserted him
or had committed adultery and that
accordingly he would not be liable to
pay for her purchase of necessaries.….‖
The remnants of „coverture‟ sowed the seeds for the
introduction of „Criminal Conversation‟ as an actionable
tort by a husband against his wife‟s paramour in
England.
Criminal Conversation as a tort, gave a married man
the right to claim damages against the man who had
entered into a sexual relationship with his wife. The
9
consent of the wife to the relationship, did not affect the
entitlement of her husband to sue.
The legal position of matrimonial wrongs underwent a
significant change with the passing of the Matrimonial
Causes Act, 1857 in England.10 Section 59 of this Act
abolished the Common Law action for “criminal
conversation”.11 Section 33 empowered the Courts to
award damages to the husband of the paramour for
adultery.12 The claim for damages for adultery was to be
tried on the same principles, and in the same manner, as
actions for „criminal conversation‟ which were formerly
tried at Common Law.13
The status of the wife, however, even after the passing
of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1857 remained as

10 Matrimonial Causes Act 1857; 1857 (20 & 21 Vict.) C. 85
11 LIX. No Action for Criminal Conversation:
“After this Act shall have come into operation no Action shall be maintainable in England for
Criminal Conversation.”
12 XXXIII. Husband may claim Damages from Adulterers:
“Any Husband may, either in a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or for Judicial
Separation, or in a Petition limited to such Object only, claim Damages from any Person on
the Ground of his having committed Adultery with the Wife of such Petitioner, and such
Petition shall be served on the alleged Adulterer and the Wife, unless the Court shall
dispense with such Service, or direct some other Service to be substituted; and the Claim
made by every such Petition shall be heard and tried on the same principle, in the same
manner, and subject to the same or the like rules and regulations as actions for criminal
conversations are now tried and decided in Courts of Common Law; and all the enactments
herein contain with reference to the hearing and decision of Petitions to the Courts shall, so
far as may be necessary, be deemed applicable to the hearing and decision of Petitions
presented under this enactment..‖
13 Id.
10
„property of the husband‟, since women had no right to
sue either their adulterous husband or his paramour.
Gender equality between the spouses came to be
recognised in some measure in England, with the passing
of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1923 which made
„adultery‟ a ground for divorce, available to both spouses,
instead of only the husband of the adultrous wife. The
right of the husband to claim damages from his wife‟s
paramour came to be abolished by The Law Reform
(Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1970 on January 1,
1971. In England, adultery has always been a civil wrong,
and not a penal offence.
5. SECTION 497 – HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
5.1. The Indo-Brahmanic traditions prevalent in India
mandated the chastity of a woman to be regarded
as her prime virtue, to be closely guarded to
ensure the purity of the male bloodline. The
objective was not only to protect the bodily
integrity of the woman, but to ensure that the
husband retains control over her sexuality,
11
confirming her „purity‟ in order to ensure the
purity of his own bloodline.
14
5.2. The first draft of the I.P.C. released by the Law
Commission of India in 1837 did not include
“adultery” as an offence. Lord Macaulay was of
the view that adultery or marital infidelity was a
private wrong between the parties, and not a
criminal offence.15
The views of Lord Macaulay were, however,
overruled by the other members of the Law
Commission, who were of the opinion that the
existing remedy for „adultery‟ under Common Law
would be insufficient for the „poor natives‟, who
would have no recourse against the paramour of
their wife.16
5.3. The debate that took place in order to determine
whether „adultery‟ should be a criminal offence in
India was recorded in „Note Q‟ of „A Penal Code

14 Uma Chakravarti, Gendering Caste Through a Feminist Lens, STREE Publications (2003)
at page 71.
15 156th Report on the Indian Penal Code (Vol. I), Law Commission of India at para 9.43 at
page 169
Available at: http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/101-169/Report156Vol1.pdf
16 A Penal Code prepared by The Indian Law Commissioners, (1838), The Second Report on
the Indian Penal Code
12
prepared by the Indian Law Commissioners‘ 17.
The existing laws18 for the punishment of
adultery were considered to be altogether
inefficacious for preventing the injured husband
from taking matters into his own hands.
The Law Commissioners considered that by
not treating „adultery‟ as a criminal offence, it
may give sanction to immorality. The Report19
states:
― Some who admit that the penal
law now existing on this subject is
in practice of little or no use, yet
think that the Code ought to
contain a provision against
adultery. They think that such a
provision, though inefficacious for
the repressing of vice, would be
creditable to the Indian
Government, and that by omitting
such a provision we should give a
sanction to immorality. They say,
and we believe with truth, that the
higher class of natives consider
the existing penal law on the
subject as far too lenient, and are
unable to understand on what
principle adultery is treated with

17 A Penal Code prepared by The Indian Law Commissioners, (1838), Notes of Lord Thomas
Babington Macaulay, Note Q
18 The laws governing adultery in the Colonial areas were laid down in Regulation XVII of
1817, and Regulation VII of 1819; the Law Commissioners observed that the strict
evidentiary and procedural requirements, deter the people from seeking redress.
19 A Penal Code prepared by The Indian Law Commissioners, (1838), The Second Report on
the Indian Penal Code
13
more tenderness than forgery or
perjury.
…That some classes of the natives
of India disapprove of the lenity
with which adultery is now
punished we fully believe, but this
in our opinion is a strong
argument against punishing
adultery at all. There are only two
courses which in our opinion can
properly be followed with respect
to this and other great
immoralities. They ought to be
punished very severely, or they
ought not to be punished at all.
The circumstance that they are left
altogether unpunished does not
prove that the Legislature does not
regard them with disapprobation.
But when they are made
punishable the degree of severity
of the punishment will always be
considered as indicating the
degree of disapprobation with
which the Legislature regards
them. We have no doubt that the
natives would be far less shocked
by the total silence of the penal
law touching adultery than by
seeing an adulterer sent to prison
for a few months while a coiner is
imprisoned for fourteen years.‖
(Emphasis supplied)
The Law Commissioners in their Report (supra)
further stated:
―…..The population seems to be
divided into two classes – those
14
whom neither the existing
punishment nor any punishment
which we should feel ourselves
justified in proposing will satisfy,
and those who consider the injury
produced by adultery as one for
which a pecuniary compensation
will sufficiently atone. Those
whose feelings of honour are
painfully affected by the infidelity
of their wives will not apply to the
tribunals at all. Those whose
feelings are less delicate will be
satisfied by a payment of money.
Under such circumstances we
think it best to treat adultery
merely as a civil injury.
…No body proposes that adultery
should be punished with a
severity at all proportioned to the
misery which it produces in cases
where there is strong affection and
a quick sensibility to family
honour. We apprehend that among
the higher classes in this country
nothing short of death would be
considered as an expiation for
such a wrong. In such a state of
society we think it far better that
the law should inflict no
punishment than that it should
inflict a punishment which would
be regarded as absurdly and
immorally lenient.‖
(Emphasis supplied)
The Law Commissioners considered the plight
of women in this country, which was much worse
than that of women in France and England. „Note
15
Q‟ (surpa) records this as the reason for not
punishing women for the offence of adultery.
The relevant extract of „Note Q‟ is reproduced
herein below:
― There is yet another consideration
which we cannot wholly leave out
of sight. Though we well know that
the dearest interests of the human
race are closely connected with the
chastity of women, and the
sacredness of the nuptial contract,
we cannot but feel that there are
some peculiarities in the state of
society in this country which may
well lead a humane man to pause
before he determines to punish the
infidelity of wives. The condition of
the women of this country is
unhappily very different from that
of the women of England and
France. They are married while still
children. They are often neglected
for other wives while still young.
They share the attention (sic) of a
husband with several rivals. To
make laws for punishing the
inconstancy of the wife while the
law admits the privilege of the
husband to fill his zenana with
women, is a course which we are
most reluctant to adopt. We are not
so visionary as to think of attacking
by law an evil so deeply rooted in
the manners of the people of this
country as polygamy. We leave it to
the slow, but we trust the certain
operation of education and of time.
But while it exists, while it
16
continues to produce its never
failing effects on the happiness and
respectability of women, we are not
inclined to throw into a scale
already too much depressed the
additional weight of the penal law.
We have given the reasons which
lead us to believe that any
enactment on this subject would be
nugatory. And we are inclined to
think that if not nugatory it would
be oppressive. It would strengthen
hands already too strong. It would
weaken a class already too weak.
It will be time enough to guard the
matrimonial contract by penal
sanctions when that contract
becomes just, reasonable, and
mutually beneficial.‖
(Emphasis supplied)
Colonel Sleeman opposed the reasoning of the
Law Commissioners on this subject. The
„backwardness of the natives‟ to take recourse to
the courts for redress in cases of adultery, arose
from „the utter hopelessness on their part of
getting a conviction.‟ He was of the view that if
adultery is not made a crime, the adulterous
wives will alone bear the brunt of the rage of their
husbands. They might be tortured or even
poisoned. In his view, offences such as adultery
17
were inexcusable and must be punished. Colonel
Sleeman observed:
“ The silence of the Penal Code
will give still greater impunity to
the seducers, while their victims
will, in three cases out of four, be
murdered, or driven to commit
suicide. Where husbands are in
the habit of poisoning their guilty
wives from the want of legal
means of redress, they will
sometimes poison those who are
suspected upon insufficient
grounds, and the innocent will
suffer.
…Sometimes the poorest
persons will refuse pecuniary
compensations; but generally they
will be glad to get what the heads
of their caste or circle of society
may consider sufficient to defray
the expenses of a second
marriage. They dare not live in
adultery, they would be outcasts if
they did; they must be married
according to the forms of their
caste, and it is reasonable that the
seducer of the wife should be
made to defray these expenses for
the injured husband. The rich will,
of course, always refuse
pecuniary compensation, and for
the same reason that they would
never prosecute the seducer in a
civil court. The poor could never
afford so to prosecute in such a
court; and, as I have said, the
silence of the Penal Code would be
a solemn pledge of impunity to the
18
guilty seducer, under the efficient
government like ours, that can
prevent the husband and father
from revenging themselves except
upon the females.‖ 20
(Emphasis supplied)
This debate along with the recommendation of
the Law Commissioners was considered by the
Indian Law Commissioners while drafting the
Indian Penal Code.
5.4. The relevant extract from the discussion on
whether to criminalize adultery was as follows:
“We have observed that adultery is
recognised as an offence by the existing
laws of all the Presidencies, and that
an Act has been lately passed by the
Governor-General of India in Council for
regulating the punishment of the offence
in the Bombay territories. Adultery is
punishable by the Code Penal of
France. It is provided for in the Code of
Louisiana. The following are Mr.
Livingston‘s observations on the
subject. ―Whether adultery should be
considered as an offence against public
morality, or left to the operation of the
civil laws, has been the subject of much
discussion. As far as I am informed, it
figures in the penal law of all nations
except the English; and some of their
most celebrated lawyers have
considered the omission as a defect.

20 A Penal Code prepared by The Indian Law Commissioners, (1838), The Second Report on
the Indian Penal Code
19
Neither the immorality of the act, nor
its injurious consequences on the
happiness of females, and very
frequently on the peace of society and
the lives of its members, can be denied.
The reason then why it should go
unpunished does not seem very clear. It
is emphatically one of that nature to
which I have just referred, in which the
resentment of the injured party will
prompt him to take vengeance into his
own hands, and commit a greater
offence, if the laws of his country refuse
to punish the lesser. It is the nature of
man, and no legislation can alter it, to
protect himself where the laws refuse
their aid; very frequently where they do
not; but where they will not give
protection against injury, it is in vain
that they attempt to punish him who
supplies by his own energy their
remissness. Where the law refuses to
punish this offence, the injured party
will do it for himself, he will break the
public peace, and commit the greatest of
all crimes, and he is rarely or never
punished. Assaults, duels,
assassinations, poisonings, will be the
consequence. They cannot be
prevented; but, perhaps, by giving the
aid of the law to punish the offence
which they are intended to avenge, they
will be less frequent; and it will, by
taking away the pretext for the
atrocious acts, in a great measure
insure the infliction of the punishment
they deserve. It is for these reasons
that the offence of adultery forms a
chapter of this title.‖
Having given mature consideration to
the subject, we have, after some
20
hesitation, come to the conclusion that it
is not advisable to exclude this offence
from the Code. We think the reasons for
continuing to treat it as a subject for the
cognizance of the criminal courts
preponderate.….
…While we think that the offence of
adultery ought not to be omitted from
the Code, we would limit its cognizance
to adultery committed with a married
woman, and considering that there is
much weight in the last remark in Note
Q, regarding the condition of the women
of this country, in deference to it we
would render the male offender alone
liable to punishment. We would,
however, put the parties accused of
adultery on trial together, and empower
the Court, in the event of their
conviction, to pronounce a decree of
divorce against the guilty woman, if the
husband sues for it, at the same time
that her paramour is sentenced to
punishment by imprisonment or fine. By
Mr. Livingstone‘s Code, the woman
forfeits her ‗matrimonial gains‘, but is
not liable to other punishment.
We would adopt Colonel Sleeman‘s
suggestion as to the punishment of the
male offender, limiting it to
imprisonment not exceeding five years,
instead of seven years allowed at
present, and sanctioning the imposition
of a fine payable to the husband as an
alternative, or in addition.‖
21
(Emphasis supplied)

21 A Penal Code prepared by The Indian Law Commissioners, (1838), The Second Report on
the Indian Penal Code
21
5.5. It was in this backdrop that Section 497 came to
be included in the I.P.C.
6. THE QUEST FOR REFORM
6.1. In June 1971, the 42nd Report of the Law
Commission of India22 analysed various
provisions of the I.P.C. and made several
important recommendations. With respect to the
offence of „adultery‟, the Law Commission
recommended that the adulterous woman must
be made equally liable for prosecution, and the
punishment be reduced from 5 years to 2 years.
This was however, not given effect to.
6.2. In August 1997, the Law Commission of India in
its 156th Report23 noted that the offence of
adultery under Section 497 is very limited in
scope in comparison to the misconduct of
adultery in divorce (civil proceedings). The section
confers only upon the husband the right to

22 42nd Report on the Indian Penal Code, Law Commission of India
Available at: http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/1-50/report42.pdf
23 156th Report on the Indian Penal Code (Vol. I), Law Commission of India, pages 169 – 172
Available at: http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/101-169/Report156Vol1.pdf
22
prosecute the adulterous male, but does not
confer any right on the aggrieved wife to
prosecute her adultererous husband. It was
recommended to introduce an amendment to
incorporate the concept of equality between sexes
in marriage vis-à-vis the offence of adultery. The
proposed change was to reflect the
transformation of women‟s status in Indian
society.
However, the recommendation was not
accepted.
6.3. In March 2003, the Malimath Committee on
Reforms of Criminal Justice System24, was
constituted by the Government of India, which
considered comprehensive measures for
revamping the Criminal Justice System. The
Malimath Committee made the following
recommendation with respect to “Adultery”:
“16.3.1 A man commits the offence
of adultery if he has sexual

24 Report of the Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System, Government of India,
Ministry of Home Affairs, chaired by Justice V.S. Malimath, (2003)
Available at:https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/criminal_justice_system.pdf
23
intercourse with the wife of
another man without the consent
or connivance of the husband.
The object of this Section is to
preserve the sanctity of the
marriage. The society abhors
marital infidelity. Therefore, there
is no good reason for not meting
out similar treatment to wife who
has sexual intercourse with a
married man.
16.3.2 The Committee therefore
suggests that Section 497 of the
I.P.C. should be suitably amended
to the effect that ―whosoever has
sexual intercourse with the spouse
of any other person is guilty of
adultery……‖
(Emphasis supplied)
The recommendations of the Malimath
Committee on the amendment of Section 497
were referred to the Law Commission of India,
which took up the matter for study and
examination. The same is pending consideration.
7. CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL JURISPRUDENCE
Before addressing the issue of the constitutional
validity of Section 497 I.P.C., it would be of interest to
review how „adultery‟ is treated in various jurisdictions
around the world.
24
Adultery has been defined differently across various
jurisdictions. For instance, adultery charges may require
the adulterous relationship to be “open and notorious,”25
or be more than a single act of infidelity, or require
cohabitation between the adulterer and the adulteress.
Such a definition would require a finding on the degree of
infidelity.
26 In other instances, the spouses may also be
punishable for adultery. Such a provision raises a doubt
as to how that may secure the relationship between the
spouses and the institution of marriage. Another
variation, in some jurisdictions is that cognizance of the
offence of adultery is taken only at the instance of the
State, and its enforcement is generally a rarity.
7.1. Various legal systems have found adulterous
conduct sufficiently injurious to justify some form
of criminal sanction. Such conduct is one, which
the society is not only unwilling to approve, but
also attaches a criminal label to it.
 United States of America

25 Illinois Criminal Code, 720 ILCS 5/11-35, Adultery
“(a) A person commits adultery when he or she has sexual intercourse with another not his or
her spouse, if the behavior is open and notorious,…”
26 Martin Siegel, For Better or for Worse: Adultery, Crime & the Constitution, 30 Journal Of
Family Law 45, 51-52 (1991)
25
In the United States of America, 17 out of 50
States continue to treat „adultery‟ as a criminal
offence under the State law.27 The
characterization of the offence differs from State
to State.
In the case of Oliverson v. West Valley City28,
the constitutionality of the Utah adultery
statute29 was challenged. It was contended that
the statute offends the right to privacy and
violates substantive due process of law under the
U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Court held that
adultery is a transgression against the
relationship of marriage which the law endeavors
to protect. The State of Utah had an interest in
preventing adultery. Whether to use criminal
sanction was considered a matter particularly
within the ambit of the legislature. Given the
special interest of the State, it was considered
rational to classify adultery as a crime.

27 Abhinav Sekhri, The Good, The Bad, and The Adulterous: Criminal Law and Adultery in
India, 10 Socio Legal Review 47 (2014)
28 875 F. Supp. 1465
29 Utah Code Ann. 76-7-103, ―(1) A married person commits adultery when he voluntarily has
sexual intercourse with a person other than his spouse. (2) Adultery is a class B
misdemeanour.‖
26
A similar provision exists in the State of New
York, wherein adultery is treated as a Class B
misdemeanor.
30
By way of contrast, in the State of North
Carolina, it was held in the Judgment of Hobbs v.
Smith31, that adultery should not be treated as a
criminal offence. The Superior Court of North
Carolina, relied on the judgment of the U.S.
Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas32 wherein it
was recognized that the right to liberty provides
substantial protection to consenting adults with
respect to decisions regarding their private sexual
conduct. The decision of an individual to commit
adultery is a personal decision, which is
sufficiently similar to other personal choices
regarding marriage, family, procreation,
contraception, and sexuality, which fall within
the area of privacy. Following this reasoning in
Lawrence, the Superior Court of the State of

30 New York Penal Laws, Article 255.17-Adultery, “A person is guilty of adultery when he
engages in sexual intercourse with another person at a time when he has a living spouse, or
the other person has a living spouse. Adultery is a class B misdemeanour.”
31 No. 15 CVS 5646 (2017) [Superior Court of North Carolina)
32 539 US 558 (2003)
27
North Carolina held that the State Law
criminalizing adultery violated the substantive
due process, and the right to liberty under the
Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,
and the provision criminalizing adultery was
declared unconstitutional.
 Canada
In Canada, the Criminal Code of Canada under
Section 172 imposes criminal sanctions for
adulterous conduct. This provision was
introduced in 191833, and continues to remain on
the Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits
endangering the morals of children in a home
where one “participates in adultery or sexual
immorality or indulges in habitual drunkenness
or any other form of vice.”

33 Criminal Code of Canada, 1985, Section 172, “(1) Every one who, in the home of a child,
participates in adultery or sexual immorality or indulges in habitual drunkenness or any
other form of vice, and thereby endangers the morals of the child or renders the home an
unfit place for the child to be in, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment
for a term not exceeding two years.
(2) For the purposes of this section, ―child‖ means a person who is or appears to be under
the age of eighteen years.‖
28
Furthermore, Canada has a provision for
granting divorce in cases of “breakdown of
marriages”, and adultery is a ground for
establishing the same.34
 Malaysia
In Malaysia, adultery is punishable as a crime
under the Islamic Laws. However, the Law Reform
(Marriage and Divorce) Act, 1976 made it a civil
wrong, for all non-Muslims. Similar to the
position in Canada, this Act makes adultery a
ground for granting divorce, as it is a proof of
“Breakdown of Marriage”.35 Interestingly though,
the Act also allows either spouse, to be an
aggrieved party and claim damages from the
adulterer or adulteress.36

34 Divorce Act, 1968, ―Section 8 (1) A court of competent jurisdiction may, on application by
either or both spouses, grant a divorce to the spouse or spouses on the ground that there
has been a breakdown of their marriage.
(2) Breakdown of a marriage is established only if:
(a) …..
(b) the spouse against whom the divorce proceeding is brought has, since celebration of the
marriage,
(i) committed adultery, or …..‖
35 S. 54(1)(a), Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, 1976. [Malaysia] states,
“54. (1) In its inquiry into the facts and circumstances alleged as causing or leading to the
breakdown of the marriage, the court shall have regard to one or more of the following facts,
that is to say:
(a) that the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live
with the respondent…..‖
36 S. 58, Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, 1976. [Malaysia] states,
29
 Japan
In Japan, the provision for adultery was
somewhat similar to the present Section 497 of
I.P.C.; it punished the woman and the adulterer
only on the basis of the complaint filed by the
husband. In case the act of adultery was
committed with the consent of the husband, there
would be no valid demand for prosecution of the
offence37. This provision has since been deleted.38
Adultery is now only a ground for divorce in
Japan under the Civil Code.39
 South Africa

―58. (1) On a petition for divorce in which adultery is alleged, or in the answer of a party to
the marriage praying for divorce and alleging adultery, the party shall make the alleged
adulterer or adulteress a co-respondent, unless excused by the court on special grounds
from doing so.
(2) A petition under subsection (1) may include a prayer that the co-respondent be
condemned in damages in respect of the alleged adultery.
(3) Where damages have been claimed against a co-respondent— (a) if, after the close of the
evidence for the petitioner, the court is of the opinion that there is not sufficient evidence
against the co-respondent to justify requiring him or her to reply, the co-respondent shall be
discharged from the proceedings; or (b) if, at the conclusion of the hearing, the court is
satisfied that adultery between the respondent and co-respondent has been proved, the
court may award the petitioner such damages as it may think fit, but so that the award
shall not include any exemplary or punitive element.‖
37 S. 183, Penal Code, 1907 [Japan], “Whoever commits adultery with a married woman will
be punished by prison upto two years. The same applies to the other party of the adultery.
These offences are only prosecuted on demand of the husband. If the husband has allowed
the Adultery, his demand is not valid.‖ [ as translated by Karl-Friedrich Lenz, in History of
Law in Japan since 1868, ed. Wilhelm Rohl, published by Brill, 2005, at page 623]
38 H. Meyers, ―Revision of Criminal Code of Japan‖ Washington Law Review & State Bar
Journal, Vol. 25, (1950) at pp. 104-134
39 Article 770, Civil Code, 1896. [Japan], ―Article 770 (1) Only in the cases stated
in the following items may either husband or wife file a suit for divorce: (i) if a spouse has
committed an act of unchastity; ….‖
30
In South Africa, in the case of DE v. RH40 The
Constitutional Court of South Africa struck down
adultery as a ground for seeking compensation by
the aggrieved persons. The Court relied on an
earlier judgment of Green v. Fitzgerald41 wherein
it was held that the offence of adultery has fallen
in disuse, and ―has ceased to be regarded as a
crime‖.
42 The Court noted that even though
adultery was of frequent occurrence in South
Africa, and the reports of divorce cases were daily
published in the newspapers in South Africa, the
authorities took no notice of the offence.
 Turkey
In Turkey, the decision of the Constitutional
Court of Turkey from 199643 is another instance
where the Court struck down the provision of
adultery as a criminal offence from the Turkish
Penal Code of 1926. The Court noted that the
provision was violative of the Right to Equality, as

40 RH v. DE (594/2013) [2014] ZASCA 133 (25 September 2014)
411914 AD 88
42 Id.
43 Anayasa Mahkemesi, 1996/15; 1996/34 (Sept. 23, 1996)
See also, Anayasa Mahakemsi, 1998/3; 1998/28 (June 23, 1998) and Anayasa
Mahakemsi, 1997/45. 1998/48 (July 16, 1998)
31
guaranteed by the Turkish Constitution since it
treated men and women differently for the same
act.
 South Korea
In South Korea, adultery as a criminal offence
was struck down by the Constitutional Court of
Korea in, what is popularly known as, the
Adultery Case of February 26, 201544. The
Constitutional Court of Korea held that Article
241, which provided for the offence of adultery,
was unconstitutional as it violated Article 10 of
the Constitution, which promotes the right to
personality, the right to pursue happiness, and
the right to self-determination. The right to selfdetermination
connotes the right to sexual selfdetermination
that is the freedom to choose
sexual activities and partners. Article 241 was
considered to restrict the right to privacy
protected under Article 17 of the Constitution
since it restricts activities arising out of sexual

44 Adultery Case, 27-1 (A) KCCR 20, February 26, 2015
32
life belonging to the intimate private domain.
Even though the provision had a legitimate object
to preserve marital fidelity between spouses, and
monogamy, the court struck it down as the
provision failed to achieve the “appropriateness of
means and least restrictiveness” The Court held
as follows:
―In recent years, the growing
perception of the Korean society
has changed in the area of
marriage and sex with the
changes of the traditional family
system and family members‘ role
and position, along with rapid
spread of individualism and
liberal views on sexual life. Sexual
life and love is a private matter,
which should not be subject to the
control of criminal punishment.
Despite it is unethical to violate
the marital fidelity, it should not
be punished by criminal law….
…..
…The exercise of criminal
punishment should be the last
resort for the clear danger against
substantial legal interests and
should be limited at least. It
belongs to a free domain of
individuals for an adult to have
voluntary sexual relationships, but
it may be regulated by law when
it is expressed and it is against
the good sexual culture and
33
practice. It would infringe on the
right to sexual self-determination
and to privacy for a State to
intervene and punish sexual life
which should be subject to sexual
morality and social orders.
The tendency of modern criminal
law directs that the State should
not exercise its authority in case
an act, in essence, belongs to
personal privacy and is not
socially harmful or in evident
violation of legal interests, despite
the act is in contradiction to
morality. According to this
tendency, it is a global trend to
abolish adultery crimes.
(Emphasis supplied)
The Court concluded that it was difficult to see
how criminalization of adultery could any longer
serve the public interest of protecting the
monogamy-based marriage system, maintain
good sexual culture, and the marital fidelity
between spouses. A consideration of Article 241
which punishes adultery failed to achieve the
appropriateness of means and least
restrictiveness. Since the provision excessively
restricted a person‟s sexual autonomy and
privacy by criminally punishing the private and
34
intimate domain of sexual life, the said penal
provision was said to have lost the balance of
State interest and individual autonomy.
8. PREVIOUS CHALLENGES TO ADULTERY IN INDIA
This court has previously considered challenges to
Section 497 inter alia on the ground that the impugned
Section was violative of Articles 14 and 15 of the
Constitution.
8.1. In Yusuf Abdul Aziz v. State of Bombay45, Section
497 was challenged before this Court inter alia on
the ground that it contravened Articles 14 and 15
of the Constitution, since the wife who is pari
delicto with the adulterous man, is not
punishable even as an “abettor.” A Constitution
Bench of this Court took the view that since
Section 497 was a special provision for the benefit
of women, it was saved by Article 15(3) which is
an enabling provision providing for protective
discrimination.

45 1954 SCR 930
35
In Yusuf Aziz (supra), the Court noted that
both Articles 14 and 15 read together validated
Section 497.
8.2. Later, in Sowmithri Vishnu v. Union of India &
Anr.46, a three-judge bench of this Court
addressed a challenge to Section 497 as being
unreasonable and arbitrary in the classification
made between men and women, unjustifiably
denied women the right to prosecute her husband
under Section 497.
It was contended that Section 497 conferred a
right only upon the husband of the adulterous
woman to prosecute the adulterer; however, no
such right was bestowed upon the wife of an
adulterous man. The petitioners therein
submitted that Section 497 was a flagrant
violation of gender discrimination against women.
The Court opined that the challenge had no legal
basis to rest upon. The Court observed that the
argument really centred on the definition, which

46 (1985) Supp SCC 137
36
was required to be re-cast to punish both the
male and female offender for the offence of
adultery.
After referring to the recommendations
contained in the 42nd Report of the Law
Commission of India, the Court noted that there
were two opinions on the desirability of retaining
Section 497. However it concluded by stating that
Section 497 could not be struck down on the
ground that it would be desirable to delete it from
the statute books.
The Court repelled the plea on the ground that
it is commonly accepted that it is the man who is
the „seducer‟, and not the woman. The Court
recognized that this position may have undergone
some change over the years, but it is for the
legislature to consider whether Section 497
should be amended appropriately so as to take
note of the „transformation‟ which the society has
undergone.
37
8.3. In V. Revathi v. Union of India47, a two-judge
bench of this court upheld the constitutional
validity of Section 497, I.P.C. and Section 198(2)
of the Cr.P.C. The petitioner contended that
whether or not the law permitted a husband to
prosecute his disloyal wife, a wife cannot be
lawfully disabled from prosecuting her disloyal
husband. Section 198(2) Cr.P.C. operates as a
fetter on the wife in prosecuting her adulterous
husband. Hence, the relevant provision is
unconstitutional on the ground of obnoxious
discrimination.
This Court held that Section 497 I.P.C. and
Section 198(2) Cr.P.C. together form a legislative
package. In essence, the former being
substantive, and the latter being largely
procedural. Women, under these provisions,
neither have the right to prosecute, as in case of a
wife whose husband has an adulterous

47 (1988) 2 SCC 72
38
relationship with another woman; nor can they be
prosecuted as the pari delicto.
8.4. The view taken by the two-judge bench in Revathi
(supra), that the absence of the right of the wife of
an adulterous husband to sue him, or his
paramour, was well-balanced by the inability of
the husband to prosecute his adulterous wife for
adultery, cannot be sustained. The wife‟s inability
to prosecute her husband and his paramour,
should be equated with the husband‟s ability to
prosecute his wife‟s paramour.
9. In the present case, the constitutionality of Section 497 is
assailed by the Petitioners on the specific grounds that
Section 497 is violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21.
9.1. Mr. Kaleeswaram Raj learned Counsel appearing
for the Petitioners and Ms. Meenakshi Arora,
learned Senior Counsel appearing for the
Intervenors inter alia submitted that Section 497
criminalizes adultery based on a classification
made on sex alone. Such a classification bears no
39
rational nexus with the object sought to be
achieved and is hence discriminatory.
It was further submitted that Section 497
offends the Article 14 requirement of equal
treatment before the law and discriminates on the
basis of marital status. It precludes a woman
from initiating criminal proceedings. Further, the
consent of the woman is irrelevant to the offence.
Reliance was placed in this regard on the
judgment of this Court in W. Kalyani v. State48.
The Petitioners submit that the age-old concept
of the wife being the property of her husband,
who can easily fall prey to seduction by another
man, can no longer be justified as a rational basis
for the classification made under Section 497.
An argument was made that the „protection‟
given to women under Section 497 not only
highlights her lack of sexual autonomy, but also
ignores the social repercussions of such an
offence.

48 (2012) 1 SCC 358
40
The Petitioners have contended that Section
497 of the I.P.C. is violative of the fundamental
right to privacy under Article 21, since the choice
of a partner with whom she could be intimate,
falls squarely within the area of autonomy over a
person‟s sexuality. It was submitted that each
individual has an unfettered right (whether
married or not; whether man or woman) to
engage in sexual intercourse outside his or her
marital relationship.
The right to privacy is an inalienable right,
closely associated with the innate dignity of an
individual, and the right to autonomy and selfdetermination
to take decisions. Reliance was
placed on the judgment in Shafin Jahan v.
Asokan K.M. & Ors.49 where this Court observed
that each individual is guaranteed the freedom in
determining the choice of one‟s partner, and any
interference by the State in these matters, would

49 2018 SCC Online SC 343
41
have a serious chilling effect on the exercise of
the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
The Petitioners placed reliance on the
judgment of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India50
wherein a nine-judge bench of this Court held
that the right to make decisions on vital matters
concerning one‟s life are inviolable aspects of
human personality. This Court held that:
― 169. ….. The autonomy of the
individual is the ability to make
decisions on vital matters of concern
to life. Privacy has not been couched
as an independent fundamental
right. But that does not detract from
the constitutional protection afforded
to it, once the true nature of privacy
and its relationship with those
fundamental rights which are
expressly protected is understood.
Privacy lies across the spectrum of
protected freedoms. The guarantee of
equality is a guarantee against
arbitrary state action. It prevents the
state from discriminating between
individuals. The destruction by the
state of a sanctified personal space
whether of the body or of the mind is
violative of the guarantee against
arbitrary state action….‖
(Emphasis supplied)

50 (2017) 10 SCC 1
42
The Petitioners and Intervenors have prayed
for striking down Section 479 I.P.C. and Section
198(2) of the Cr.P.C. as being unconstitutional,
unjust, illegal, arbitrary, and violative of the
Fundamental Rights of citizens.
9.2. On the other hand, Ms. Pinky Anand, learned
ASG forcefully submitted that adultery must be
retained as a criminal offence in the I.P.C. She
based her argument on the fact that adultery has
the effect of breaking up the family which is the
fundamental unit in society. Adultery is
undoubtedly morally abhorrent in marriage, and
no less an offence than the offences of battery, or
assault. By deterring individuals from engaging in
conduct which is potentially harmful to a marital
relationship, Section 497 is protecting the
institution of marriage, and promoting social wellbeing.

The Respondents submit that an act which
outrages the morality of society, and harms its
43
members, ought to be punished as a crime.
Adultery falls squarely within this definition.
The learned ASG further submitted that
adultery is not an act that merely affects just two
people; it has an impact on the aggrieved spouse,
children, as well as society. Any affront to the
marital bond is an affront to the society at large.
The act of adultery affects the matrimonial rights
of the spouse, and causes substantial mental
injury.
Adultery is essentially violence perpetrated by
an outsider, with complete knowledge and
intention, on the family which is the basic unit of
a society.
It was argued on behalf of the Union of India
that Section 497 is valid on the ground of
affirmative action. All discrimination in favour of
women is saved by Article 15(3), and hence were
exempted from punishment. Further, an underinclusive
definition is not necessarily
discriminatory. The contention that Section 497
44
does not account for instances where the
husband has sexual relations outside his
marriage would not render it unconstitutional.
It was further submitted that the sanctity of
family life, and the right to marriage are
fundamental rights comprehended in the right to
life under Article 21. An outsider who violates and
injures these rights must be deterred and
punished in accordance with criminal law.
It was finally suggested that if this Court finds
any part of this Section violative of the
Constitutional provisions, the Court should read
down that part, in so far as it is violative of the
Constitution but retain the provision.
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
10. Section 497 is a pre-constitutional law which was
enacted in 1860. There would be no presumption of
constitutionality in a pre-constitutional law (like Section
497) framed by a foreign legislature. The provision would
45
have to be tested on the anvil of Part III of the
Constitution.
11. Section 497 of the I.P.C. it is placed under Chapter XX
of “Offences Relating to Marriage”.
The provision of Section 497 is replete with anomalies
and incongruities, such as:
i. Under Section 497, it is only the male-paramour
who is punishable for the offence of adultery.
The woman who is pari delicto with the
adulterous male, is not punishable, even as an
„abettor‟.
The adulterous woman is excluded solely on
the basis of gender, and cannot be prosecuted
for adultery51.
ii. The Section only gives the right to prosecute to
the husband of the adulterous wife. On the
other hand, the wife of the adulterous man, has
no similar right to prosecute her husband or his
paramour.

51 W Kalyani v. State, (2012) 1 SCC 358; at para 10.
46
iii. Section 497 I.P.C. read with Section 198(2) of
the Cr.P.C. only empowers the aggrieved
husband, of a married wife who has entered into
the adulterous relationship to initiate
proceedings for the offence of adultery.
iv. The act of a married man engaging in sexual
intercourse with an unmarried or divorced
woman, does not constitute „adultery‟ under
Section 497.
v. If the adulterous relationship between a man
and a married woman, takes place with the
consent and connivance of her husband, it
would not constitute the offence of adultery.
The anomalies and inconsistencies in Section 497
as stated above, would render the provision liable to be
struck down on the ground of it being arbitrary and
discriminatory.
12. The constitutional validity of section 497 has to be
tested on the anvil of Article 14 of the Constitution.
47
12.1. Any legislation which treats similarly situated
persons unequally, or discriminates between
persons on the basis of sex alone, is liable to be
struck down as being violative of Articles 14 and
15 of the Constitution, which form the pillars
against the vice of arbitrariness and
discrimination.
12.2.Article 14 forbids class legislation; however, it
does not forbid reasonable classification. A
reasonable classification is permissible if two
conditions are satisfied:
i. The classification is made on the basis of an
„intelligible differentia‟ which distinguishes
persons or things that are grouped together, and
separates them from the rest of the group; and
ii. The said intelligible differentia must have a
rational nexus with the object sought to be
achieved by the legal provision.
The discriminatory provisions in Section 497
have to be considered with reference to the
classification made. The classification must have
48
some rational basis,52 or a nexus with the object
sought to be achieved.
With respect to the offence of adultery
committed by two consenting adults, there ought
not to be any discrimination on the basis of sex
alone since it has no rational nexus with the
object sought to be achieved.
Section 497 of the I.P.C., makes two
classifications:
i. The first classification is based on who has the
right to prosecute:
It is only the husband of the married woman
who indulges in adultery, is considered to be
an aggrieved person given the right to
prosecute for the offence of adultery.
Conversely, a married woman who is the
wife of the adulterous man, has no right to
prosecute either her husband, or his
paramour.

52 E.V. Chinnaiah v. State of A.P., (2005) 1 SCC 394 (A legislation may not be amenable to a
challenge on the ground of violation of Article 14 of the Constitution if its intention is to
give effect to Articles 15 and 16 or when the differentiation is not unreasonable or
arbitrary).
49
ii. The second classification is based on who can
be prosecuted.
It is only the adulterous man who can be
prosecuted for committing adultery, and not
the adulterous woman, even though the
relationship is consensual; the adulterous
woman is not even considered to be an
“abettor” to the offence.
The aforesaid classifications were based on the
historical context in 1860 when the I.P.C. was
enacted. At that point of time, women had no
rights independent of their husbands, and were
treated as chattel or „property‟ of their husbands.
Hence, the offence of adultery was treated as
an injury to the husband, since it was considered
to be a „theft‟ of his property, for which he could
proceed to prosecute the offender.
The said classification is no longer relevant or
valid, and cannot withstand the test of Article 14,
and hence is liable to be struck down on this
ground alone.
50
12.3.A law which deprives women of the right to
prosecute, is not gender-neutral. Under Section
497, the wife of the adulterous male, cannot
prosecute her husband for marital infidelity. This
provision is therefore ex facie discriminatory
against women, and violative of Article 14.
Section 497 as it stands today, cannot hide in
the shadows against the discerning light of Article
14 which irradiates anything which is
unreasonable, discriminatory, and arbitrary.
13. A law which could have been justified at the time of its
enactment with the passage of time may become outdated
and discriminatory with the evolution of society
and changed circumstances.53 What may have once been
a perfectly valid legislation meant to protect women in the
historical background in which it was framed, with the
passage of time of over a century and a half, may become
obsolete and archaic.

53 Motor General Traders v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1984) 1 SCC 222;
See also Ratan Arya v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1986) 3 SCC 385
51
A provision previously not held to be unconstitutional,
can be rendered so by later developments in society,
including gender equality.54
Section 497 of the I.P.C. was framed in the historical
context that the infidelity of the wife should not be
punished because of the plight of women in this country
during the 1860‟s. Women were married while they were
still children, and often neglected while still young,
sharing the attention of a husband with several rivals.55
This situation is not true 155 years after the provision
was framed. With the passage of time, education,
development in civil-political rights and socio-economic
conditions, the situation has undergone a sea change.
The historical background in which Section 497 was
framed, is no longer relevant in contemporary society.
It would be unrealistic to proceed on the basis that
even in a consensual sexual relationship, a married
woman, who knowingly and voluntarily enters into a
sexual relationship with another married man, is a
„victim‟, and the male offender is the „seducer‟.

54 John Vallamattom v. Union of India, (2003) 6 SCC 611
55 ‗A Penal Code prepared by The Indian Law Commissioners, (1838), Notes of Lord Thomas
Babington Macaulay, Note Q
52
Section 497 fails to consider both men and women as
equally autonomous individuals in society.
In Anuj Garg v. Hotel Assn. of India,
56 this Court held
that:
―20. At the very outset we want to
define the contours of the discussion
which is going to ensue. Firstly, the
issue floated by the State is very
significant, nonetheless it does not fall
in the same class as that of rights
which it comes in conflict with,
ontologically. Secondly, the issue at
hand has no social spillovers. The
rights of women as individuals rest
beyond doubts in this age. If we
consider (various strands of) feminist
jurisprudence as also identity politics, it
is clear that time has come that we take
leave of the theme encapsulated under
Section 30. And thirdly we will also
focus our attention on the interplay of
doctrines of self-determination and an
individual’s best interests.
……..
26. When a discrimination is sought to
be made on the purported ground of
classification, such classification must
be founded on a rational criteria. The
criteria which in absence of any
constitutional provision and, it will bear
repetition to state, having regard to the
societal conditions as they prevailed in
early 20th century, may not be a
rational criteria in the 21st century. In
the early 20th century, the hospitality
sector was not open to women in

56 (2008) 3 SCC 1
53
general. In the last 60 years, women in
India have gained entry in all spheres
of public life. They have also been
representing people at grassroot
democracy. They are now employed as
drivers of heavy transport vehicles,
conductors of service carriages, pilots,
et. al. …‖
(Emphasis supplied)
The time when wives were invisible to the law, and
lived in the shadows of their husbands, has long since
gone by. A legislation that perpetuates such stereo-types
in relationships, and institutionalises discrimination is a
clear violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by
Part III of the Constitution.
There is therefore, no justification for continuance of
Section 497 of the I.P.C. as framed in 1860, to remain on
the statute book.
14. Article 15(3) of the Constitution is an enabling
provision which permits the State to frame beneficial
legislation in favour of women and children, to protect
and uplift this class of citizens.
Section 497 is a penal provision for the offence of
adultery, an act which is committed consensually
54
between two adults who have strayed out of the marital
bond. Such a provision cannot be considered to be a
beneficial legislation covered by Article 15(3) of the
Constitution.
The true purpose of affirmative action is to uplift
women and empower them in socio-economic spheres. A
legislation which takes away the rights of women to
prosecute cannot be termed as „beneficial legislation‟.
This Court in Thota Sesharathamma and Anr. v. Thota
Manikyamma (Dead) by Lrs. And Ors.57 held that:
―Art. 15(3) relieves from the rigour of
Art. 15(1) and charges the State to
make special provision to accord to
women socio-economic equality. As a
fact Art. 15(3) as a fore runner to
common code does animate to make
law to accord socio-economic equality to
every female citizen of India,
irrespective of religion, race, caste or
religion.‖
In W. Kalyani v. State58 this Court has recognised the
gender bias in Section 497. The court in Kalyani (supra)
observed that “The provision is currently under criticism
from certain quarters for showing a string gender bias for it

57 (1991) 4 SCC 312
58 (2012) 1 SCC 358
55
makes the position of a married woman almost as a
property of her husband.”
The purpose of Article 15(3) is to further socioeconomic
equality of women. It permits special legislation
for special classes. However, Article 15(3) cannot operate
as a cover for exemption from an offence having penal
consequences.
A Section which perpetuates oppression of women is
unsustainable in law, and cannot take cover under the
guise of protective discrimination.
15. The Petitioners have contended that the right to
privacy under Article 21 would include the right of two
adults to enter into a sexual relationship outside
marriage.
The right to privacy and personal liberty is, however,
not an absolute one; it is subject to reasonable
restrictions when legitimate public interest is involved.
It is true that the boundaries of personal liberty are
difficult to be identified in black and white; however, such
liberty must accommodate public interest. The freedom to
56
have a consensual sexual relationship outside marriage
by a married person, does not warrant protection under
Article 21.
In the context of Article 21, an invasion of privacy by
the State must be justified on the basis of a law that is
reasonable and valid. Such an invasion must meet a
three-fold requirement as set held in Justice K. S.
Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Anr. v. UOI & Anr. (supra): (i)
legality, which postulates the existence of law; (ii) need,
defined in terms of a legitimate State interest, and (iii)
proportionality, which ensures a rational nexus between
the object and the means adopted. Section 497 as it
stands today, fails to meet the three-fold requirement,
and must therefore be struck down.
16. The issue remains as to whether „adultery‟ must be
treated as a penal offence subject to criminal sanctions,
or marital wrong which is a valid ground for divorce.
16.1.One view is that family being the fundamental
unit in society, if the same is disrupted, it would
impact stability and progress. The State,
57
therefore, has a legitimate public interest in
preserving the institution of marriage.
Though adultery may be an act committed in
private by two consenting adults, it is
nevertheless not a victim-less crime. It violates
the sanctity of marriage, and the right of a spouse
to marital fidelity of his/her partner. It impacts
society as it breaks the fundamental unit of the
family, causing injury not only to the spouses of
the adulteror and the adulteress, it impacts the
growth and well-being of the children, the family,
and society in general, and therefore must be
subject to penal consequences.
Throughout history, the State has long
retained an area of regulation in the institution of
marriage. The State has regulated various aspects
of the institution of marriage, by determining the
age when an adult can enter into marriage; it
grants legal recognition to marriage; it creates
rights in respect of inheritance and succession; it
provides for remedies like judicial separation,
58
alimony, restitution of conjugal rights; it
regulates surrogacy, adoption, child custody,
guardianship, partition, parental responsibility;
guardianship and welfare of the child. These are
all areas of private interest in which the State
retains a legitimate interest, since these are areas
which concern society and public well-being as a
whole.
Adultery has the effect of not only jeopardising
the marriage between the two consenting adults,
but also affects the growth and moral fibre of
children. Hence the State has a legitimate public
interest in making it a criminal offence.
16.2.The contra view is that adultery is a marital
wrong, which should have only civil
consequences. A wrong punishable with criminal
sanctions, must be a public wrong against society
as a whole, and not merely an act committed
against an individual victim.
To criminalize a certain conduct is to declare
that it is a public wrong which would justify
59
public censure, and warrant the use of criminal
sanction against such harm and wrong doing.
The autonomy of an individual to make his or
her choices with respect to his/her sexuality in
the most intimate spaces of life, should be
protected from public censure through criminal
sanction. The autonomy of the individual to take
such decisions, which are purely personal, would
be repugnant to any interference by the State to
take action purportedly in the „best interest‟ of
the individual.
Andrew Ashworth and Jeremy Horder in their
commentary titled „Principles of Criminal Law‟
59
have stated that the traditional starting point of
criminalization is the „harm principle‟ the essence
of which is that the State is justified in
criminalizing a conduct which causes harm to
others. The authors opine that the three elements
for criminalization are: (i) harm, (ii) wrong doing,
and (iii) public element, which are required to be

59 Oxford University Press, (7th Edn.) May 2013
60
proved before the State can classify a wrongful
act as a criminal offence.
John Stuart Mill states that ―the only purpose
for which power can be rightly exercised over the
member of a civilized community against his will is
to prevent harm to others.‖ 60
The other important element is wrongfulness.
Andrew Simester and Andreas von Hirsch opine
that a necessary pre-requisite of criminalization
is that the conduct amounts to a moral wrong.61
That even though sexual infidelity may be morally
wrong conduct, this may not be a sufficient
condition to criminalize the same.
17. In my view, criminal sanction may be justified where
there is a public element in the wrong, such as offences
against State security, and the like. These are public
wrongs where the victim is not the individual, but the
community as a whole.

60 Mill, John S., Chapter I: Introductory, On Liberty, Published London: Longman, Roberts,
& Green Co. 1869, 4th Edn.
61 A P Simester and Andreas von Hirsch, Crimes, Harms, And Wrongs: On The Principles Of
Criminalisation, Oxford: Hart Publishing (2011)
61
Adultery undoubtedly is a moral wrong qua the spouse
and the family. The issue is whether there is a sufficient
element of wrongfulness to society in general, in order to
bring it within the ambit of criminal law?
The element of public censure, visiting the delinquent
with penal consequences, and overriding individual
rights, would be justified only when the society is directly
impacted by such conduct. In fact, a much stronger
justification is required where an offence is punishable
with imprisonment.
The State must follow the minimalist approach in the
criminalization of offences, keeping in view the respect for
the autonomy of the individual to make his/her personal
choices.
The right to live with dignity includes the right not to
be subjected to public censure and punishment by the
State except where absolutely necessary. In order to
determine what conduct requires State interference
through criminal sanction, the State must consider
whether the civil remedy will serve the purpose. Where a
62
civil remedy for a wrongful act is sufficient, it may not
warrant criminal sanction by the State.
18. In view of the aforesaid discussion, and the anomalies
in Section 497, as enumerated in para 11 above, it is
declared that :
(i) Section 497 is struck down as unconstitutional
being violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the
Constitution.
(ii) Section 198(2) of the Cr.P.C. which contains the
procedure for prosecution under Chapter XX of the
I.P.C. shall be unconstitutional only to the extent
that it is applicable to the offence of Adultery under
Section 497.
(iii) The decisions in Sowmithri Vishnu (supra), V.
Rewathi (supra) and W. Kalyani (supra) hereby
stand overruled.
……………………..J.
(INDU MALHOTRA)
New Delhi
September 27, 2018