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The Supreme Court on Friday decided to examine whether the Victorian provision of adultery in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which treats only the man as an offender and the married woman as a ‘victim,’ is patronising and commodifies women.

Section 497 of the IPC mandates that “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 the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery and shall be punished.”

Issuing notice, the court will examine two aspects of the provision. One, only the man is accused of adultery. The woman is always portrayed as a victim. So is she the ‘property’ of her husband or a passive object?

Two, if the woman’s husband connives or consents with the adultery, then the crime



ceases.

Further, only a husband or the person in whose care the husband has left his wife can file a complaint under Section 497.
 
Arguing for petitioner Joseph Shine, advocates Kaleeswaram Raj and Suvidutt M.S., submitted that the penal section was framed at a time when women were considered a man’s property.

Equal status

The Constitution confers equal status to a man and a woman. The time has come when society has to realise that a woman is equal to her husband in every respect, Chief Justice Dipak Misra recorded in the order.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said when a law “assumes a patronising attitude to women” and whether this amounts to a violation of woman’s fundamental right against gender discrimination under Article 15 of the Constitution. “By presuming the woman to be a victim, has the law made a patronising assumption” he asked.

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