Chennai Woman's Suicide Reveals How Adultery Judgement Is Being Misunderstood
On September 29, a woman named Pushpalatha from Bharathi Nagar, Nesapakkam in Chennai committed suicide after her husband justified his extra-marital affair claiming that the Supreme Court has legalised adultery in the recent verdict, reported The Times Of India.
This incident comes into light four days after the Supreme Court’s (SC) pronouncement on decriminalising Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), where adultery is not a criminal offence anymore.
Background of the incident:
Two years ago, Pushpalatha, 24, got married to John Paul Franklin, 27, against their families’ wishes. They also had a child later.
The husband, who is a security guard, soon started disassociating himself from his wife after she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. She was undergoing treatment for quite some time. Out of curiosity and suspicion, the wife reached out to one of her husband’s friend from whom she came to know about her husband’s extra-marital affair.
When Pushpalatha confronted her husband, he refused to part ways with the woman with whom he was allegedly involved in an affair. When the wife had threatened to lodge a police complaint against him, he had cited the SC verdict on decriminalisation of Section 497. “He went to the extent of telling her that she cannot book a case against him as the Supreme Court had ruled that extramarital affair was no more a crime,” revealed an investigating officer, according to The Times Of India reports.
Depressed after hearing this, the woman committed suicide on September 29, by hanging herself in her room. One of her relatives found her dead and informed the MGR Nagar police station.
What is Section 497?
As per the Indian Kanoon, Section 497 of Indian Penal Code reads: “Whoever has sexual intercourse with that person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be wife of another man without consent of or connivance of the husband, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape is guilty of the offence of adultery shall be punished with imprisonment of either with description for a term which may range to five years. It may also incorporate jail term along with fine. In such case, the wife should not be punished as an abettor.”
The Supreme Court verdict decriminalising Section 497
On September 27, a five-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, decriminalised Section 497 and struck down Section 198(2) of the Criminal Procedure Court (CPC) under which only the husband had the right to complain of adultery.
The SC in its verdict declared the adultery law as arbitrary and decriminalised it announcing it as unconstitutional. Adultery now comes under a civil case where a husband or a wife having an extra-marital affair can either forgive each other or can seek divorce on this ground. But, the SC in its judgement also said that, if a person perpetrates suicide due to adultery, be it the husband or the wife, then the better half can be booked for abetment to suicide.
On Thursday, CJI Dipak Misra, Justice Khanwilkar and Justice Nariman said, “Section 497 IPC and Section 198 of CPC deals with prosecution of offences against marriage, and hence, we declare it unconstitutional.”
Justice Nariman coined Section 497 as an obsolete law while Justice DY Chandrachud said that Section 497 jeopardises women’s dignity.
Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge of the bench, said violation of fundamental rights, due to the presence of Section 497 in the Constitution is unjustified and that there is no need to continue this provision, as reported by the DNA.
The Logical Indian take
Section 497 portrayed gender bias towards women and treated women as their husband’s property. Also, the law has reportedly been misused in the past by many women in divorce cases to prosecute the husband falsely. As evident from the statements of the judges, the adultery law was flawed and irrelevant in many aspects. However, the historical judgement by the SC on decriminalising this law has sprouted a lot of misleading notions among the public. It has to be noted here that the judgement has not portrayed adultery as right or wrong. It has only announced that maintaining sexual relation with consent cannot be castigated as a crime.