A public interest litigation on criminalisation of adultery currently being heard in Supreme Court brings out how long after the end of the British Raj, democratically elected governments remain in thrall of unjust laws enacted before Independence.
Section 497 of Indian Penal Code criminalises adultery. Not only does it criminalise adultery, the section is not gender neutral and smacks of patriarchy. The government in its affidavit has defended this provision of law as an essential need and argued that its removal will be detrimental to intrinsic Indian ethos.
As court hearings on Section 377 of IPC showed, long after the UK has changed its social outlook, Indians continue to hold on to 19th century laws.
There is no justification for the state to interfere in the private lives of citizens when there is no coercion or violence. A relationship of consent between adults should be deemed out of bounds for the state. In addition, it is essential to ensure that existing laws are made gender neutral. This is the best way to safeguard intrinsic Indian ethos.
Clinging to 19th century Victorian standards does not help make the legal framework in India fairer. Thankfully, the observations by the Supreme Court bench hearing this PIL indicate that another archaic law may be found inconsistent with the Constitution.
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