City activists cheer verdict 

Prajakta Joshi
Friday, 28 September 2018

“The verdict would truly bring an autonomy for women in the marriages,” said Adv Mihir Desai. “For the first time ever, we are actually concentrating on the content of equality. We are looking at not just the formal concept of equality, but its substance,” he said.

Pune: Decriminalisation of adultery is a genuine step towards bringing about gender equality in its true sense, recognising women as partners and not as a property of men, say city-based advocates and activists.

In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India, on Thursday, passed a verdict, scrapping section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that recognised adultery as a criminal offence, though it can still be considered grounds for dissolution of marriage.It has scrapped the archaic law which stated that a man can be punished for having sexual relationship with a married woman without the consent of her husband.

“The crux on which the law stood was that a woman (wife) is the property of her husband. There is no need to see adultery as a crime, as it is a moral issue,” said women’s rights activist Kiran Moghe.

Expanding further on that, Advocate Veena Gowda said, “This is the problem with the whole marriage law in our country and the gender inequality primarily lies in the fact that the law sees women merely as the property of the men they are married to.”

“The verdict has finally recognised women as equal partners in a marriage. Earlier, it was seen more of wife-stealing rather than a woman voluntarily having a relationship outside marriage. It’s a step towards modernising the institution of marriage, stepping outside the age-old patriarchal notions. 

There is a lot more to do, as many other clauses in the law too are questionable. For instance, the act about restitution of conjugal rights states that one of the spouses cannot be separated from the another without reasonable excuses is unjust. Also, marital rape is not recognised in India, which takes away a married woman’s right to consensual sex,” Gowda said.

Women’s right activist Advocate Rama Sarode said that such a law was redundant in today’s times and hampered the fight for gender equality.
 
She explained, “The law was formed in 1860s, when the women were not recognised as individual human beings. They were only seen through the eyes of the men in their lives, their father, brother, husband, son. Although I welcome the decision, I must say that 2018 is still very late for us to bring about such a change.” 

Sarode also stated that SC has struck the right balance here. “It was unjust to men as only they would be persecuted for adultery, and at the same time it was demeaning and unjust for women, as even they could not sue on these grounds,” she added. 

“The verdict would truly bring an autonomy for women in the marriages,” said Adv Mihir Desai. “For the first time ever, we are actually concentrating on the content of equality. We are looking at not just the formal concept of equality, but its substance,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, while most in the legal fraternity have welcomed the decision, some associated with the family court still believe that the law should exist, inclusive of both men and women. “The law was unjust to men, as it only saw them as the guilty party. So it is welcome that the SC addressed this. However, instead of scrapping it altogether, the court should have included women as well in it as both parties need to be treated equally in cases of adultery. Now there will be no fear of law and the cases of adultery would increase,” Adv Supriya Kothari said.

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