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Adulterated

If you want to know what the law has to say about adultery in India, like most other laws, it?s best to refer to a statute made by the British in 1860, writes Mondy Thapar.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 01:31 IST

If you want to know what the law has to say about adultery in India, like most other laws, it’s best to refer to a statute made by the British in 1860, that is, three years after the Mutiny. Come to think of it, it’s the only thing you can refer to while defining adultery in the courts of this country.

Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code has no time to quibble. It reads: “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.”

It’s clear that since the guilty party as well as the victim are men, women don’t really figure as, pardon the pun, flesh-and-blood entities. It also makes it clear that the wherewithal that is required to be an adulterer is lacking in women. So, like lesbianism, unfaithful women simply don’t exist in this country. (Incidentally, the law against homosexuality does not include women as Queen Victoria, during whose reign the current Indian law was made, did not believe that lesbians exist.) Thus, the plea made by National Commission for Women Chairperson Girija Vyas about the woman always being the victim, never an offender.

So the normal recourse for an aggrieved husband is to knock on the door of the man with whom his wife is having sexual relations and address him in the following way, “Bhai-saab, I don’t recall me giving you permission to sleep with my wife. And considering that my wife, like all other wives, are prisoners of our hormonal activities, it would be prudent on your part to prepare for a long drawn-out court-room battle — man to man, cuckolder to adulterer.”

Curiously enough, there is little the wife can do if her husband is smart enough to stray but sticks to unmarried — and, therefore, not a part of any man’s property — ladies. Thus, the law provides a small but significant window for those who have no other option but to be unfaithful to their wives.

The maximum punishment for adultery is five years in jail or a fine or both. Which gives the wife of an adulterer ample time to seek compensation outside the ambit of the law.