Adultery should be treated as a civil wrong and a breach of trust, and not as a criminal offence, as it is considered today by the law of the land, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has said in a recent recommendation to the government.
Girija Vyas, chairperson of NCW, told the Hindustan Times, “Lots of changes have taken place in society and accordingly the law also needs to be redefined.” “But it should be done only after a national consensus is built on the issue,” she added.
The recommendation is not binding, but it is likely to generate a debate on Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — which makes adultery a punishable offence for men.
The NCW, which was asked to review the section, maintained there may well be instances where a woman, whose husband may have cheated on her, would still want to save her marriage.
The NCW also shot down a proposal to punish women in adulterous relationships. Currently, the law does not allow adultery charges against a woman by her husband. Vyas supported it. “Why punish the woman? She is a victim, not an offender,” she said. Considering the position of women in Indian society, the NCW took a line against making Section 497 a gender-neutral provision.
Critics of this view, however, maintain the existing provision displays a feudal mindset, implying that the wife is a personal possession of the husband, and not responsible for her actions.
The commission also recommended amendments to Section 198(2) of the CrPC, which presently does not allow the wife of an unfaithful husband to lodge a complaint against him. But the husband of a woman in an adulterous relationship is allowed to file a criminal complaint against the other man.
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