Last week, a Delhi court ruled that an adulterous woman cannot seek recourse under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (DVA) if the husband decides to whack her around a bit for straying. So, to take legal refuge from a spouse’s fists, a “lady must come to the court with clean hands”.
Whatever the merits of this particular case — given that the DVA is prone to misuse — the connection made by the magistrate seems absurd. Quite simply, an act of violence is — irrespective of the provocation — still an act of violence. One can’t cruise to the heights of domestic cruelty using flier miles earned on the basis of a spouse’s infidelity.
In India, adultery is a criminal offence and laws related to it border on the bizarre. This stems from the fact that
marriage here is not treated as a contract but as a ‘sacred union’ blessed by our myriad gods. While one can understand the psycho-legal implications of philandering on the sanctity of marriage, and its role in divorce, custody of children and the division of property, our antiquated laws haven’t kept pace with the growing incidence of marital meanderings. It’s probably the one statistic that seems to be narrowing the great gender divide.
While the laws against adultery may claim to pay lip service to women’s rights by placing the onus of the crime on the man, the truth is that in our society a promiscuous woman is still treated as a ‘temptress’ who deserves to be publicly stoned.
In a twist to gender inequality, the brunt of the punishment under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, dealing with adultery, is borne by the man, who can be prosecuted for having sex with a married woman — if the act is ‘without the consent or connivance’ of the willing lady’s spouse. The punishment carries a jail term of up to five years and a fine, or both, for the man, while the woman may even escape unscathed. The presumption being that the wife is the husband’s property, and her adulterous act is a crime against the cheated-upon husband. In fact, Section 498 warns against “enticing” a married woman from “the person who is in charge of her”.
At the risk of making a deal with the devil, I’d say it’s time to even the playing field for those making a play for temptation outside wedlock, and make adultery a civil offence with equal implications for both men and women. Maybe then those who are sinned against can win a round without waving a fist of their own. In any case, what’s the logic of a law that seems to favour women, but is an extension of property rights?
But for now, ladies, you may cheat away, as long as your better half nods his acceptance. But then don’t scream blue murder if the benevolent dear follows that up with a few wallops in return for his generosity.