The National Commission of Women’s proposal on changing some of the laws governing adultery has drawn mixed reactions from lawyers and activists. While lawyers advocate gender-neutral laws, social activists are worried that men could use them against their wives.
Many lawyers feel changing the penalty for adultery from a criminal to civil offence will make the law powerless. “It will not be an offence anymore. Right now, there is some degree of fear of punishment. If it is turned into a civil offence, adultery will only be a ground to seek divorce,” said Kamini Jaiswal, Supreme Court lawyer. A better option, some lawyers say, would be a gender-neutral provision.
The NCW’s stand is that adultery is a domestic issue and should be treated accordingly. “Adultery is not unheard off. It is a common household problem. But adulterous men and women are not criminals,” said Professor Kiran Walia, Chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women (DCW).
The law has been subjected to criticism over the years as the provision that women cannot be prosecuted for adultery violated the right to equality guaranteed by the Constitution. Section 497 of the IPC makes a man culpable for adultery, with regard to his having sexual intercourse with a ‘married’ woman.
The woman involved, however, does not come under the purview of the law. The Criminal Procedural Code (CrPC) (Section 198) further allows the husband of an adulterous women to prosecute the man who has had sexual intercourse with his wife.
It, however, does not allow the wife to prosecute the ‘other woman’ or even be complainant against her husband.