Friend’s suicide was trigger, says Joseph Shine who challenged adultery law

New Delhi | By
Sep 28, 2018 08:36 AM IST

The Supreme Court has scrapped adultery as a criminal offence, ruling that the 19-century law that “treats a husband as the master’, is unconstitutional.

Joseph Shine, the hotelier whose petition led the Supreme Court to decriminalise adultery, is “a happily-married” Church-going Malayalee in Italy and, as his lawyer underscores, has no personal stake in the law scrapped by the court on Thursday. Shine told Mint that he just wanted to shield Indian men from being penalised for extra-marital affairs by vindictive women or their husbands.

A general view of the Supreme Court.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
A general view of the Supreme Court.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The hotelier, who has been reluctant to speak about the case, told the newspaper why he fought all the way to abolish the adultery law.

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He said the trigger for him was when a close friend in Kerala committed suicide after a woman colleague made a false rape complaint.

“They (married women) might have willingly participated, but it will be the men who suffer (when the husband files a complaint). Something like this (an adultery complaint) will make a man feel isolated. He might not be able to cope with it. This (abolishment of adultery) is a basic step, it can create further changes,” the businessman told Mint.

Shine thinks the law dented ‘the individuality of men’.

Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code made it an offence if a man has sex with the wife of another married man without his “connivance” or “consent”.

But only men, and not women, could have been prosecuted under the adultery law.

In the Supreme Court, his lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj questioned the gender bias in the colonial-era law that he contended flew in the face of the constitutional right to equality.

“Adultery cannot and should not be a crime. It can be a ground for a civil offence, a ground for divorce,” Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said in his judgment. The five judges on the bench were unanimous in their opinion that the adultery law was unconstitutional.

In his separate but concurring verdict, justice RF Nariman attacked the archaic law, saying, “What is therefore punished as adultery‘ is not adultery’ per se but the proprietary interest of a married man in his wife.”

Kaleeswaram Raj said Joseph Shine liked “to support general causes” and was extremely interested in Kerala.

Shine, he said, had earlier also filed a petition against Kerala’s power minister MM Mani for alleged derogatory remarks against women.

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