Most of us would recall the story of an adulterer who was about to be brutally murdered in a patriarchal society around the start of the 1st century, in the open but was rescued by a 33 year old carpenter. He shamed those who boasted about their personal moral righteousness while seeing compassion and understanding to those who sinned differently than them as a less imperative moral value. Sadly, most of society is back in their stomach of un-quenching pride of self righteousness.
The recent array of verdicts from the Supreme Court of India seemed to ignite the fires of a passionate and progressive India. The Incandescent beauty of each judgment given by the five bench judges is being hailed by the liberal youth. From the legalization of consenting adult relationship to the emancipation of wives from their husbands, India seems to move in the right direction of safeguarding the individualism and the dignity of each citizen.
Section 497 of the IPC was an archaic law, which had its genesis from the Victorian Moral code. Made a law by the British, the law was directed at penalizing men who would have consenting relationships with a married female spouse. Clearly, this piece of the Indian penal Code was gender biased and gave the authority of a woman’s consent over to her husband.
In one of the most glorious verdicts from the Supreme Court, Chief justice Dipak Mishra called section 497 as unconstitutional and stated that adultery might not be the cause but the result of an unhappy marriage. He further added that ‘anyone unequal treatment of women invites the wrath of the constitution.’
Justice Chandrachud dubbed the offence of adultery as a relic of archaic times and said that section 497 is destructive to the self dignity of any woman. Justice Indu however added to the contrary that Adultery could be seen as an act of moral corruption; however she didn’t find the law constitutional either.
There shouldn’t be any surprise that those who hold onto vivid or vague patriarchal views will question this judgment, maybe even strongly oppose it. But no matter how egregious most sections of the society find the verdict to be, the escape from legal moral policing pushes India to be with those nations who maintain their laws on rationality rather than traditional views.
Adultery can still be a legal ground for filing a case for divorce. Marriage is between two individuals who enter into the contract with their own consent (well mostly) and it is seen as the duty of them to protect them. Dissolution of the contract of marriage can occur when one party fails to honor their part of the contract. Though it is not a social license that advocates infidelity but there should not be any legal measures that will promote criminalizing acts between consenting adults.
India’s recognition of individual consent and doing away with traditional morality in this landmark judgment makes space for those who question social norms based on bigotry. This along with the verdict invalidating the anti-gay law of section 377 is a clear sign from the Judiciary that prefers the government keep out of private bedrooms of individual citizens.