NEW DELHI, Sept 27 - Declaring that adultery is not a crime, the Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a colonial-era anti-adultery law, saying it was unconstitutional, dented the individuality of women and treated them as �chattel of husbands�.
The judgment was welcomed by activists, who said the archaic law should have been dumped a long time ago to keep pace with the rest of world.
The apex court�s five-judge Constitution bench was unanimous in striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the offence of adultery, holding it as manifestly arbitrary, archaic and violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.
A five-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra said that unequal treatment of women invites the wrath of the Constitution.
The top court, which held adultery as a relic of the past, said the autonomy is intrinsic in dignified human existence and Section 497 denudes women from making choices.
The National Commission of Women chief Rekha Sharma welcomed the judgement saying it should have been removed long time ago.
�This is a law from the British era, although British had done away with it long back, we were still stuck with it,� she said. Her views were echoed by many lawyers and activists.
While adultery should not be a criminal offence, the bench held that adultery should continue to be treated as civil wrong, and can be grounds for dissolution of marriage or divorce. There can�t be any social licence which destroys a home, Justice Misra said.
Adultery was punishable by a maximum five years in jail or fine or both.
The apex court pronounced four sets of concurring judgements to declare penal provision on Adultery and section 198 of CrPC dealing with prosecution of offences against marriage as unconstitutional.
Justice Misra noted that adultery dents the individuality of women and it is not a crime in countries like China, Japan and Australia. � PTI