‘Rule subjects wife’s sexuality to man’s will’

At present, the Statement of Object and Reasons of the Bill says, only the husband can prosecute another man for having an adulterous relationship with his wife.

Arguing that the existing penal provisions on adultery subjects a woman’s sexuality and actions to the will of her husband, a Rajya Sabha MP has now moved a private member’s bill seeking an amendment to the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

YSR Congress MP V Vijayasai Reddy’s The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on July 27, comes at a time when the Supreme Court is hearing a petition challenging the penal provision for adultery.

Reddy argues in his bill that the Section 497 of the IPC, drafted in 1860 “based on archaic notions of morality that existed in those periods”, exists in “violation of the basic principles of equality as well as of human dignity”.

“In particular, married women were considered to be the property of the husband. These notions of morality and marital relations manifested itself as penal provisions in the code,” Reddy says supporting his argument for a change in the law.

At present, the Statement of Object and Reasons of the Bill says, only the husband can prosecute another man for having an adulterous relationship with his wife.

“The wife is seen as a property in the disputed matter and is absolved from any liabilities in the matter,” it says. “Furthermore, the sections also provides for an illicit sexual relationship to be legal if the husband has consented to the wife’s sexual relationship with another man. The section fails to provide women with the necessary right to send their husbands to court on the grounds of an adulterous relationship,” it adds.

Reddy believes that these “patriarchal concepts” which exist in the statue “controlling the behaviour of women” must be removed.

Matrimonial sanctity

Insisting that the sanctity of marriage is to be maintained through the means of gender equality and not on discriminatory grounds, the bill says Section 497 fails to be in the protection of women as it views them as “mere objects of possession” in the hands of their husbands. “It is necessary to bring about changes in such old laws to protect autonomy and dignity of women in a social institution such as marriage,” it says.

While hearing the case seeking annulment of the provision last Thursday, the Supreme Court observed that matrimonial sanctity was an issue but the penal provision on adultery is “apparently violative” of the right to equality as it treated married men and married women differently.

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‘Rule subjects wife’s sexuality to man’s will’

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