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Innovation Of The Circle Of Reason

Perhaps, India has achieved adulthood….. At least, the basic idea of progress says so. As far as the issue of selecting a mate is concerned, the Indian society has been dictating the terms (and conditions) for centuries. On September 27, the Supreme Court (SC) of India declared that adultery is not a crime in this country, striking down a colonial-era anti-adultery law. The Apex Court’s five-judge Constitution Bench unanimously said that it was unconstitutional, dented the individuality of women and treated them as “chattel of husbands”. The Bench – comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra – held adultery as a relic of the past, saying that the autonomy was intrinsic in dignified human existence and Section 497 of the 158-year-old Indian Penal Code (IPC) denuded women from making choices.
It is to be noted that Section 497 says: “Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery” (as the law was instituted by the British in 1860). And adultery was punishable by a maximum five years in jail or fine or both.

On September 6, the SC had ruled that “consensual adult gay sex is not a crime”, saying that “the sexual orientation is natural and people have no control over it”. A couple of weeks later, the Apex Court delivered another historic verdict and declared the law, which allowed the husband to become the master of wife, unconstitutional. It seems that a circle has been completed, as the South Asian nation has realised the essence of socialisation.
In ‘conservative’ India, utter ignorance and dogmatism didn’t allow people to realise the exact meaning of the social and sexual relationship. By delivering some important verdicts in a very short period of time, the SC has opened several windows of the society, leading India to a new dawn.
Presence in the absence….
Adultery was very much present in India in various forms. It touched every aspect of life, society and the thought process, like ancient literature, modern literature, fine arts, books, movies etc. Although there is no terrible abnormality in adultery, the Indian social structure repeatedly reminded us that it was an immoral and unfair act. The 19th century law helped the social structure influence the people’s view on adultery. However, the SC has sent a strong message to the institutional socialisation that we have to break the chains.

The SC Bench, which held adultery as a relic of the past, clearly stated that “the autonomy is intrinsic in dignified human existence and Section 497 denudes women from making choices“.
This is a monumental judgment for three reasons. Firstly, it has scrapped the provisions that were against the concepts of gender equality and human dignity. Secondly, this has subverted the situation where women were simply treated like chattel or some property belonging to men (read husbands). As the law used to consider women as their husbands’ property, a second man could become the wife’s sexual partner with the consent of the owner of the property. However, touching the property without the owner’s consent was a punishable offense. What could be more abusive for a woman! Thirdly, it has put an end to a situation where women were not in a position to initiate prosecution against their erring husbands. So, the judgement has made a serious attempt to ensure (or safeguard) gender equality and human dignity. The Bench has made clear that provisions regarding adultery were violative of Articles 14 (equality before the law or equal protection of the law within the territory of India), 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) of the Indian Constitution.

Most importantly, the SC stated that the judgment “does not mean that you have a licence to have extra-marital relations”. It further clarified that “marriage is an important institution. The only thing is that the institution of marriage cannot depend on criminal prosecution”. The SC stressed that “it has to rest on certain surer foundations, like love, mutual trust etc. No family can be maintained or preserved or improved on the basis of criminal prosecution”.
It is expected that the sanctity of relations, and the dignity of men and women (too) will be maintained after this judgment. It will not only put an end to the misuse of provision, but will also enhance the level of human dignity. In fact, the SC has taken away the redundant mask of the society. The Indian society did not recognise the social status or legitimacy of adultery. It is absurd to discuss the social structure and the circumstances that gave birth to this law. The fact is that the law was contrary to the current social structure and the modern social values.


The Supreme Court

The definition, concept and pattern of the social and sexual relations have changed radically in recent times. It’s not possible for the contemporary Indians to accept a law that was created in 1860! The society, circumstances and the level of consciousness have changed a lot in the last 160 years. The Indian society has realised that it’s very much possible for men and women to enjoy a free and intimate relation that is not accepted by the (existing) social structure! However, the society did not express this perception (realisation) institutionally. Instead, it tried its best to hide these possibilities. The Indians have become accustomed to the duplicity, as they practice something and the institutional socialisation preaches something else. As a result, adultery – despite being a popular practice – failed to get institutional recognition in India. It also affected the modern concept of women’s rights and human rights in the country. Now, the SC verdict has made the cover of social structure illegal and launched an attack on our opaqueness.

It seems that the Indians have become matured enough to understand the society and its demands. If we consider that the internal equilibrium of a male-female relationship was just like the Adam-Eve narrative in the beginning, then we have to admit that the Indian judiciary has brought some transparency to this relationship. The judiciary has also scrapped the unclear masks and shells of the social structure, thus, allowing the history of social and sexual relation to complete the full circle.
The judiciary has taken the Indian society to a new juncture with this verdict!

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