India’s top court said Thursday a colonial-era law that criminalized adultery was unconstitutional and discriminatory in a landmark ruling hailed by women’s rights groups.
The court ruled unanimously Thursday that the 158-year-old law “perpetuates the subordinate status of women, denies dignity and sexual autonomy, and is based on gender stereotypes,” Al Jazeera reported.
The colonial-era law known as Section 497 criminalized consensual sexual relations between a man and a married woman without the consent of her husband.
“It’s time to say that (a) husband is not the master of (his) wife,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra read out from the judgment, CNN reported. “Legal sovereignty of one sex over the other sex is wrong.”
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Indian businessman Joseph Shine brought the matter to the court by filing a petition last year challenging Section 497’s validity over gender bias since under the law, a husband could prosecute a man engaged in sexual relations with his wife, but a wife could not prosecute her husband for adultery.
The law had been supported by family rights groups and the Indian government stated in court months ago that decriminalizing adultery would erode “the sanctity of marriage and the fabric of society at large.”
Women’s rights groups applauded the decision.
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“It is a big victory for women’s status and position within marriage and within families,” Jayna Kothari, executive director of the Center for Law and Policy Research in Bangalore, said.
“The adultery offense was used really as a threat against women by their husbands,” she said, adding that it was mainly used where marriages had already broken down.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of India also scrapped another colonial-era law against same-sex relations in another landmark ruling.