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About Amit Varma

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.

Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

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14 December, 2008

Adultery And The Indian Penal Code

A couple of years ago, I’d blogged about the law that makes adultery a criminal offense in the Indian Penal Code:

497. Adultery

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, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. In such case the wife shall be punishable as an abettor.

I had two issues with this. One, I found the wording of the law to be extremely offensive—by invoking “the consent or connivance” of the husband, it implies that women are merely property of their spouses, not humans with autonomy and volition. Given that the IPC was framed by the British in Victorian times, it’s hardly surprising that the law is worded thus. By why does it still apply to us?

My second objection was that adultery should not be a criminal matter. Marriage is basically a contract between two people, and if that contract is breached, it should be a civil case, not a criminal one. (It’s a separate problem that two individuals cannot frame the terms of their own contract, and have to go by a standard template enforced on them, but leave that for now.) For cops to come and arrest one of the parties involved is ridiculous—especially when, according to the law above, it’s the outside dude, who is not even breaching anyone’s trust.

But that said, barring violence and suchlike, which is a separate criminal case, the police should not be involved at all. Well, guess what: our enlightened government is planning reform—but instead of scrapping the law, they are expanding its scope. The Times of India reports:

A woman who cheats on her husband may land in the dock if the Union home ministry has its way.

Despite vehement protests from the National Commission for Women (NCW) two years ago, the Centre is quietly going about seeking a response from each of the 30-odd state governments to the Mallimath committee’s recommendation that adulterous wives be penalised.

Double WTFness. First, WTFness at the law itself; and then, WTFness at our government planning to extend it to women instead of scrapping it entirely. The 21st century, did you say?

Previous posts on stupid IPC laws:

Don’t Insult Pasta (on 295-a)
The Matunga Racket (on 377)

Posted by Amit Varma in Freedom | India | News | WTF

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