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Submitted by: Aakrity Roy, Amity University

Before we define adultery we should be able to understand its origin i.e., when a relationship arises outside the illuminant bond of marriage and where an illicit, romantic or sexual relationship or a romantic friendship or passionate attachment occurs, then such a relationship defies the sanctity of marriage and gives rise to an extramarital affair such defiance of the marital vows is termed as adultery.

The Greek word for adultery is ‘moicheia’. The classical Greek writers assigned a very clear meaning to the term. It had to do with the illicit sexual conduct of a married person, or with a married person.

Adultery in clear terms deals with the defiance of marital vows and covertness of the marital status by ones illicit actions

The Evolution of Adultery.

The ancient civilization bears witness to the way adultery has been defined in the past and how it has been perceived by the different generations, religions and courts.

  • Hammurabi’s Code of 1754 BC prescribed death by drowning as punishment for adultery, be it by the wife or the husband.
  • In Judaism, the Ten Commandments delivered by the Lord to Moses on Mount Sinai contains the Seventh Commandment ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’.
  • In Christianity, adultery is found to be condemned as immoral and a sin for both men and women.
  • When it came to punishing a woman for adultery, it was condemned by stoning to death in accordance with the ancient Jewish law.
  • “In Islam, in An-Nur, namely Chapter 24 of the Quran, Verse 2 reads as follows, ‘The adulteress and the adulterer, flog each of them (with) a hundred stripes, and let not pity for them detain you from obedience to Allah, if you believe Allah and the last day, and let a party of believers witness their chastisement’,” he said.
  • In 17th century England, adultery was only a ground for divorce but became a capital offence in Cromwell’s puritanical England in 1650, which was nullified as soon as King Charles II came back to restore monarchy.

The Indian perspective on Adultery.

Since the very concept of adultery is grounded in the institution of marriage, it needs to be discussed strictly on parameters of morality and moral standards alone and gender neutrality should be the only basis for attending to all underlying aspects. 

Though the sections define adultery in detail, they fail to evaluate it on the altar of morality by closely linking it with element of betrayal which is inherent to the act. The shortcoming may potentially impair piety and mutual commitment associated with the institution of marriage with serious and uncomprehending repercussions on the society. 

The law defines adultery as the section 497 of the Indian penal code, it states that ‘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.’

Section 497 also states that a man found guilty of adultery “shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both, In cases of adultery, the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor. Similarly, an unmarried woman can not be prosecuted for adultery. The offence of adultery is, according to Section 497, committed by a man against a married man.

But after much criticism for treating women as mere objects in the possession of men, the law has taken a new turn and stroked down the sexist and absurd law regarding adultery.

The new law states that both man and woman are equally responsible for maintaining  the sanctity of the marriage, A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on 27 September 2018 unanimously ruled to scrap Section 497, While reading the judgment, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that, adultery cannot be a criminal offence, however it can be a ground for civil issues like divorce.

A unbiased opinion.

Adultery, the age old complaint of society, probably is one of the few issues which are dealt frequently in connection with controversies that arise due to rapid changes of mentality of people especially in Indian scenario where conservative perspective is no longer considered as valuable as used to be accepted in the past.

Marriage is a practical and serious relationship which can provide a mature and profound love, companionship and caring. And even a most discreet affair can weaken, if not destroy this bond.

Adultery is a moral issue and thus to decriminalize this offence is the right step towards social development of the society in general. Those who insist that their spouse remain sexually and emotionally faithful even in an essentially sexless marriage will call it “cheating” if they discover that their partner is having, or has had, a discreet affair, often resulting in extreme conflict and severe emotional distress, in such cases treating adultery as a sin is not entirely right or justified. While it is true that some sexually frustrated husbands or wives may seek from others what they cannot obtain from their spouses, a disparity in sexual appetite is only one reason why people commit adultery. Others could include the manic phase of bipolar depression, and hyper sexuality as a component of some compulsive and/or impulse control disorders. Even in a sexually satisfying and fulfilling marriage, a significant insecurity can also compel one to commit adultery.  And then there are the many women and men whose extramarital involvements are purely an expression of curiosity or personal growth.In some instances, a person may rationally choose to seek sexual outlets outside the marriage as an alternative to seeking divorce from a sexually incompatible partner, which is usually messy, costly and traumatic, especially when young children are part of the picture.

Thus, adultery is not a crime but a means to an end. if both the partners are unhappy with each other and the marriage no longer holds its meaning then the bond is broken and there is no emotional or physical dependence on one another.


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