Adultery is the consensual or voluntary sexual relationship of a married man with someone other than his wife and a woman with someone other than her husband. Although, the legal definition of adultery and laws pertaining to adultery varies from country to country but the basic essence remains the same. It points to an illicit and illegal correlation which breaches the marriage vows and affects the sanctity of marital relations. Laws against adultery are likely outcome of regulation and ethnicity claiming that marriages must be monogamous. Adultery law falls under the criminal law of India and has been put under chapter XX that deals with the offences concerning marriage.
According to Section-497 of Indian penal code- “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 not be punishable as an abettor.”
Section-498: Enticing or taking away or detaining with criminal intent a married woman Whoever takes or entices any woman who is and whom he knows or has reasons to believe to be the wife of any other man, from that man, or from any person having the care of her on behalf of that man, with intent that she may have illicit intercourse with any person or conceals or detains with that intent any such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Throughout the world, the female committing an adulterous act is also liable for punishment but Indian women are an exception for adultery laws and they can not be punished under the law for committing adultery. The wife is not guilty of offence, not even as an abettor to the crime. The case can be filed by the husband of the female partner against the man with whom she had adulterous liaison (not against his wife) stating that he illegitimately intimidated and lured his wife into the relationship.
Actually, these laws were passed in 1860 during the British era and at that time the social status of women in India was pitiable. They were not independent economically and were considered as an object. The structure of the society was a lot different from what its today and several social evils were prevalent in those times. Polygamy, child marriages and sati system were common and since women were observed as a property of men, it was their utmost duty to safeguard their property. Women were subjugated and exploited by men and this led to the framing of such laws which punished only men which must be the seducer and women were not considered wrongful.
Although, considering today’s times, the scenario of the society has changed and women are socially and financially independent and they may be the seducer and not always victim or innocent. This customary law does not seem to be in consonance with the recent times and doesn’t apply equally to both the sexes. This law definitely needs amendments in the interest of doctrine of equality and this has been brought into light by board of adjudicators.