Supreme Court’s judgment on adultery – Choosing individuality over commitment

Hon’ble Supreme Court of India repealed the Section 497 (adultery law) of IPC. The bench of judges declared that it is not a criminal offense if a partner commits adultery but is a private affair. However, the matter is highly contested. Besides the argument of criminalization, the question arises about who should decide whether it is a criminal offense or private matter. Since we live in a society and make common laws to govern ourselves, I think it is the people themselves and the representatives of people who get to decide on such matters. As Justice Katju (ex-SC judge) observed that the legislature should decide whether it is a crime, not the Supreme Court. Supreme Court may check the validity of it or decide the law as wise or unwise. I think the SC can also check the constitutionality of the law. Too much of judicial activism is not good for a democracy either. The legislature should decide with much debate and discourse whether it is a crime keeping in mind the interest of the society. Simply saying it as a private matter does not reflect its implication on the society. Is the Indian public ready to address the matter of marriage and adultery in private in a constructive manner? They claim, it liberalizes women. But how? Where the majority of women are not economically empowered enough to divorce their adulterous partner, how will they deal with it privately? They will silently tolerate their partner’s behavior and live miserable lives. Men will justify adultery. Moreover, in a society like ours when men find their partners with other men they will take law into their own hands. It does not address the issue. Instead of making the law equal for both men and women, it has been scraped (It still remains a question though).

Besides the law and decriminalization, I have an issue with the way the Hon’ble judges have described the matter. They seem to be somewhat normalizing adultery in the society and to an extent glorifying it in the name of ‘sexual autonomy’. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud backed the sexual autonomy of women within marriage. He said, “Partners in marriage should have respect for each other’s sexual autonomy”. It suggests that he outrightly refusing to accept the exclusiveness of sex within a marriage. If a partner needs ‘sexual autonomy’ to have sex outside the marriage then why marry at first place? Why get into a committed relationship? It is a straight reproval of the institution of marriage and its sanctity.

The judges said “A woman has sexual autonomy within marriage. Marriage does not mean ceding autonomy of one to the other. Ability to make sexual choices is essential to human liberty. Even within private zones, an individual should be allowed her choice”.

In the name of Autonomy, choosing individuality over commitment is no way forward. I am against the law that is bias towards one gender but the way the Hon’ble judges are speaking about the issue is not going to help Indian society that celebrates family values and individual virtues. Commitment is important for a healthy family and healthy families are prerequisites for a healthy society. Where will the world head without virtues like commitment, love, integrity and honesty?  Freedom without obligations is not possible where more than two individuals have to live since one person’s exercise of absolute freedom will stand in the ways of the other. In the name of freedom and liberty, can we do anything we want to? Is not restraint better than just doing whatever your instinct tells you to do? Imagine if everyone keeps doing whatever they want to do in the name of individual autonomy.

The feminist propaganda of ‘my body my choice’ ‘my life my choice’ will take us nowhere. There is a reason why human beings live in a society. Everything is ‘my’, ‘mine’, ‘me’, ‘I’ is the reason for many troubles. Don’t we have responsibility and commitment towards our spouse, parents, family and the community we live in? Is everything about ourselves? My life my choice? What about your choices that stand in the ways of others to exercise theirs’? Hon’ble Justice Mishra said “Husband is not the master,” but can’t the husband or the wife expect fidelity from each other? Can’t parents expect their children to take care of them? Can’t society expect us to act responsibly? My life my choice? Where it ends? Where is the boundary? Are we going to remove all the fences/boundaries in the name of individual liberty?

“Whenever you remove any fence, always pause long enough to ask yourself, ‘Why was it put there in the first place?” G.K. Chesterton

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