The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to examine central government’s plea urging to exempt armed forces from the purview of its 2018 judgment of decriminalizing the criminal offence of adultery.
A bench headed by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman issued notice on the Centre’s plea and sent the matter to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde for listing it before a five-judge bench.
In a landmark verdict in September 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era anti-adultery law, saying it was unconstitutional, dented the individuality of women and treated them as “chattel of husbands”.
The apex court’s five-judge Constitution bench was unanimous in striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the offence of adultery, holding it as manifestly arbitrary, archaic and violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.
The judgment was, however, not welcomed by the armed forces which has been wanting the acts of homosexuality and adultery to be kept punishable. The Army has contended that keeping adultery a punishable offence would act as a deterrent, otherwise there would be severe discipline issues and it would create a command and control problem.
The Centre, in its plea, has requested that the 2018 verdict should not apply to armed forces when the personnel can be cashiered from service on the grounds of unbecoming conduct for committing adultery with a colleague’s wife.
In the arguments back in 2018 too, the Centre had defended Section 497, saying that the sanctity of the marriage must be protected.
Till now, any complaints of extramarital relationships within the military were handled through two provisions of the Army Act – “conduct unbecoming of an officer” and conduct that disturbed “good order and military discipline”.
The conduct of the Army personnel is governed by the Army Act. Cases of homosexuality and adultery are still considered taboo in the Army. In its parlance, it prosecutes officer for adultery on charges of “stealing affection of a brother’s wife”.