IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


30th October, 2023 Social Issues

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Context: The parliamentary committee's consideration of re-criminalizing adultery and retaining Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a matter of significant social and legal debate.

Key recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee

Recommendations on Adultery

  • The recommendation to re-criminalize adultery is highly controversial due to its infringement on personal privacy and individual autonomy. The previous law, invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2018, faced widespread criticism for being an intrusion into the private lives of individuals.
  • Critics argue that re-criminalizing adultery, even if made gender-neutral, raises significant privacy concerns. The law's potential to interfere with consensual adult relationships can lead to unwanted surveillance, sparking worries about government intrusion into intimate affairs.
  • Gender-neutral provisions, while aiming for fairness, might open avenues for misuse. Concerns exist about false accusations and unfair targeting of individuals, leading to legal harassment. Striking a balance between moral concerns and individual freedoms is a challenge in this context.

Recommendations on Section 377

  • Retaining elements of Section 377 for serious offences like non-consensual acts or those involving minors aims to address sexual crimes. However, the revised law must align with contemporary notions of justice, consent, and human rights, ensuring a balance between protecting individuals and upholding fundamental rights.
  • The 2018 Supreme Court decision decriminalizing homosexuality marked a milestone for LGBTQ+ rights. Attempts to reintroduce laws criminalizing same-sex relationships might face strong opposition from LGBTQ+ advocates and allies, emphasizing the principles of equal rights, non-discrimination, and personal freedom.
  • Laws addressing sexual offences should reflect evolving societal norms and international human rights standards. Careful consideration is essential to create legislation that not only protects individuals but also respects fundamental rights, fostering a just and inclusive society.

Other Recommendations

  • The proposed changes related to increasing the punishment for deaths due to negligence and reducing the punishment for unauthorized protests, as well as retaining the name "Indian Penal Code," would also need to be thoroughly debated and assessed for their impact on society and justice.


  • Adultery refers to the act of engaging in a sexual relationship with someone other than one's spouse while being married. The perception and legal consequences of adultery vary across cultures and legal systems.
  • In many societies, adultery is considered morally and socially unacceptable, and it can have serious consequences for relationships and families.
  • In some legal systems, adultery may be grounds for divorce or can affect issues such as alimony and property division. Laws and attitudes toward adultery differ widely around the world, and what is considered adultery in one jurisdiction might not be viewed the same way in another.
  • Adultery in India was considered a criminal offence under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) until 2018. This law stated that a man could be punished for having consensual sexual intercourse with the wife of another man without his consent. The law did not consider the woman involved in the act as an offender.

Under Section 497 of the IPC

  • The law was biased against men, as it only punished men for adultery while considering women as victims and absolving them of any liability. A man could be punished for having a sexual relationship with a married woman without the consent or connivance of her husband.
  • Adultery was not considered a crime if the husband consented to his wife’s extramarital relationship. This meant that if a husband was aware of and approved of wife's relationship outside of marriage, it did not constitute adultery under the law.
  • Adultery, even if proven, did not provide grounds for divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act or other personal laws in India. While adultery could be a ground for divorce under civil laws in some other countries, it was not so in India.

In 2018, the Supreme Court of India, in the case of Joseph Shine v/s Union of India, struck down Section 497 of the IPC, declaring it unconstitutional. The court held that the law violated the right to equality under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Consequently, adultery was decriminalized, and individuals engaging in consensual extramarital relationships were no longer subject to criminal prosecution under this provision.


  • India's diverse cultural landscape means that attitudes towards extramarital relationships vary widely across different regions and communities. Acceptance of such relationships is influenced by social, cultural, and religious factors. Adapting legal frameworks to align with these varying norms can be a complex task.
  • While adultery was decriminalized, the legal consequences in terms of divorce, alimony, and child custody remained unclear. The absence of specific legal provisions can lead to ambiguity and potential disputes in divorce and family cases.
  • Despite the change in the law, social stigma associated with adultery, particularly for women, persists. Adultery can still lead to social ostracization, affecting relationships and reputations. Overcoming deep-rooted societal beliefs and judgments is a gradual process that requires not only legal changes but also significant cultural shifts.
  • In many parts of the country, especially rural areas, there might be a lack of awareness about the legal changes. This lack of awareness can lead to the continued influence of outdated beliefs and practices. Education and awareness campaigns are crucial to ensuring that people are informed about their rights and the legal framework surrounding adultery.

Adultery and Ethical Values

Deontological Ethics

Deontological ethics judge the morality of an action based on the action itself, not its consequences. Adultery, in many deontological frameworks, is considered immoral because it involves breaking the marital vows and betraying the trust of a spouse.


Consequentialist ethics focus on the outcomes of an action. Adultery can lead to the dissolution of marriages, emotional pain for the betrayed partner and children, and social consequences. From a consequentialist perspective, adultery might be seen as harmful and unethical due to these negative consequences.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics emphasize the character of a person. Adultery could be seen as a lack of fidelity, honesty, and self-control, which are virtues in many ethical systems. From this perspective, adultery is considered ethically wrong because it demonstrates a lack of virtuous character.

Religious Ethics

Many religious traditions explicitly condemn adultery. For example, in Christianity, the Seventh Commandment states, "You shall not commit adultery." Adultery is considered a sin in many religious contexts, making it ethically unacceptable for adherents of these faiths.

Cultural and Societal Ethics

Different cultures have varied views on adultery. In some cultures, adultery might be tolerated or even accepted under certain circumstances, while in others, it is strictly condemned. Societal norms and values play a significant role in shaping ethical perspectives on adultery.

Feminist Ethics

Some feminist scholars argue that traditional views on adultery have often been biased against women, holding them more accountable than men. Feminist ethics reevaluate these traditional perspectives and consider factors like gender equality, power dynamics, and consent in evaluating the ethics of adultery.

Way Forward

  • Implementing comprehensive legal reforms to address issues related to adultery, including its impact on divorce, alimony, and child custody, is crucial. Clear and well-defined legal provisions can help reduce ambiguity and ensure fairness in legal proceedings.
  • Government initiatives, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and community leaders can collaborate to raise awareness about the changed legal landscape. Educating the public about their rights and challenging social stigma through awareness campaigns are essential steps.
  • Providing counselling and support services for individuals and families affected by adultery can help them navigate the emotional and psychological challenges. Support networks and professional counselling can facilitate healing and understanding among those involved.
  • Continued efforts to sensitize society about gender equality and the importance of respecting individual choices are vital. Promoting understanding and acceptance of diverse relationships, regardless of gender, can contribute to changing attitudes towards extramarital relationships.
  • Researching the impact of adultery on families, mental health, and societal attitudes can provide valuable insights for policymakers and organizations working in this field. Data-driven approaches can inform evidence-based policies and support programs.


  • Adultery in India was historically considered a criminal offence, but the Supreme Court of India decriminalized it in 2018, emphasizing personal autonomy and privacy. While no longer a criminal act, it remains a significant social and moral issue, with potential legal implications in divorce proceedings. Cultural norms and attitudes toward adultery continue to evolve in Indian society.

Must Read Articles:

PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/parliamentary-committees-33

STANDING PANELS: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/standing-panels

KEY SC VERDICTS ON LGBTQ+ RIGHTS: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/key-sc-verdicts-on-lgbtq-rights 


Q. What are the legal consequences and societal attitudes towards adultery in India, and how have these factors evolved over time, impacting the lives of individuals and families in the country?