India’s top court has ruled adultery is no longer a crime, striking down a 158-year-old colonial-era law which it said treated women as male property.
Previously any man who had sex with a married woman, without the permission of her husband, had committed a crime.
A petitioner had challenged the law saying it was arbitrary and discriminated against men and women.
This is the second colonial-era law struck down by India’s Supreme Court this month – it also overturned a 157-year-old law which effectively criminalised gay sex in India.
While reading out the judgement on adultery, Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that while it could be grounds for civil issues like divorce, “it cannot be a criminal offence”.
The law dictated that the woman could not be punished as an abettor. Instead, the man was considered to be a seducer.
It also did not allow women to file a complaint against an adulterous husband.
A man accused of adultery could be sent to a prison for a maximum of five years, made to pay a fine, or both.
And although there is no information on actual convictions under the law, Kaleeswaram Raj, a lawyer for the petitioner, said the adultery law was “often misused” by husbands during matrimonial disputes such as divorce, or civil cases relating to wives receiving maintenance.
“Men would often file criminal complaints against suspected or imagined men who they would allege were having affairs with their wives. These charges could never be proved, but ended up smearing the reputations of their estranged or divorced partners,” he told the BBC.