To protect the sanctity of marriage, re-criminalise adultery: Parliamentary panel to Centre

Several Opposition leaders, including Congress's P. Chidambaram, submitted dissent notes, arguing that State has no business interfering in the private lives of couples

Delhi High Court has said the legal system shouldn't be misused to coerce marriages in rape cases (photo: National Herald archives)
Delhi High Court has said the legal system shouldn't be misused to coerce marriages in rape cases (photo: National Herald archives)

NH Political Bureau

Citing 'sanctity of marriage', a parliamentary panel has recommended that adultery should be made a criminal offence, besides asking the Centre to revisit "non-consensual" sexual acts, previously addressed in Section 377 that criminalised homosexuality.

The Supreme Court has decriminalised adultery in a 2018 ruling.

The panel headed by Brij Lal submitted its report on the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, a bill introduced by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in September to revamp India's criminal justice system, to the Rajya Sabha chairman on 10 November.

The Brij Lal committee has argued for a gender-neutral approach to the revised adultery law, proposing equal liability for both parties involved, though many panel members from opposition parties have disgareed and submitted diseent notes.

If accepted by the government, this stance would contradict the Supreme Court's landmark 2018 ruling, which declared that "adultery cannot and should not be a crime".

The 2018 Supreme Court ruling deemed adultery a ground for civil offense, such as divorce, but rejected its classification as a criminal offense. The court criticized the colonial-era law as "archaic," "arbitrary," and "paternalistic," stating that it impinged on a woman's autonomy and dignity.

Congress MP P. Chidambaram along with All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) members Derek O’ Brien and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar submited detailed dissent notes, emphasing that the state has no business interfering in the private lives of couples.

Opposition members raised concerns that the proposed bills are largely a replication of existing laws.

The Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, one of three bills set to replace key legal frameworks, including the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act, has undergone scrutiny by the Standing Committee on Home Affairs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's push to modernise India's legal landscape and discard colonial-era laws underlines the government's efforts. The proposed overhaul includes changes to punishments for gang-rapes (20 years to life) and capital punishment for those convicted of killing minors.

The panel's recommendations also extend to revisiting "non-consensual" sexual acts, previously addressed in Section 377, a British-era law criminalising homosexuality. While the Supreme Court partially struck down Section 377 in 2018, the panel contends that certain aspects of the law remain applicable in cases of non-consensual acts with adults, all acts with minors, and bestiality.

As the government explores these significant changes to India's criminal laws, debates on issues like adultery and sexual offenses continue to fuel controversy and public discourse.

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