Adultery, as a form of marital infidelity, has long been a contentious issue in societies worldwide, including India. In the Indian context, adultery carries both legal and social implications, impacting not only the individuals involved but also their families and communities. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the legal framework surrounding adultery in India, including relevant laws, key case precedents, and recent developments.

Legal Framework:

The legal framework governing adultery in India primarily revolves around provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and related statutes. The key provisions pertaining to adultery are as follows:

  1. Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): Section 497 defines adultery as a criminal offence and prescribes punishment for the same. It states that “Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery.”
  2. Section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC): Section 198(2) of the CrPC specifies that only a husband can file a complaint for adultery against the man with whom his wife has engaged in sexual intercourse.
  3. Section 198(1-A) of the CrPC: This section imposes restrictions on the prosecution of women for adultery. It states that no person other than the husband of the woman in question can prosecute her for adultery.

Case Precedents:

Several landmark cases have shaped the interpretation and application of adultery laws in India:

  1. Yusuf Abdul Aziz v. State of Bombay (1954): In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Section 497 of the IPC, stating that it does not violate the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The court reasoned that the provision seeks to protect the sanctity of marriage and uphold societal morality.
  2. Sowmithri Vishnu v. Union of India (1985): In this case, the Supreme Court reiterated the position that adultery is an offence committed by a man against another man. The court also highlighted the discriminatory nature of the law, as it treats women as victims rather than perpetrators of adultery.
  3. Joseph Shine v. Union of India (2018): In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court declared Section 497 of the IPC unconstitutional and struck it down. The court held that the provision violated the right to equality and dignity guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The judgment decriminalized adultery and recognized it as a civil wrong rather than a criminal offence.

New Developments:

In the aftermath of the Joseph Shine judgment, there have been significant developments concerning adultery in India:

  1. Civil Remedies: With the decriminalization of adultery, aggrieved spouses now have recourse to civil remedies such as divorce, damages, or compensation for adultery-related grievances. Civil litigation allows for a more nuanced and equitable resolution of marital disputes without the stigma and punitive implications of criminal prosecution.
  2. Shift in Societal Attitudes: The decriminalization of adultery has sparked debates and discussions on gender equality, individual autonomy, and the evolving dynamics of marriage and family relationships in India. There is a growing recognition of the need to address marital infidelity through counselling, mediation, and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms rather than punitive legal measures.
  3. Focus on Consent and Agency: The discourse surrounding adultery has shifted towards emphasizing the importance of consent, agency, and mutual respect in intimate relationships. The legal reform has prompted a reevaluation of traditional gender roles and power dynamics within marriages, encouraging greater dialogue and awareness on issues of sexual autonomy and personal liberty.


Adultery, once a criminal offense under Indian law, has undergone significant legal and societal transformations in recent years. The decriminalization of adultery, as mandated by the landmark Joseph Shine judgment, marks a watershed moment in the evolution of Indian jurisprudence on marital infidelity. While the legal landscape surrounding adultery has shifted towards civil remedies and a rights-based approach, societal attitudes and perceptions continue to evolve. Moving forward, it is imperative to foster open dialogue, promote gender equality, and uphold the principles of dignity, autonomy, and consent in intimate relationships. By embracing progressive legal reforms and challenging entrenched social norms, India can strive towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society for all its citizens.

Adv. Khanak Sharma

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