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Women Control Their Own Sexual Decisions, Judges Say

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Sep 28, 2018

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India bid good-bye yesterday to yet another archaic, colonial law – Section 497 of the India Penal Code, which criminalized adultery and robbed married women of sexual autonomy.

“Curtailing the sexual autonomy of a woman or presuming the lack of consent once she enters a marriage is antithetical to Constitutional values,” the court ruled.

According to the previously accepted law, if a woman had an extramarital affair without her husband’s knowledge and consent, the man with whom she had sexual relations could be punished with a fine, imprisonment or both. The law denied women the same right in a reverse scenario, in which a husband had extramarital relations.

“Any provision of law affecting individual dignity and equality of women invites wrath of constitution. It’s time to say that husband is not the master of wife. Legal sovereignty of one sex over other sex is wrong,” said Chief Justice Misra, who was part of the five-judge bench that overturned the 158-year-old law.

The bench further struck down Section 198(2) in The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which stated that in the absence of the husband, the caregiver of the adulterous wife could file a complaint on behalf of the husband.

The ruling smacks down the Government’s tepid attempt at equality last month, when it recommended preserving the law but making it gender neutral (in the name of marital sanctity; decriminalizing adultery would threaten “Indian ethos,” it argued, because apparently bad marriages are core societal values).

The ruling — with its explicit focus on the concept of sexual consent and agency — appears to open the door to recognizing marital rape as a crime. Some among the Indian Twitterverse seemed to get it:

Others … did not.

We’ll explain later, kids. Too much to celebrate right now!

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Written By Angelina Shah

Angelina Shah is a staff writer with The Swaddle. In her previous life she was a copywriter in advertising. She has a penchant for reading, singing, travelling and being obsessed with superheroes.

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