Why don’t we repeal s.497 already?

Whoever said it’s a man’s world, haven’t read section 497 of the Bangladesh Penal Code. This section states if a person has sexual intercourse with another 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 shall be guilty of adultery. It overtly makes a consenting woman immune to the charges while only the man can be proceeded against and charged for committing the offence. With so many criticisms from both sides of the spectrum, it is surprising how such a law is still not repealed.

Some argue that Section 497 also has a scoffing approach towards a woman’s choices. The provision ‘without the consent or connivance of that man’, itself shows how it creates an obligation of a woman’s subservience towards her husband. Section 497 gives off an impression that ‘a married woman is the property of the Husband’.

This remark was made by the Indian Supreme Court while criticising the section at a matrimonial dispute case. Following this, the bench struck down the section 497 at a landmark decision last year making adultery no longer a crime. But the burning query remains, ‘why commit adultery in the first place when there is another peaceful option to step out of a marriage?’

There is always the choice of filing for a divorce. Unlike adultery, divorce involves no deception and is honest and true. It is a legal act that many religious views would not find sinful. Extra marital sex is nothing but a disturbing way to end a relationship. It can be devastating for those cheated upon. Very few people continue a marriage after adultery hence divorce follows. But if a person decides to end the marriage knowing that he/she might become unfaithful, it is less damaging.

Lets just admit adultery is wrong from every aspect and cannot be justified. It can lead to tears, heartaches and violence. It is an overall complicated deed which does not have a solid reason behind it. Two persons can be doing everything right but still cheat. However common reasons include lack of love, neglect, low commitment etc. which still aren’t as simple as it seems. Recently, the emergence of technology and social media sites has increased the rate of adultery cases.

In all of these situations, an unhappy marriage results in one of the partner moving away. A heartfelt communication is the key to a successful conjugal life.

But the very idea of prosecuting individuals on the grounds of adultery is medieval. How can a law govern the issues arising within a marriage? Criminalising it would mean the state’s intervention in its citizen’s lives. It violates equal rights that both men and women enjoy as citizens of the country guaranteed by the Constitution. The Honorable Supreme Court of Bangladesh on this ground issued a rule last week, asking as to why imposing punishment for extra marital affairs should not be declared illegal. The Writ petitioners firmly believe that such a law is outdated and breaches the fundamental rights of the Constitution.

In Bangladesh, this almost 160 year old law somewhat portrays the conservative, unequal marital rights of that time. Back then the society was much more conservative that it is today. But as times have changed, making adultery a crime is a misfit. The debate as to which is better among adultery and divorce is unending and is a matter of perspective. What happens in a marriage must be not be interfered by the state by way of imposing punishment. It should be left up to the individual partners to decide what they chose to do with their lives. This law in the modern times would create further complication and must be repealed right away to maintain compatibility with our Constitution.

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