Woman can't be punished for adultery: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said a woman in an illicit relationship cannot be punished for adultery despite being an abettor in the crime though the husband is liable for punishment.

A bench of justices Altamas Kabir and RM Lodha quashed the case of adultery registered against Kalyani by another woman Sailaja who alleged that her husband was in a illicit relationship with the former.

Though Kalyani had challenged the registration of case against her by police under sections 497 (adultery) and 341 (wrongful restraint), the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed her plea, following which she appealed in the apex court.

Interpreting Section 497, the apex court said, "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, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.

"In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor."

The court said the provision is currently under criticism from certain quarters for showing a strong gender bias.

"It makes the position of a married woman almost as a property of her husband. But in terms of the law as it stands, it is evident from a plain reading of the section that only a man can be proceeded against and punished for the offence of adultery," it said.