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Adultery in India: A Complex Social and Legal Perspective

Adultery in India: A Complex Social and Legal Perspective


  1. Introduction
  2. Historical perspective
  3. Causes of adultery
  4. Consequences of Adultery
  5. Social Stigma and Gender Bias
  6. Legal Framework
  7. Changing Dynamics
  8. Adultery and Indian armed forces.
  9. Landmark Judgments
  10. Conclusion



Adultery, the act of engaging in a sexual relationship with someone other than one’s spouse, has been a topic of debate and controversy in India for centuries.  This article aims to shed light on the social, cultural and legal aspects surrounding adultery in the Indian context.

Historical Perspective:

In ancient India, adultery was considered a grave offence and was condemned by society. The Manusmiriti, an ancient legal text, prescribed severe punishments for those found guilty of adultery. However, over time, societal attitudes towards adultery have evolved, influenced by factors such as globalization, changing gender dynamics, and exposure to western values.

Causes of adultery:

Several factors contribute to the occurrence of adultery in India. One of the primary reasons is the changing dynamics of relationships and the erosion of traditional values. The increasing number of dual-income households, long working hours, and the pursuit of individual aspirations often lead to neglect and emotional disconnect between spouses. This, in turn, creates a fertile ground for extramarital affairs.

Another significant factor is the lack of open communication and emotional intimacy within marriages. Societal pressure to conform to societal expectations, limited sexual education, and the stigma associated with discussing sexual desires and needs contribute to the emotional void that some individuals seek to fill through adultery.

Consequences of Adultery:

Adultery has far-reaching consequences impacting not only the individuals involved but also their families and society at large. Infidelity can lead to the breakdown of trust emotional trauma, and irreparable damages to the marital relationship. Children often bear the brunt of their parent’s infidelity, experiencing emotional distress, affecting their overall well-being and a disrupted family environment. Moreover, adultery can have severe social repercussions, including damage to one’s reputation, social ostracization, and even violence in extreme cases. The societal pressure to maintain the sanctity of marriage often leads to the victimization of women, who are disproportionately blamed and shamed for their spouse’s infidelity. However, some argue that the legalization of adultery has provided an opportunity for couples to address underlying issues in their relationships and seek counseling or therapy.

Social Stigma and gender Bias:

Despite changing attitudes, adultery continues to be stigmatized in Indian society, particularly for women. Women who engage in extramarital affairs often face severe social repercussions, including ostracization, loss of reputation, and even violence. On the other hand, men are often given more leniencies, with their actions sometimes being dismissed as a result of their natural desires.

Legal  Framework:

The legal framework surrounding adultery in India has undergone significant changes. According to section 497 of IPC, Adultery is “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.Until recently, adultery was considered a criminal offense under section 497 of the IPC and the punishment for adultery under section 497 was imprisonment for up to five years, or with fine, or both. Additionally, the person with whom adultery was committed was also be punished under section 498 of IPC for enticing or taking away a married women with the intent to have illicit intercourse. This law however was criticized for being gender-biased, as it only held men accountable for adultery, treating women as passive victims. In 2018, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India struck down this provision, decriminalizing adultery and recognizing it as a private matter between consenting adults. The court held that the law violated the fundamental rights of equality and privacy guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. As a result, adultery is no longer a criminal offense in India but civil consequences, such as divorce or separation, or damages may still arise from acts of adultery, but they are dealt with under civil laws and not criminal laws.

Changing Dynamics:

With the rise of social media and dating apps, the dynamics of adultery have further evolved. The digital age has made it easier for individuals to engage in extramarital affairs discreetly, leading to an increase in cases of virtual infidelity. This has raised concerns about the impact of technology on marital fidelity and the need for open communication within relationships.

Adultery and Indian Armed Forces:

Adultery is considered a punishable offense under the Indian Armed forces Act. The Armed forces Act applies to all members of the Indian army, Navy, and Air force. Adultery is considered a breach of discipline and can be treated as “unbecoming conduct” or “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline”. It can lead to disciplinary action, including court-martial proceedings. Armed forces act defines adultery as a consensual sexual relationship between a married person and someone whom is not their spouse. It is important to note that both parties in the adulterous relationship can be held accountable, regardless of their marital status. If found guilty of adultery, the punishment can range from severe reprimands, loss of rank, and even dismissal from service to imprisonment, depending on the circumstances and the severity of the offense.  The punishment can also have implications on the individual’s career progression and future prospective within the armed forces. The ruling of Hon’ble Supreme court in 2018, does not automatically apply to the armed forces, as they operate under separate laws and regulations. Overall, adultery is applicable in the Indian armed forces, and individuals serving in the military are expected to adhere to the code of conduct and discipline set forth by the armed Forces Act.

Landmark Judgments:

  1. Yusuf Abdul Aziz vs. state of Bombay (1954): this case challenged the constitutional validity of section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized adultery. The Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld the validity of the law, stating that it protected the sanctity of marriage.
  2. Sowmithri Vishnu vs. UOI (1985): in this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court re-examined the constitutional validity of section 497. The court held that the law violated the fundamental rights of equality and privacy guaranteed under the Indian constitution. It was ruled that only the married man could be held liable for adultery, while the women involved was considered a victim.
  3. Joseph Shine vs. UOI (2018): this case challenged the constitutional validity of section 497 and section 198(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allowed only the husband to file a complaint against the man involved in adultery. The Hon’ble Supreme Court struck down both provisions, stating that they were arbitrary and violated the right to equality.

These judgments have played a significant role in shaping the legal framework surrounding adultery in India. The decriminalization of adultery and the recognition of women as equal partners in such cases have been important milestones in the country’s legal history.


Adultery remains a complex, sensitive and deeply rooted social issue in India, influenced by cultural, social, and legal factors. While the decriminalization of adultery is a step towards recognizing individual autonomy and gender equality, societal attitudes and stigmas surrounding extramarital affairs continue to persist. It is crucial for society to engage in open conversations, promote healthy relationships and provide support to individuals and couples facing challenges related to adultery. Only by addressing the root causes and promoting healthy communication can India hope to reduce the prevalence of adultery and foster stronger, more fulfilling relationships.


One Response

  1. Actually it has so many other coordinats also which are different for everyone.It cannot b acceptable for someone(both women&men) and can b acceptable for some other then that( both men& women)depending upon his/her individual conditions.
    But it can never b controlled by any act/rules.

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