Adultery a crime? No
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Adultery a crime? No

November 18, 2023

Should the Indian media start reporting about the private lives of our politicians? Maybe.

When politicians make policies that meddle with people’s very personal lives, like sex lives, we need to get a glimpse of theirs; we can be sure it will reek of hypocrisy. 

A few days ago, the Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs suggested that adultery be re-instituted as a crime in the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita 2023, the proposed law to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The Supreme Court had earlier rightly struck down this inhumane, archaic and medieval law, but now a bunch of politicians want to retain it.

According to them, this law is needed because “the institution of marriage is considered sacred in Indian society, and there is a need to safeguard its sanctity.”

 It’s time we stop giving marriage, especially the kind we have in India, the exalted status of an institution. For the most part, in our society, marriage is transactional with the intent of maintaining pedigree, wealth and family prestige.

Here is the truth: If adultery becomes an offence and if the media goes after the personal lives of our politicians, then half our leaders will be in jail. 

Our politicians, even the conservative ones, are usually closet libertines, and it is the Indian media that has largely kept the closet door closed by not reporting on our politicians’ personal lives, unlike in the West.

In India, politicians use all means to fulfil their ‘lovely’ needs; even religion is not spared. 

We all remember how Haryana Deputy CM Chander Mohan converted to Islam and changed his name to Chand Mohammad to marry Anuradha Bali, who too converted and called herself Fiza. Then, a few months later, he divorced her over an SMS and became Chander again! 

We have always had politicians who were ‘linked’ with women. To start with, our very own ‘Chacha’ Nehru was a romantic; so romantic that once, when he landed in London late at night, he went straight to Edwina Mountbatten’s house. The next day, photographs appeared in the British Press with the caption ‘Lady Mountbatten’s midnight visitor.’ 

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The Indian political scene has seen many such romances, from MGR and Jayalalithaa to our own former Chief Minister Kumaraswamy and actor Radhika, from DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, who had three wives to Vajpayee, who lived a very alternative lifestyle.

Then we had the crude and perverse late N.D. Tiwari, who was caught with young girls massaging him. 

More recently, we have Digvijay Singh, who romanced and then got married to Amrita Rai, a journalist. Shashi Tharoor was married to Sunanda Pushkar but was rumoured to be involved with a Pakistani journalist, and Omar Abdulla, who reportedly was romancing a famous lady journalist.

While BJP’s unofficial mouthpieces tease the purpose of Rahul Gandhi’s ‘foreign’ visits, they don’t have the guts to talk about the alternative lifestyle Vajpayee led.  

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair famously said, “Politicians are entitled to private lives the same as anyone else.” We say no.

A politician is not like everyone else; he makes policies that affect our very private lives, like our sex lives, so why shouldn’t we know their lifestyle choices? 

Often, politicians make conservative and even ‘regressive’ policy choices to appease certain vote banks and religious heads, but their choices in their personal lives are different. For example, an anti-gay rights politician could be a closet gay, and we have a few of those in India. We need to weed out the hypocrisy.

Then, there is the issue of policy influencing. Outlook magazine, in a story about Nehru’s affair with Shraddha Maatha, wrote about how she was a mere political instrument in the hands of Hindu Mahasabha. The Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel had sought clarification from Nehru on the issue. 

Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code on adultery essentially states that if a man has sexual intercourse with a woman whom he knows is married, and without the consent of her husband, he is guilty of the offence of adultery and shall be punished with five years imprisonment! 

Of course, the Parliamentary Committee has asked to make it ‘gender-neutral’, as in, make the women also liable! They are trying to bring a semblance of ‘justice’ to an already ‘unjust’ law. Laughable.

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Now what, the women also will go to jail? Then we have a new social problem. 

A survey from 2020 by a dating website showed that 55 % of married Indians have cheated on their spouse, and most are women! Since it is ‘gender-neutral’ now, will women also go to jail? Then, who is going to care for the children? 

Is it worth causing life-long mental trauma to a child and jeopardising its future by sending the parents to jail for five years just because they briefly stepped out of an ‘unsatisfying’ marriage? How cruel is that? 

That is why one of the Chief Justices in 2018, while striking down this law, said, “This law does not fit into the concept of crime. If it is treated as a crime, there would be immense intrusion into the extreme privacy of the matrimonial sphere. It is better to be left as a ground for divorce.”

If marriages in India have to be sacred, first help people to get out of the mindset that marriage is about family prestige or maintaining ‘purity’ of caste and community. Make laws to protect couples to make their own choice, and don’t crucify them when they want to get out of suffocating marriages. 

Adultery as an offence is a regressive law. It has no place in a country like ours, where we claim to be progressive, unlike our neighbour. 

It will be unfortunate if a Government that decriminalised homosexuality, and rightly so, should accept this prudish medieval recommendation.

Ethics of adultery should be a matter for spouses to resolve between themselves, including through the option of divorce.

Adultery as an offence is not about “sanctity of marriage” but more about  privacy, sexual autonomy and constitutional rights.  

If the Parliamentary Committee wants to ‘safeguard the sanctity of marriage’, let them first request the Government of Thailand to cancel the ‘visa on arrival’ to Indians, then they can think of making sexual escapades between two consenting adults a crime.

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