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EDITORIAL DECODE 15 Jan, 2018 Adultery section 497

EDITORIAL DECODE 15 Jan, 2018 Adultery section 497

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What is right to sexual privacy?

  • The right to privacy is valued and cherished for it involves the most intimate decisions and choices
  • The right to engage in sexual intercourse is an intrinsic part of the right to privacy
  • Privacy has to invariably contain the right to bodily integrity, self-determination and sexual autonomy

How adultery law is affecting the right to privacy?

  • By criminalizing adultery, the state is, in fact, showing a paternalistic attitude by telling individuals how to lead their lives and what behaviour to adopt
  • It carries moralistic undertones of imposing what living an ideal life means for the state
  • Such an approach seriously undermines the underlying values of personal liberty

Upholding right to privacy

  • In the celebrated privacy judgment in K.S. Puttaswamy case (2017), exercising the police power of the state in matters of private choices was repelled by the apex court
  • SC judge had said that nobody would like to be told by the state as to what they should eat or how they should dress or whom they should be associated with either in their personal, social or political life
  • It seems to follow that individuals must be free from the interference of the state in matters of their sexual choices, or even in choosing their sexual partner

Brief account on foreign jurisprudence

  • None of the European countries has criminalized adultery
  • In most of South America, adultery is no longer a crime
  • Many States in the U.S. have either repealed adultery laws or put them to disuse
  • Following this global trend, in 2012, a working group of the United Nations called upon countries to do away with laws penalizing adultery

Approach of the Supreme Court of India

  • SC approach towards the right to sexual privacy has been ambivalent.
  • The judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal case (2013) upholding the criminalization of voluntary sexual intercourse between those of the same sex remains a serious blow to the right to sexual freedom.
  • Subsequently, in NALSA v. Union of India (2014), the Court said that the value of privacy is fundamental to those of the transgender community.


  • Reviewing law on adultery is perhaps the first occasion where the privacy judgment in Puttaswamy case is going to be doctrinally and forensically tested.
  • It is equally crucial that the right to sexual privacy forms a distinct and independent ground.

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