TIMES OF INDIA
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said its final decision on the correctness of the Delhi High Court judgment — which decriminalized Section 377 of Indian Penal Code covering a sexual act in private between consenting adults — could have far reaching impact on several sexual offences listed in the penal laws.
A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya requested the counsel for parties to keep in mind the evolving social ethos as the key words in the HC judgment — “consenting adults committing a sexual act in private” – could have a bearing on several other sexual offences enumerated in the IPC.
“Though the focus of our judgment would remain on Section 377, but keep in mind that it could have bearing on provisions relating to other sexual offences. Obscenity could be one such provision,” the bench told senior advocate Amarendra Saran, who was arguing against the HC verdict on behalf of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR).
The court was possibly hinting at offences like adultery and obscenity in public, mostly misused by police to harass couples in parks. Section 497 defines adultery. According to it – “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.”
In this case, the consent of the woman is immaterial and the consenting sexual act still would constitute an offence if the consent of her husband was not taken.
Saran said NGOs had challenged the legality of Section 377 before the HC on the ground that it targeted homosexuals as a class and hence violated the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) group’s right to equality guaranteed under Article 14, right to privacy under Article 21 and the constitutional guarantee under Article 15 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation of such persons.
He argued that right to privacy did not confer right on consenting adults to commit an act in private which was illegal. “In other words, right to privacy does not confer immunity to crimes committed by consenting adults in private. Hence, the reasoning of the HC that Section 377 is violative of right to privacy is clearly erroneous,” Saran said.
He said Section 377 did not suffer from class bias. “It applies uniformly to any man or woman if such person indulged in carnal intercourse which is against the order of nature,” he said and cited a 1990 Supreme Court judgment to back his argument that all “non penile-vaginal” intercourse would fall within the meaning of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, which has been classified as an offence under Section 377.
The DCPCR counsel said “there was a vast cultural difference in the Indian society and other societies of the world” and faulted the Delhi HC judgment for basing its reasoning on foreign court rulings.