India strikes down sexist adultery law: 'Husband is not the master of the wife'

India's Supreme Court struck down Section 497, a controversial colonial-era law regarding adultery.

New Delhi (CNN)India's top court has abolished a colonial-era law criminalizing extramarital sex, in a landmark ruling campaigners have hailed as a victory for women's rights.

Under the 158-year-old adultery law, known as Section 497, a man could be imprisoned for up to five years for engaging in sexual relations with a married woman without the consent of her husband.
The Supreme Court struck down the law Thursday, ruling it retrograde and discriminatory toward women.
    "It's time to say that (a) husband is not the master of (his) wife," Chief Justice Dipak Misra read out from the judgment. "Legal sovereignty of one sex over the other sex is wrong."
      The five-judge bench was unanimous in its decision, declaring the law a clear violation of the fundamental rights granted in the constitution.
      The law allowed a husband to prosecute any man who engaged in sexual relations with his wife. In addition, it prevented a wife from prosecuting either her husband or woman in which he was engaged in extramarital relations.
      "You exact fidelity from a woman but not from a man?" asked Justice D. Y. Chandrachud during the four-day long hearing.
      The petition was brought by Kerala native Joseph Shine, who had urged the top court to reexamine the validity of Section 497, owing to its implied gender bias.
      "It is a big victory for women's status and position within marriage and within families" said Jayna Kothari, an attorney and the executive director of the Center for Law and Policy Research in Bangalore.
      "The adultery offense was used really as a threat against women by their husbands," she said, adding that it was mainly used where marriages had already broken down and partners moved on.
      Data showing the number of men prosecuted under Section 497 is not available.

      'Sanctity of marriage'