Ritu Kamra Kumar
THE Supreme Court decision to quash the archaic adultery law has made this taboo topic a subject of hot discussion. The verdict asserted that women are not the property of men and patriarchal dictates can’t govern marital relationships. The court has given way for living together as a way of life. Assertive and authoritative women of today have become very clear about their desires and drives yet the fact is adultery is mostly kept under wraps.
The apex court struck down as unconstitutional the 158-year-old law which punished a man for having sex with another man’s wife, assuming the woman to be a victim of adultery, with no sexual autonomy of her own. The ruling is an unequivocal assertion of progressive gender equation.
Interestingly, as the old law was quashed, I was teaching Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to my students. It made me think how art and life converge! Infidelity has been a constant theme in literature; Anna Karenina, Madam Bovary, Doctor Zhivago, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, all novels present central protagonists trapped in loveless marriages, who commit adultery and are little remorseful. Of all these novels, it is The Scarlet Letter which testifies adultery in various ways, with its heroine, Hester Prynne, made to wear a red letter ‘A’ on her bosom as punishment. She decorates the letter with golden thread and gradually her philanthropy transforms ‘A’ for adultery to ‘A’ for angel. Hester was a feminist ahead of her times.
Many contemporary Indian writers such as Anita Nair, Shobhaa De, Sujata Parashar, etc., have dealt with infidelity which is so rampant in our society, as clandestine lovers keep thriving in mutual love. Many Bollywood movies dared to dwell on the subject — Arth, Astitiva, Silisla, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna — but most portrayed the partner in black shades, thus putting the onus on failure of relationship to indulge in adultery, justifying the cheating.
However, the harsh reality is that there are enough social trends to show the ever-present existence of extramarital affairs. In fact, there are dating apps for married people now. Gleeden, a French company, made its India foray in 2014, and according to a June 2018 report, the app has 2.8 lakh users in the country.
But the question is, why do people cheat, and are we heading towards a moral wasteland? Is infidelity the ultimate betrayal? What difference will the quashing of the adultery law make?
The law can’t punish cheating spouses, but a woman’s consent is as vital as a man’s. While India has eventually recognised the sexual autonomy of women by decriminalising adultery, a million dollar question remains unanswered: Will Indian spouses be brave enough and generous enough to accept marital failure?
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