Supreme Court to hear pleas seeking ban on Malayalam novel Meesha, dilution of adultery provision from IPC

The Supreme Court on Thursday will hear two key petitions — firstly, a plea seeking the ban on the publication of the Malayalam novel Meesha, and another that seeks the quashing of the adultery provision in the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The first has been mentioned for urgent listing before a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and the court said it would come up before an appropriate bench for hearing on Thursday. The petitioner, N Radhakrishnan, has claimed that the book, authored by S Harish, allegedly depicts temple-going Hindu women in a derogatory light.

It has also alleged that certain comments in the book about Brahmins, who perform puja in the temples, amounted to "casteist slur". It has also alleged that the Kerala government has not taken necessary steps to stop the publication, online sale and dissemination of the novel.

Supreme Court to hear pleas seeking ban on Malayalam novel Meesha, dilution of adultery provision from IPC

File image of the Supreme Court of India. Reuters

"The publication caused public outburst and protests across the nation, especially in the state of Kerala as the matter was published in Malayalam. Post the publication of the incriminating article, Hindu women visiting temple were subjected to ridicule and embarrassment through various social media platforms," the plea has alleged.

"Trolls, which appeared and were circulated on social media, have caused deep pain and anguish to the temple going Hindu believers," it claimed.

The petition claimed that if the government fails to take appropriate action, it would indirectly invite the public to react and it would not be far before there is a "Charlie Hebdo kind of backlash in India".

Meesha was being published in a serialised form in a Malayalam periodical. The publication of subsequent parts of the novel in the periodical was discontinued after the controversy.

The petition in the apex court urged the court to ensure that "no person under the guise of freedom of speech and expression as envisaged under the Constitution be permitted to meddle with the communal fabric of the nation and fix responsibility for such work on the person or medium promoting or propagating such materials".

Adultery provision punishes men, not women

Meanwhile, a separate petition before the court has claimed that the adultery provision of the IPC "only punishes married men for having extra-marital sexual relations with a married woman". A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Misra, said it will not touch the law to make it an offence for women too.

"We will test whether Section 497 of the IPC on the basis of Article 214 (equality before law) should remain a criminal offence at all," the bench, also comprising justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, said.

Section 497 of the IPC says, "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."

"He 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," the section says.

During the brief hearing, the court also rejected the demand of Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand for referring the matter to a seven-judge bench, saying these issues were totally different than the issue that was being considered by a five-judge bench in 1954.

"The issue, which was considered in the 1954 verdict of a five-judge bench, was whether a woman can be considered as an abettor. In the instant petition, it is totally different," the bench said.

It said adultery is also a ground of divorce and apart from other civil remedies under various statutes. "So, we have to examine whether the adultery provision requires to remain a criminal offence at all," the bench said.

Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj, appearing for petitioner Joseph Shine, an Indian who is living in Italy, said he is seeking quashing of IPC Section 497 and CrPC Section 198(2). The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) section only allows the husband of the woman to file a complaint.

He said they are seeking quashing of the provisions on the ground that it is not gender neutral and violative of the fundamental right to privacy. "The question before the bench is whether a person can be sent to jail on the ground that he had sexual relations with a married woman," he said.

The bench said it would resume further hearing on the issue on Thursday.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Aug 02, 2018 11:56:59 IST

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