Shortly before the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 497 of Indian Penal Codem, which defined adultery as a punishable offence, the Rajasthan High Court upheld a man’s conviction under the law. This was probably the last conviction under the legal provision described by the apex court as “manifestly arbitrary” in its September 27 verdict.Section 497, which no longer exists in the statute book, punished a man for having physical relationship with the wife of another man without his consent. It exempted the wife from punishment and stated that the wife would not be treated as an abettor. After the Supreme Court verdict, adultery stands decriminalised, though it will be grounds for divorce.In its judgment delivered on September 20 on the appeals filed by convict Devaram, a resident of Jaipur district, and two others, the High Court held him guilty of adultery, as he was cohabiting with Shakuntala, wife of Heera Lal, but acquitted him of the rape and conspiracy charges. He was facing rape charges in connection with the suicide by Shakuntala’s daughter in 2010.Justice Pankaj Bhandari at the High Court’s Jaipur Bench stated in his 19-page judgment that there was “every possibility of false implication” of Devaram in the rape case by complainant Mr. Heera Lal as he had enmity with him.Devaram, the State president of Ambedkar Vichar Manch, had given an affidavit in a criminal case lodged by Ms. Shakuntala against her husband Mr. Heera Lal for treating her with cruelty in 2005. Mr. Heera Lal lodged a complaint that Devaram was having illicit relations with his wife in his absence and his wife, along with their daughters, had later started living with him.When one of the daughters of Ms. Shakuntala killed herself, an allegation was made that she was pressurised to have illicit relations with a boy. Though Devaram was convicted of rape by the Sessions Court, the High Court did not find the statement of another daughter of Ms. Shakuntala reliable in this regard.The High Court acquitted Devaram and another man Basram from the rape and conspiracy charges and Ms. Shakuntala from the charges of abetment of her daughter’s suicide under Section 306 of I.P.C. The Court partly allowed Devaram’s appeal by quashing his conviction under Section 376 (2)(g) (gang rape) of I.P.C. and upheld his conviction under Section 497.Sustaining Devaram’s conviction for adultery, the Court said that an owner of a house had deposed that he rented his house to Devaram in 2010 when he showed Ms. Shakuntala as his wife, and her daughters as his daughters. One of the daughters also deposed that Devaram and her mother were living as husband and wife.“Appellant Devaram has been rightly convicted for offence under 497 of I.P.C. by the trial court,” the judge observed and ordered that if the convict had undergone the sentence of five years imposed under Section 497, he would be released forthwith.
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