Joseph Shine vs Union of India: Decriminalizing Adultery in India


Joseph Shine vs Union of India

The Supreme Court's ruling in Joseph Shine vs Union of India represents a pivotal moment in the evolution of Indian jurisprudence, redefining the contours of personal liberty, gender equality, and marital sanctity. 

Delivered on September 27, 2018, this landmark judgment decriminalized adultery by striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which had historically treated adultery as a criminal offense punishable solely for men, and thereby perpetuating gender discrimination. 

The Court unanimously held that the provision violated fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantee equality, prohibit discrimination, and protect personal liberty and privacy. 

The decision underscores the progressive shift towards upholding individual autonomy and dismantling archaic, patriarchal legal structures, marking a significant stride towards a more equitable society. This judgment not only protects personal choices in private matters but also aligns Indian law with contemporary global standards of human rights.

Joseph Shine vs Union of India: Decriminalizing Adultery in India

Joseph Shine vs Union of India Citation

The citation for the Supreme Court of India's judgment in Joseph Shine v. Union of India is:

  • Joseph Shine v. Union of India, (2019) 3 SCC 39, AIR 2018 SC 4898

You can use this citation to refer to the case in legal documents, research, or academic work.

Joseph Shine vs Union of India Case Background

This case is significant because it pertains to the issue of marital rape and the validity of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which exempts marital rape from prosecution under certain circumstances.

Joseph Shine, the petitioner, challenged the constitutionality of the exemption of marital rape from criminalization under Indian law. The case sparked considerable debate and brought attention to the need for legal reform regarding the recognition and prosecution of marital rape in India.

The case was filed in the Supreme Court of India, with Joseph Shine arguing that the exception in the law violates the fundamental rights of women, including their right to live with dignity and bodily integrity. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for the recognition and prosecution of marital rape in India.

Joseph Shine v. Union of India is a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India that decriminalized adultery in the country. 


  • Case: Joseph Shine v. Union of India
  • Petitioner: Joseph Shine
  • Respondent: Union of India
  • Judgment Date: September 27, 2018
  • Bench: Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice R.F. Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justice Indu Malhotra

Joseph Shine vs Union of India Legal Provision Challenged

The landmark case Joseph Shine v. Union of India challenged the constitutionality of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalized adultery. 

Challenged Provision:

  • Section 497 of the IPCSection 497 stipulated that a man who has sexual intercourse with a married woman, without the consent or connivance of her husband, commits the offense of adultery. The woman involved was not subject to prosecution under this section. The man could be punished with imprisonment for up to five years, or with fine, or both.

  • Section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)This section restricted the right to file a complaint for adultery to the husband of the adulterous woman.

Arguments Against the Challenged Provisions

In the landmark case Joseph Shine v. Union of India, both sides presented compelling arguments regarding the constitutionality of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

Petitioner's Arguments:

Gender Discrimination:

  • Unequal Treatment: Section 497 treated men and women unequally. It punished men for adultery while exempting women from prosecution, thus violating Article 14 (Right to Equality) and Article 15 (Prohibition of Discrimination) of the Indian Constitution.
  • Patriarchal Notion: The law treated women as property of their husbands, undermining their autonomy and dignity.

Violation of Personal Autonomy and Dignity:

  • Individual Rights: The provision infringed upon the personal autonomy and dignity of individuals, particularly women, by criminalizing consensual sexual relationships.
  • Article 21: The right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution includes the right to dignity and personal autonomy.

Right to Privacy:

  • Puttaswamy Judgment: Citing the landmark judgment in Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017), which upheld the right to privacy, it was argued that Section 497 intruded into the private realm of individuals, criminalizing consensual acts between adults.
  • Personal Choice: Consensual sexual relationships are a matter of personal choice, and the state should not interfere in such private matters.

Outdated and Redundant Law:

  • Modern Principles: The law was based on outdated patriarchal concepts of morality and fidelity, inconsistent with contemporary values of equality and personal freedom.
  • Marriage Dynamics: Marriage should be based on mutual trust and respect, and not regulated through criminal sanctions.

Respondent's (Union of India's) Arguments:

Protection of Marriage:
  • Social Institution: The state argued that Section 497 aimed to protect the sanctity of marriage by deterring adulterous relationships.
  • Moral Fabric: The law was seen as a means to uphold the moral fabric of society by discouraging extramarital affairs.
Harm Principle:
  • Societal Harm: Adultery was viewed as causing harm to the marital relationship and to the institution of the family, which justified state intervention.
  • Emotional and Social Damage: The law aimed to address the emotional and social damage caused by adultery to the spouse and family.
Legitimate State Interest:
  • Preserving Order: The state contended that it had a legitimate interest in preserving social order and morality, which justified the criminalization of adultery.
  • Public Morality: The law was defended on the grounds of maintaining public morality and societal norms.
Not an Absolute Right:
  • Restrictions on Rights: The state argued that the rights to privacy, autonomy, and equality are not absolute and can be subjected to reasonable restrictions in the interest of public order, decency, and morality.

Joseph Shine vs Union of India Judgment

The Supreme Court's judgment in Joseph Shine v. Union of India is a landmark ruling that decriminalized adultery in India. Delivered on September 27, 2018, the unanimous decision struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 198(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). 

Composition of the Bench:

  • Chief Justice Dipak Misra
  • Justice R.F. Nariman
  • Justice A.M. Khanwilkar
  • Justice D.Y. Chandrachud
  • Justice Indu Malhotra

Key Points of the Judgment:

Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination:

  • Violation of Articles 14 and 15: The Court held that Section 497 IPC violated the principles of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution. The law was based on patriarchal notions that treated women as property of their husbands, thus undermining their dignity.

  • Gender Stereotypes: The judgment emphasized that the law perpetuated gender stereotypes and was rooted in the archaic notion that a woman is the property of her husband.

Personal Autonomy and Privacy:

  • Article 21 - Right to Life and Personal Liberty: The Court ruled that the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 includes the right to dignity and personal autonomy. Section 497 IPC intruded into the private realm of individuals and criminalized consensual relationships between adults, thereby violating the right to privacy.

  • Puttaswamy Judgment: The right to privacy, as established in the Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017) judgment, includes the right to make personal choices, and the state should not interfere in matters of personal intimacy and relationships.

Outdated Notion of Marriage:

  • Modern Concept of Marriage: The Court observed that marriage is based on equality and mutual respect. The idea that a woman must seek permission from her husband for her sexual choices is outdated and inconsistent with modern principles of individual rights and equality.

  • Consensual Relationships: Criminal law should not interfere in consensual sexual relationships between adults. Such matters should be left to the individuals involved and should not attract criminal sanctions.

Moral Policing:

  • State's Role: The Court asserted that the state should not act as a moral guardian and intrude into the personal lives of individuals. Consensual sexual acts between adults, even if morally questionable to some, should not be subject to criminal punishment.

  • Social Morality vs. Constitutional Morality: The judgment distinguished between social morality, which is based on societal norms, and constitutional morality, which is based on the principles enshrined in the Constitution. The latter should prevail in matters of personal rights and freedoms.

Individual Judges Opinions:

Each of the five judges including Chief Justice of India delivered separate but concurring opinions:

Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar:

  • Highlighted the need for laws to evolve with societal changes and recognized the importance of individual autonomy and equality within marriage.

Justice R.F. Nariman:

  • Emphasized that Section 497 was arbitrary and manifestly discriminatory, violating the right to equality and privacy.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud:

  • Provided a detailed analysis of how the law treated women as chattel and violated their constitutional rights to dignity and privacy. He argued that the law denied women agency and autonomy in their personal relationships.

Justice Indu Malhotra:

  • Stressed that the provision was based on outdated and patriarchal notions, and highlighted the need to respect individual choices and freedoms in matters of intimate relationships.

The Supreme Court's judgment in Joseph Shine v. Union of India decriminalized adultery, aligning Indian law with contemporary constitutional values of equality, personal autonomy, and privacy. It marked a significant step towards gender justice, rejecting outdated patriarchal norms and reinforcing the principle that the state should not interfere in consensual private relationships between adults.


  • Decriminalization of Adultery: Adultery is no longer a criminal offense in India, but it remains a ground for divorce.
  • Gender Justice: The judgment is seen as a significant step towards gender justice and equality.
  • Privacy and Autonomy: It reinforces the right to privacy and personal autonomy in intimate relationships.

Judgments Used in Joseph Shine vs Union of India

In the Joseph Shine vs Union of India case, several past judgments and legal precedents were likely referenced and used to support the arguments presented. Some of these past judgments may include landmark cases related to women's rights, sexual violence, and constitutional validity. Examples could include:

  1. Vishakha and Others vs State of Rajasthan (1997): This case established guidelines to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, emphasizing the right to gender equality and the protection of women's dignity.

  2. State of Maharashtra vs Madhkar Narayan Mardikar (1991): This judgment dealt with the definition and scope of rape under Indian law, setting precedents for understanding consent and sexual violence.

  3. Independent Thought vs Union of India (2017): This case focused on the issue of child marriage and the legal age of consent, highlighting broader issues of gender discrimination and bodily autonomy.

  4. Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) vs Union of India (2017): Also known as the Aadhaar case, this judgment emphasized the right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution, which could be relevant in discussions of bodily autonomy and personal liberty.

  5. Rupan Deol Bajaj vs KPS Gill (1995): This case addressed sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the Indian bureaucracy, setting important precedents for recognizing and addressing gender-based violence in public institutions.

These past judgments, among others, likely informed the legal arguments and reasoning presented in the Joseph Shine case, helping to establish a legal framework for understanding the issues at hand and advocating for women's rights within the context of marital rape.

Download Joseph Shine vs Union of India Judgment PDF

You can download the PDF of the Joseph Shine vs Union of India case Judgment from various legal databases or the official website of the Supreme Court of India. The case document contains crucial legal arguments, judgments, and precedents related to the issue of marital rape and the constitutionality of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. Accessing this document provides valuable insights into the legal proceedings, implications, and potential ramifications of the case on women's rights and the criminal justice system in India.

Joseph Shine vs Union of India: FAQ

  1. What is the Joseph Shine vs Union of India case?

    • Joseph Shine vs Union of India is a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of India decriminalized adultery, striking down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code.
  2. Who is Joseph Shine?

    • Joseph Shine is an Indian citizen who filed a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the constitutionality of Section 497, arguing it was discriminatory and violated fundamental rights.
  3. What was Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code?

    • Section 497 criminalized adultery, punishing a man who engaged in sexual relations with another man's wife without the husband's consent.
  4. What did the Supreme Court rule in this case?

    • The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Section 497 was unconstitutional, as it violated Articles 14 (right to equality), 15 (prohibition of discrimination), and 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution.
  5. When was the judgment delivered?

    • The judgment was delivered on September 27, 2018.
  6. Who were the judges on the bench for this case?

    • The bench comprised Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice R.F. Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justice Indu Malhotra.
  7. What were the main arguments against Section 497?

    • The arguments included that the law was arbitrary, treated women as property of their husbands, discriminated based on gender, and violated personal liberty.
  8. How did the law treat women under Section 497?

    • The law did not allow women to prosecute their husbands for adultery, nor could a wife be punished for committing adultery; it was solely a criminal offense for men.
  9. What fundamental rights did the court say Section 497 violated?

    • The court stated it violated the rights to equality, non-discrimination, and personal liberty under Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution.
  10. Did the court uphold adultery as grounds for civil remedies?

    • Yes, the court maintained that adultery could still be grounds for divorce or other civil remedies, but it was no longer a criminal offense.
  11. What was the significance of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud's concurring opinion?

    • Justice Chandrachud emphasized that the law perpetuated patriarchal stereotypes and undermined the dignity of women by treating them as property.
  12. What was Chief Justice Dipak Misra's view on the criminalization of adultery?

    • Chief Justice Misra stated that criminalizing adultery was irrational, arbitrary, and manifestly unconstitutional, as it interfered with personal relationships and autonomy.
  13. What is the impact of this judgment on gender equality?

    • The judgment is seen as a significant step towards gender equality, as it eliminates a law that discriminated against women and treated them as subordinate to men.
  14. Can adultery still be a ground for divorce after this judgment?

    • Yes, adultery remains a valid ground for divorce under civil law, even though it is no longer a criminal offense.
  15. Did the judgment receive any criticism?

    • Some critics argued that decriminalizing adultery might undermine the sanctity of marriage and moral values, while others hailed it as a progressive step for individual rights.
  16. What did Justice Indu Malhotra highlight in her opinion?

    • Justice Malhotra emphasized that Section 497 violated women's fundamental rights and dignity, reinforcing gender inequality.
  17. What international perspectives were considered in the judgment?

    • The court referred to judgments from other countries where adultery had been decriminalized, noting the global trend towards recognizing personal autonomy and equality.
  18. What was the reaction of legal experts to the judgment?

    • Legal experts largely welcomed the judgment as a progressive and necessary reform that aligned Indian law with modern principles of equality and personal liberty.
  19. How did this case affect the legal status of women in India?

    • The case was a landmark in advancing women's rights, ensuring that women were no longer treated as property and reinforcing their equal status under the law.
  20. What broader message did the judgment send about the role of the state in personal relationships?

    • The judgment underscored the principle that the state should not interfere in private consensual relationships between adults, emphasizing respect for personal autonomy and privacy.


In conclusion, the Joseph Shine vs Union of India case stands as a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for gender equality and justice within India's legal framework. 

With its challenge to the exemption of marital rape from prosecution under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, the case underscores the urgent need to confront and address systemic inequalities perpetuated by laws that fail to adequately protect women's rights. 

Regardless of the court's eventual ruling, the case has already catalyzed important conversations and advocacy efforts surrounding the recognition and criminalization of marital rape. 

Its outcome will not only have immediate legal ramifications but also signal a broader societal commitment to upholding the dignity, autonomy, and safety of all individuals, regardless of gender, within the institution of marriage. 

As India navigates this complex legal terrain, the case serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle for justice and equality in all spheres of life.



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item Joseph Shine vs Union of India: Decriminalizing Adultery in India
Joseph Shine vs Union of India: Decriminalizing Adultery in India
The landmark case Joseph Shine vs Union of India challenged the constitutionality of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which criminalized ad
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