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Lust, actually

A bachelor who has been barred by some of his married friends from visiting their homes reacts to the decriminalisation of adultery

I’m an ideal candidate for adultery as I have been an eligible bachelor for now over a decade, earn enough, paint nudes and prescribe a bohemian lifestyle. That’s what some of my married male friends make me feel time and again. They avoid meeting me at their residence in the presence of their wives even if I express my desire for ghar ka khana (home-cooked meals).

One of them told me directly not to visit him at his residence, “for the obvious reasons.” Rather offended, I reverted, “The reasons are not so obvious, so please elaborate.” He was matter of fact. “You’ll be welcome in my home only after you get married.”

“It’s a judgement on you and not me. This is what you think you’d do had you been in my shoes,” I retorted.

“I’m judicious,” he said and added with a smile, “prevention is better than cure.”

Of course, Delhi has a dubious reputation of being unfriendly to women. All men are potential rapists, and the unmarried ones are also potential adulterers. The Supreme Court has, at last, decriminalised adultery by quashing Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code that makes man’s relationship with a married woman, despite her consent, a criminal offence unless the husband is taken into confidence. It’s also interesting to note that a woman, irrespective of her marital status, having a relationship with a married man, cannot be charged with adultery.

This archaic law was one of the last few remaining edifices of Victorian morality. A woman was reduced by this law to the sole “property” of her husband, a five-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising of Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra—concluded. Also, though adultery is not a crime, it could be a basis for divorce.

Justice Chandrachud was of the view that Section 497 deprives a woman of dignity, treats her as “property” of her husband, and in the process, she loses her individuality once she is married and that “physicality is an individual choice”. Also, it “denudes women of her choice and disregards her sexual choice” and denies married women “the agency of consent” and therefore this law is “a relic of past.”

My reaction to this judgement is that it’s good for women—they should be mistress of all aspects of their destiny without any qualifications. Though not for me, a bachelor who craves for home food. Now, my friends will have all the more reason to take precautions as far as my access to their homes is concerned. There’s no doubt, adultery destroys relationships.

That’s strong enough a reason, for men and women alike, to avoid such illicit liaison—though it’s no more illegal. Then the social stigma that comes with it is not easy to deal with. But think of it, was Section 497 a deterrent? How many men didn’t indulge in adultery because it was illegal? Very very few, in my view. Adultery is a reality that has inspired literature and is not so uncommon as one would want to think.

I know a high-profile journalist who was rather unabashedly having a relationship with the wife of another colleague, a few years his junior in age. It went on for years and was an open secret. He was never charged with adultery.

In this age and world, I have learnt, thanks to my married friends, that a marriage has to be renegotiated almost on a daily basis. As someone said, a successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. That’s good to hear, but may not be practical in real life.

Bachelorhood is convenient, it allows falling in love many times, not necessarily with the same person. It’s a pity that many spouses I know spend sizeable energy enforcing fidelity on each other. As the American writer HL Mencken has famously said, ‘Adultery is the application of democracy to love.’