More than two years after the Supreme Court decriminalised adultery by declaring Section 497 of the IPC unconstitutional, the Centre has moved the Supreme Court with a plea that the historic verdict shouldn’t apply to the Armed Forces, as it may cause instability among personnel who stay away from family.

The question is: Why shouldn’t the decriminalisation of adultery be applicable to the armed forces as well? First of all, it’s imperative to understand the import of the term ‘adultery’. Derived from the Greek root ‘Adula’ ( named after a Pagan lesser goddess who granted sexual favours to her devotees, esp. males), ‘adulteration’ and ‘adultery’ (vyabhichaar in Sanskrit) came into being. More than being carnal, ‘adultery’ has a (faux) moralistic ring to it that stemmed from prudish Victorian morality and the then institutionalized military morality of the Brits. In the parlance of the Services, it’s euphemistically defined as ‘stealing the affection of a brother officer’s wife’.

Same behavioural pattern

Havelock Ellis, the Darwin of sex, stated that organisational sexual morality is always inimical to the natural development of an organisation or establishment. So very true. If civil society doesn’t criminalise a married woman falling for someone or a married man feeling the hots for someone else’s wife, how can the same psycho-sexual behavioural pattern be criminal in Armed Forces or any organisation, for that matter?

The Army is an extension of society and its personnel are no different from civilians as regards desires. That it’ll bring sexual anarchy and anomie to the Services is as misguided a notion as it was prevalent among the civil society until 2018.

The Brits criminalised adultery more than 160 years ago and made it all the stricter within the precincts of defence. But there’ve been many instances of stealing the affection of brother officer’s wife. Serving in India (Bangalore) as a second lieutenant, Winston Churchill had a torrid love affair with his commandant’s wife nearly 20 years his senior. He wasn’t cashiered from the Services.

British Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck had a rollicking affair with his major’s wife. He was an army captain at that time. He wasn’t dismissed and went on to become the British military commander. American General Douglas MacArthur, the most decorated soldier in the history of modern warfare, had a torrid love affair with an air force officer’s wife. Was he cashiered for stealing someone’s wife? Were their philandering ways impediments to their career growth and success? All became legendary generals and went even beyond that.

Unwarranted restriction

Point is: How and why an organisation should impose restrictions on the emotional likes and dislikes of an individual? In other words, the criminalisation of adultery in the Services will give the impression that defence folks are morally more upright than their civilian counterparts. It’ll then be undesirable sexual snobbery of the prudes. Otherwise also, poor civilians are ‘bloody civilians’ to the snooty Army officers, as Amitabh validated it in the film ‘Major Saab’ (1998). Cases of reported and unreported adultery have been aplenty in the modern Armies of all the countries. This has been going on surreptitiously in the Indian Armed Forces as well. We must understand that natural human instincts are not regulated and governed by organisational tenets and edicts.

Of course, rape and molestation are crimes and will continue to be condemned in future as well. But two (married) individuals liking someone else cannot be criminal in any sphere, whether civil or military, esp. in a country like the ancient India known for its liberated sexual morality, though not bordering on bohemianism or libertinism.

It’s therefore, time to decriminalise adultery even in the Armed Forces, to let uniformed society be on an even keel with civilians.

The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.

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