The Supreme Court on Friday referred to a five-judge Constitution bench a Public Interest Litigation challenging the validity of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with adultery, NDTV reported.

The petition had asked why a married woman, who is equally liable for committing adultery with another married man, is not punished along with the man. On December 8, 2017, the top court had issued a notice to the Centre in the case and asked it to reply within four weeks.

According to the section in the Indian Penal Code, a man can be punished with up to five years in jail or a penalty or both if he has sexual intercourse with the wife of another person. However, the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor of the crime.

Observing that the section relieves the woman of any liability, the bench said in December, “Though the act is hypothetically capable of being committed by both the man and the woman, only one is liable for criminal offence.”

The court also said that the provision goes against gender neutrality and treats women like chattel. “The provision creates a dent on the independent identity of women.”