Union Home Minister Amit Shah presented the revised edition of the ‘Indian Penal Code’ (IPC), known as the BNS (Second) Bill, 2023, before the Lok Sabha on December 12, 2023. Notably, this legislation seeks to amend the archaic British-era IPC. Despite the parliamentary committee’s suggestions, the updated version of the bill excludes unconventional sexual relations and adultery from the list of offenses.
The omitted sections, Section 377, addressing unnatural sexual relations, and Section 497, related to adultery, had already been nullified by the Supreme Court in 2018. The court, in that ruling, decriminalized adultery while maintaining it as grounds for divorce. Subsequently, in 2023, the Supreme Court extended this protection to consensual same-sex relationships.
In the current proposal, the government has decided not to reintroduce Section 377 and Section 497. However, a new provision, Section 73, has been introduced, making it an offense to disclose or publish information regarding the identity of survivors of rape and sexual offenses against women and children during legal proceedings. Violators could face imprisonment for up to two years. It’s important to note that publishing decisions of the Supreme Court and High Courts under this section is exempt from being considered an offense. Section 72 prohibits the printing or publication of material that reveals the identity of a victim of sexual offenses.
On December 4, 2023, the parliamentary standing committee, headed by Brij Lal, submitted its report to Parliament. The committee recommended incorporating a revised form of Section 377 to prosecute cases of sexual relations without consent, including same-sex and non-consensual relations. Additionally, the committee proposed retaining Section 497, which considers a man guilty of adultery if he engages in sexual relations with another man’s wife without her consent or connivance. The suggested penalty for such offenses includes imprisonment for up to five years, a fine, or both. It’s emphasized that a woman cannot be punished as an abettor in such cases.