Marital Rape: Not a Myth

by Aparna Gupta

Every 6 hours, a young married woman is burnt or beaten to death, or driven to suicide from emotional abuse by her husband. According to the UN Population fund, two-third of the married women in India, aged between 15 and 49 years, have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex by their husbands. These are not just mere statistics, but each represents a silent sufferer brutalised and caught in the glorified institution of marriage in India. There have been reported cases where women have been forced to have intercourse till their late pregnancies and have been brutally assaulted by their husbands just after delivery of a child. There have also been cases where a husband has transmitted sexually transmitted diseases to the wife leading to vaginal infection through forced sexual intercourse. Despite such horrifying realities the Indian marriage and rape laws continue to remain misogynist and treat wives as the property of husbands. Marital rape is not only legal in our country but it is somehow a taboo to even talk about it.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code says that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife who is not less than 15 years old is not considered as rape. The IPC goes further and Section 376B provides for a lesser punishment for the perpetrator for committing a sexual offence if the victim is his wife, living separately, under a decree or otherwise. These provisions under the IPC are not only inhumane and misogynist but also absurd and inconsistent with the other laws in India. Section 375 clearly gives the legal sanction to a man to rape his minor wife, while the age of consent under other laws is 18 years. There exists a grave anomaly as the Indian statute criminalises consensual sex between teenagers but turns a blind eye to the atrocities that are committed against women in the name of marriage every day.

The countrywide protests after the 16 December rape case lead to the amendment of the IPC through the Criminal Laws (Amendments) Act which brought in many progressive changes. However, the Indian parliamentarians abstained from omitting these highly sexist and patriarchal exceptions from the law, despite contrary recommendations by the Justice Verma Committee. The Verma Committee explicitly stated that marital relationship between the perpetrator and the victim should not be considered as a valid defence against the crimes of rape and sexual assault. Therefore it is essential that the Indian law makers and the society at large believe that a rapist remains a rapist regardless of his relationship with the victim.

It was heartening to see that in the budget session this year, both the houses of the parliament spent considerable amount of time in discussing the issues related to gender violence and atrocities against women. However, amongst more than 750 members in both the houses, only one raised the issue of marital rape and the inconsistencies under the IPC. While the growing number of brutal crimes against women has pricked the conscience of the parliamentarians and the people of India, we seem to have passively accepted the crimes committed to them within the confines of their home by their husbands as something normal. This needs to change- the patriarchal mindsets that consider wife to be duty bound to provide sex to her husband; the traditional understanding of a wife’s role as a submissive, docile homemaker. And the taboos that exist around the discussions regarding sexual relationship between a husband and a wife.

Therefore, there is a need to create more awareness regarding the heinous acts of sexual perversity that many wives suffer under the hands of the husbands. No society or culture can exist without change forever. Sometimes the laws of the land undergo transformation in the light of the social change and at other times they become the agents of social change. This is one of the latter times when the country needs a judicial awakening through uprooting the patriarchal sections of the IPC that propagate the archaic notions of marriage and consent.

 

Aparna Gupta is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. An engineer by training and student of policy by day, Aparna aspires to work in the domain of Human Rights and Gender Violence.

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