It was just a month ago, 21 married women in Chennai removed their Thaali despite their husbands being alive, terming it as a symbol of oppression and slavory. Apart from some minor protests by the Brahmin groups in the state, this incident failed to garner much of the media glare nor did it spark off any wide-range debate. Now the Government, while affirming its inability to criminalise rape within marriage, has proved that many of the concerns raised by those radical women are not misplaced. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a response to a query raised by DMK MP M Kanimozhi has made it clear that it cannot bring a law against the marital rape triggering a nation-wide outrage.
What is marital rape?
Marital rape is the forceful sexual intercourse by the husband without the consent of his wife leading to the latter being physically and sexually abused. The UN Population Fund states that more than 2/3rds of married women in India, aged between 15 to 49 have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex.
Minister of State for Home, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said the concept of marital rape cannot be applied in India where marriage is considered as a "sacrament" or sacred. "It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament,etc," the minister said.
The previous UPA government also had shied away from bringing a law against this violence. A report submitted by MPs in 2013 said: “If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress.”
Indian legal system doesn't give any protection to a wife from being raped by her husband if she is above 15-years-old. The exception under Section 375 says 'sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.' Though the government made an overhaul in the rape laws after the Nirbhaya case rocked the country in 2011, marital rape remains untouched. Justice Verma Committee, set up after the Nirbhaya case, had also recommended the criminalization of marital rape. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act passed in 2005 provides only civil remedies to marital rape victims.
Reports and Findings
According to the UN Population Fund, more than two-thirds of married women in India, aged between 15 to 49, have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex. The report says around the world, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime. A study report released by the International Center for Research on Women in 2011, said one in every five Indian men surveyed admitted to forcing their wives into sex.
In Foreign Countries
Countries like New Zealand, Canada, Israel, France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Russia and Poland have made marital rape a punishable offence. It has been made illegal in eighteen states in the United States and three in Australia.The US began criminalizing marital rape in 1970s and most European countries in the 1990s. However countries like China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are yet to criminalise marital rape.
The government's stand over the issue has sparked off a high-pitched debate with activists and feminists strongly recommending that marital rape be made a punishable offence. CPI-M leader, while talking to a national daily, said, marriage certificate cannot be treated as a license for non-consensual sex.
Senior journalist and writer Seema Goswami wonders if a husband can be prosecuted for murdering his wife, why can't he be charged with raping her. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has called for a strong law as he said: "We have a bill for domestic violence, dowry etc, then why not this?". Former IPS officer and BJP leader Kiran Bedi tweeted: 'Marital Rape is violence. But unless the victim complains how will she get social/legal help?'