NEW DELHI: Over 5 per cent of all married women admitting of having experienced sexual abuse by their husbands in the country’s biggest health survey has rekindled a debate to recognise marital rape as a crime by the government.
The National Family Health Survey 4—for the year 2015-16— data on domestic violence was released in public domain this week and it says that 5.4 per cent of women, aged 15-49 years, who were surveyed said that they were forced to have sex against their will by their husbands at some point.
About 4.4 per cent of these women complained of marital rape within one year of the survey carried out once in a decade by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with the help of several national and international agencies.
The survey also says that a very small percentage of women seek any kind of help for the violence they have experienced. Victims of sexual violence are the most reluctant to seek out help – only 10 per cent of married victims of sexual violence seek help.
“The form of sexual violence most commonly reported by women was that their husband used physical force to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to,” says the survey.
Several members of the civil society and women’s rights activists have now charged that the government has been deliberately been ignoring the issue despite at the cost of suffering of lakhs of women.
“It’s a shame that the government has repeatedly ignored the demands to recognise marital rape as a crime even its own survey proves such a heinous injustice occurs to a large number of women in the country,” said Ranjana Kumari, women’s rights activist and director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi.
“The percentage of women who have come out and spoken about the sexual abuse by their spouses might look meagre to some at 5.4 per cent but that’s because these cases are grossly underreported and few women actually admit of being victims of this injustice,” she added.
Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association said that the government should at least stop shutting eyes at the issue that affects a large number of women in the country.
“It’s unfortunate that while data on marital rape exists, marital rape as a crime does not,” she said.
“Last year, in its response to a Delhi High Court notice when a petition was filed to get marital rape recognised as a crime, the government said that if it happens, the institution of marriage will get destabilised and the law will be used against men—that’s far from truth and sad for women,” said Dhawale.
She also appointed out that over 50 countries, including Nepal and Thailand, have outlawed marital rape. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, on the other hand, considers the forced sex in marriages a crime only when the wife is below age 15.
A documentary filmmaker and gender rights activist, who did not wish to be named, said that when most of the political parties and parliamentarians are not interested in getting the women’s reservation bill passed, it would be far-fetched to expect them to do something on criminalisation of marital rape.
“Sadly, even women parliamentarians just toe the party lines and never raise these important issues related to the rights of women,” she rued.