It is extremely strange that marital rape, which accounts for 94% of the total rapes in India, does not come under the canopy of criminal act. In 98% of rape cases an offender is known to the victim. Approximate figures quote that every six hours a young married woman is either beaten or burnt to death. As per the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 – “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being less than fifteen years of age, is not rape.” The Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) considers the forced sex in marriage a crime if wife is less than fifteen years of age. But is it a permissible marriageable age? How can our justice system consider this?
In India marital rape is a form of non-criminal domestic violence. Barbaric cases of rape which are not punishable by law point a finger towards a gap in the criminal justice system in India. Also rape with marriage explicitly shows the mentality of the perpetrator. Such a situation arises when there is an intense discord between the husband and wife and when a husband wants to prove his superiority. Don’t you think it is better to live separately rather than live a life that is not worth living? But again our society does not easily accept divorce and pressurizes such couples to live together. Above that, marital rape mostly goes unreported and even unnoticed.
Most of the lawmakers oppose the view of criminalizing marital rape. They feel that it will put family under stress. The Indian Government constituted the Justice Verma committee to recommend amendments to criminal laws. The committee in its report recommended certain reforms to reduce domestic violence against women including a suggestion to make marital rape illegal. Though some recommendations were implemented but suggestion on marital rape was not approved.
Civil Remedy for the Offence in India
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 (PWDVA) was passed in 2005 which provides civil law remedies to protect women from domestic violence, including sexual abuse.
Section 354 that punishes an act of assault or criminal force against a woman with intent to outrage her modesty, and Section 377 penalizes intercourse against the law of nature.
Status of Marital Rape in other Countries
India is not the only country where rape within marriage is not a crime. Many countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Haiti, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Egypt and many more still do not consider spousal rape a criminal offence.
On the other hand, marital rape is a crime in most of the developed countries. This is the result of Second-wave feminism that peaked in most of Western countries in the 1960s and 70s. It changed and challenged the traditional views of marriage which encouraged male dominance in both marriage and sexual act.
Most of the countries in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia regarded martial rape as a criminal act before 1970. Other Western countries criminalized marital rape in the 1980s and 1990s. Many developing countries took this step in the 1990s and 2000s. In certain African countries marital rape is criminalized only if the couple is legally separated.
What Should be Done?
Indian society needs to learn to respect women and seek their consent in all affairs. It must be understood that she is not for pleasure and bonded by any mean to please men and bear their children. Men have to shed their thinking of forcefully acquiring women to show their superiority.
We must encourage women and girls to become more confident so that they can take their own stand.
Indian education system must include sex education in curricula and it must be taught at the right time and in a proper manner as it can easily misguide young minds.
Above that marital rape must be regarded as a criminal act in India.