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According to the Indian government marital rape cannot be applied in India as marriage is considered to be sacred. This comes from the Minister of State for Home, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, who also added that there is no proposal to make it a criminal offence.
"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," said Chaudhary.
His reply came as a response to a question by DMK MP Kanimozhi in the Rajya Sabha. Kanimozhi asked the Home Minister whether the government would recommend a bill to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to remove the exception of marital rape from the definition of rape. She also asked whether the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against women has recommended that India should criminalise marital rape. The answer? Yes, they have recommended this.
Chaudhary however, shot her down by saying, "The Law Commission of India, while making its 172nd Report on Review of Rape Laws did not recommend criminalisation of marital rape by amending the exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code and hence presently there is no proposal to bring any amendment to the IPC in this regard".
According to the United Nations Population Fund, 75% of married women in India are subjected to marital rape.
It is important to remember that in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape, a committee under Justice J S Verma was set up to suggest changes to criminal law. The committee recommended that marital rape should be considered as rape and punishable under the IPC.
"The fact that the accused and victim are married or in another intimate relationship may not be regarded as a mitigating factor justifying lower sentences for rape," the Verma Committee had said.
The government however, did not accept these recommendations. The Home Ministry believes criminalising marital rape would weaken the traditional family values in India and would lead to "practical difficulties". They also stated that marriage presumes consent.
Currently any case of marital rape must be fought under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, which is a civil, and not a criminal law. This means, that even if the husband is found guilty he cannot be convicted of rape, only domestic abuse, the punishment of which is far more lenient than rape.
"The state has been too scared to bring more and more criminal laws into the realm of marriage", said women's rights lawyer, Veena Gowda.
"Denying married women their right to consent reduces them to no more than the property of their husbands", said the Justice Verma Committee.
The government chose to ignore this advice and instead retained an exception to Section 376 of the IPC, which states,
"sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape". This means that a girl over the age of 15 can be raped if she's married and can do nothing about it.
This is also in contradiction to other Indian laws about the age of consent for sex and marriage for women, which is 18. Thus a married girl between the ages of 15 to 18 has no protection from rape, but an unmarried woman is considered incapable of consent.
A host of women's rights groups have been protesting against this clause for decades, but the state has only one major argument in response – that recognising marital rape is a threat to the institution of marriage.
The current struggle
Our Central government has made it clear that no winds of change for the rights of women are coming in the near future. The BJP has firmly positioned itself on the issue of women's rights. Unfortunately for India's women and liberal public, the government is not the only institution that believes women should be the property of their husbands.
The Supreme Court has also backed this notion, stating, "the Court has ruled that a wife's refusal to have sex with her husband amounts to cruelty and is a grounds for divorce".
A woman upholding her right to choose is cruelty? But a man raping his wife is protecting the sanctity of traditional marriage values. It is clear that most of us are not as well versed in traditional Indian values as the BJP, but we highly doubt rape falls under those values.
The treatment of women in this country by its elected officials is abhorrent. When will the Modi government realise that appeasing the right wing extremists will not get them very far in this country.
The make-the-rich-richer-repress-the-women-mistreat-the-poor governance of the Modi regime is only going to prove to be its downfall.
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Feature image source: salon.com