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Indian law does not recognize marital rape as a crime despite 52 countries doing so. Isn’t it high time succor was given to these traumatized wives?

By Pulkit Verma


Marital rape is a crime few talk about. That’s not surprising in a country where even ministers hold retrograde views about it. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in the Rajya Sabha recently that marital rape cannot be criminalized in India as marriages are sacred here. However, the “sacredness” has not prevented men from subjecting their wives to untold perversions.

Marital rape is a sexual act performed by a husband forcefully or without consent of his wife. With increasing incidence of this surfacing, there are growing demands to make it a crime.

NO CONTROL

Chitra Awasthi, founder of Rit Foundation, had earlier this year filed a PIL demanding that marital rape be treated as a crime as there is a dire need for it. Giving instances of brutal intercourse both among villagers and urban, educated couples, she says nothing saddens a woman more than not having control over her body. “Women feel bad when husbands vent their anger through sex. No woman would knock on courts’ doors unless things become unbearable,” she says. A legislation, she says, will have a deterrent effect.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2011 alone, 24,206 rape cases were reported against women and their number has gone up by 50 percent in the following years. In fact, marital rape is a crime in 52 countries, including the US, the UK, Israel, Russia, Sweden, Poland, and France. In some countries, there are dedicated helplines to support victims of sexual abuse. In India, on the other hand, the government and lawmakers are reluctant to make marital rape a crime as they feel such provisions could be misused against husbands, resulting in destruction of the institution of marriage.

Barkha Shukla Singh, chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women, recounts horrifying cases where young, educated women decide to end the marriage because of insistence on unnatural sex. “They have blue marks all over the body, indicating violence, because the husband cannot take no for an answer. Lust is increasingly on the rise.”

Dr Rajat Mitra, director of Swanchetan Society for Mental Health says that according to a study, approximately one-third of total domestic violence cases reported are sexual assaults by husbands or intimate partners. These statistics show the strong streak of chauvinism among men in India.

POWER EQUATION

But why would a man rape his wife? Researchers who spoke to husband rapists across the world concluded that they raped to reinforce power over their wives or families or to express anger. This belies the common myth that they rape because the wives have withheld sex. According to CNN, the number of women sexually assaulted by their husbands or someone known is 40 times those attacked by men they don’t know.

LUCKNOW, JULY 18 (UNI):- Workers of AIDWA staged protest against Mohanlalgunj gangrape and murder case in front of Annexe in Lucknow on Friday. UNI PHOTO-127u

Women activists want marital rape to be included in the ambit of domestic violence

Even the law doesn’t recognize marital rape as a crime. As per Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.” In contrast to this, the Hindu Marriage Act defines the minimum marriageable age as 18. This strange contradiction should be sorted out first. Vagueness in laws and lack of legal protection makes many women reluctant to come forward when raped by their husbands.

“A rape is a rape. A relationship with a rapist doesn’t justify anything. In fact, it leaves you all the more traumatized and harrowed.” —Urvashi Dixit, a working woman

A division bench of the Supreme Court in the Vidhya Viswanathan vs Kartik Bala-krishnan case recently ruled that if a spouse does not allow the partner to have sex for a long time, without sufficient reason, it amounts to mental cruelty. Thus, the apex court makes it clear that sex is an important obligation of a spouse.

However, marriage in itself does not give license to an individual to have forced sex with his partner and therefore, complaints of sexual assault or cruelty can be lodged by a wife in such cases.

“Non-recognition of marital rape in India, a nation set upon the bedrock of equality, is hypocrisy in law,” additional judge Dr Kamani Lau was reported as saying in a case study by Pune Law University.

In a study done for WHO, a woman from the North-East describes being hit by her husband and forced to have sex. She says: “I thought this was natural and the way a husband behaves.”

Sadly, the education system has not given young girls a proper understanding of sexuality or how to be treated with respect. And politicians with retrograde mindsets don’t help either. On top of that, many religious doctrines outline sexual acts as “duty” by wives. Parents too are reluctant to talk to their children about the birds and the bees.

SCOPE FOR MISUSE

There is, of course, the other side of this debate. Delhi-based chartered accountant Mayank Gaur says that declaring marital rape a criminal offense would lead to misuse of the law, like in the case of Section 498A of the IPC. It states: “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.”

As Section 376B states that marital rape is not a criminal offense within the Indian legal framework except during the period of judicial separation of the partners, that would be a sane thing to do in such cases.
Urvashi Dixit, a working woman in Delhi, says: “A rape is a rape. A relationship with a rapist doesn’t justify anything. In fact, it leaves you all the more traumatized and harrowed.” There is also an urgent need to get rid of the archaic concept of rape as an act of vaginal penetration. There are many more dimensions to this crime.

Though concerns have been raised about misuse if such a law is passed, activists and women’s lawyers discount these. “Any law has a scope for abuse. But that doesn’t mean we do away with them,” says Chitra Awasthi. Nagpur-based Indrayani Patani, former president of the All India Federation for Women Lawyers, says that since it would be difficult to prove such charges, the version of women will have to be given credence. But she discounts fears of misuse by asking: “Who doesn’t want a harmonious family? It’s only when suffering becomes unbearable that you seek legal help.”

There are remedies under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, passed in 2005, in case a woman is a victim of domestic violence, including sexual abuse.

Women have started using Sections 354 and 377 to prosecute husbands for sexual abuse. Section 354 punishes “assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty”, while Section 377 penalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. But rape within marriage is not explicitly acknowledged.

It is high time atrocities committed within this scared institution are dealt with through legal safeguards.
With inputs from Meha Mathur

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