India not to criminalise marital rape

April 29, 2015 06:31 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:29 pm IST - New Delhi

India will not make marital rape a crime because of cultural and religious values and society’s belief that marriage is a sacrament, the government said on Wednesday.

DMK MP Kanimozhi, through a question submitted in the Rajya Sabha, asked Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary whether the government would bring in an amending Bill to the Indian Penal Code to remove the exception of marital rape from the definition of rape in the light of the U.N. agencies’ findings and recommendations.

Mr. Chaudhary, in his written reply, said that while the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women had recommended that India criminalise marital rape, India’s Law Commission had not recommended this, and the government had no plan to bring in an amendment.

“It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors — e.g. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of society to treat marriage as a sacrament, etc,” Mr. Chaudhary said.

“I accept that the institution of marriage is an integral part of our social structure. Many people across many faiths hold it sacred. But it has not stopped us from bringing the anti-dowry law or domestic violence legislation,” Ms. Kanimozhi told The Hindu .

“Today, we are more receptive to women’s rights and issues. This is not against our culture. It is about protecting our women from violence and abuse,” she said. She has also introduced a Private Member Bill seeking the removal of the marital rape exception from the Indian Penal Code.

While Mr. Chaudhary’s reply referred to the Law Commission’s report of 2000, it did not talk of the more recent Justice Verma Committee report of 2013 on sexual violence laws which said that the exemption for marital rape “stems from a long out-dated notion of marriage which regarded wives as no more than the property of their husbands” and recommended the removal of the marital rape exception. However the Criminal Law Amendment passed by the UPA following the report also avoided the marital rape question.

This was against the principle of upholding a woman’s bodily integrity which underlay the amendment, senior lawyer Vrinda Grover said. “Marriage rituals may be sacred under religious beliefs, but rights of the husband and wife, adoption, and divorce are all governed by statutory law,” Ms. Grover said. “The Domestic Violence Act recognises sexual abuse in a marital relationship but only offers civil remedies. The reason they are not willing to make it a criminal offence is because Parliament is full of patriarchal and conservative people,” she added.

According to the last National Family Health Survey, just 2.3 per cent of all sexual violence reported by women to household surveyors was by men other than their husbands.

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