Marital rape, gender neutral laws under focus at NCW meet

Meet held to review criminal law from the perspective of women

Updated - January 19, 2022 01:50 pm IST

Published - January 18, 2022 10:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File photo for representation

File photo for representation

At a consultation organised by the National Commission for Women on amendments to criminal law on Tuesday, there was unanimity among speakers that marital rape should be criminalised. The meeting also discussed rising instances of cyber-crime against women and the need for gender-neutral rape laws.

The NCW is expected to have another round of discussion on this issue, following which it will send the recommendations to the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is looking at a review of the Criminal Law, including the IPC, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

The meeting also comes at a time the Delhi High Court is hearing multiple petitions on making marital rape an offence and the government has sought more time to present its stand on the ground that the matter needed wider consultation and a “larger hearing of all stakeholders”.

The petitions have sought striking down exception to Section 375 of the IPC, which says forceful sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being 18 years, is not rape.

Also read: Need more time to decide stand on marital rape, Centre tells HC

“There was agreement among all present that marital rape exemption cannot continue. There was one voice that raised concerns about evidence gathering,” said a person present at the meeting who didn’t want to be identified.

Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court, Geeta Luthra, who made the point on the need for evidence for punishing marital rape, told The Hindu , “No one is talking against women’s autonomy or privacy or that marital rape should not be an offence. But there should be a better investigative process and a strict burden of proof so that it doesn’t happen that someone is miffed and makes a marital rape allegation. The only safeguard is better investigation.”

Also read: Key judgments puncture government’s defense on marital rape

The meeting also discussed the interpretation of consent. “We have said there should be a broader understanding of when consent stands vitiated. Anything obtained with fraud or force where force means fear of injury to body, mind and reputation is considered in cases of extortion and we are demanding that the same standard should be applied to consent in sexual offences as well.” The focus has to be on violence and not morality. Questions are often raised that a woman didn’t scream, there were no marks of injuries when she is raped, but not when a person is looted,” said Ved Kumari, Vice-Chancellor, National Law University, Odisha.

On the issue of age of marriage being raised for women to 21 years to make it equal to that of men, most speakers agreed that 18 years should be the age of marriage for both men and women, as increasing it for women to 21 years will criminalise young adults.

The senior lawyer also recommended a sexual offender’s act on the lines that the U.K. has which provides a graded punishment depending on the nature of offence rather than having strong punishment for all cases.

Also read: Govt.’s consultation on marital rape a delaying tactic: women’s groups

The meeting also discussed the need for gender-neutral anti-rape laws which the civil society has demanded to recognise same-sex assaults among gay, lesbian and bisexual people as well as sexual crimes against transgender people.

“There was a lot of emphasis on cyber-crimes against women as well as making revenge porn and online stalking punishable,” Senior Advocate, Supreme Court, Pinky Anand said. These suggestions come in the backdrop of an online auction held of Muslim women on an app called Bulli Bai though the incident didn’t find a specific mention during the meeting.

Several women’s rights activists, however, were unhappy because they were not invited for the discussions. While there were 13 speakers, only one was an activist and remaining were lawyers from the Supreme Court, Delhi and Bombay High Courts apart from a representative each from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, and the National Law University, Odisha. Six women’s organisations, including the All India Democratic Women’s Association and the All India Progressive Women’s Association wrote to NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma demanding wider consultations.

"Women's groups are disappointed in the manner in which NCW organised an online meeting on 18th January to review criminal laws. Not only did NCW not give enough notice but didn't attempt to get a wider representation of women's organisations to discuss something as important with a  potential for long-term repercussions, said Jaya Velankar from Delhi-based Jagori.

It is learnt that the NCW is likely to hold another meeting on Saturday.

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