The Centre on Monday told the Delhi High Court that it needs “reasonable time” to formulate its stand on the issue of criminalising marital rape. Its response came against remarks by a Bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher and Justice C. Hari Shankar, while hearing a batch of petitions challenging the provision in law that makes an exception for marital rape, that the Centre has to say “yes or no”.
Exception for husbands
In India, marital rape is not defined in any statute or law. NGOs RIT Foundation, All India Democratic Women’s Association, a man and a woman have sought striking down of the exception granted to husbands under Indian rape law.
The exception says sexual intercourse by a man with his wife aged 15 or above is not rape even if it is without her consent. In October 2017, the Supreme Court increased it to 18 years.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said it will not be appropriate to place before the court a “less discussed and consulted stand” and time was needed to undertake the process of consultation.
The Centre had earlier said that it was considering a “constructive approach” to the issue of criminalising marital rape and that it has sought suggestions from several stakeholders and authorities on comprehensive amendments to the criminal law.
In its affidavit, the Centre had asserted that it is “already seized of the matter” and that the marital rape exception could not be struck down only at the instance of the petitioners as the principles of natural justice required a “larger hearing of all stakeholders”.
Delhi govt.’s stand
The Delhi government has said that marital rape was already covered as already covered as a crime of cruelty under the Indian Penal Code and that the courts have no power to legislate any new offence.
Earlier this month, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing a petitioner woman, had argued that courts all over the world have recognised marital rape as an offence.
“Marital rape is the biggest form of sexual violence which happens in the confines of our homes. How many times does rape take place in the institution of marriage and is never reported? This figure is not reported or analysed,” the senior lawyer had said.