The Battle Against Marital Rape in India

By Rhea Arora

Elm Staff Writer


Quora is a brilliant website where people can ask questions on any topic in existence, be it aeronautics, fashion, psychology, or media. You can download the app on your smartphones or sign up online. While on Quora, I landed on a question that is now making me write this article, “Why isn’t marital rape punishable under the Indian Penal Code?”

According to India Law Journal Section 375, the provision of rape in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), echoing very archaic sentiments, mentioned as its exception clause, “Sexual intercourse by man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.”  This implies that if a woman 15 years and older is married and forced into sexual relations with her husband he cannot be tried in a court of law, a decision that is upheld by the Supreme Court. Yes, girls are married off before the age of 16, mostly in rural India but sometimes also in big cities too.

Marriage is a concept steeped in religion; which is why, as a domestic example, legalizing gay marriage has been such a massive struggle in the US. Religion is a difficult topic to argue because it is claimed to be beyond human understanding and authority. The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the arguments that Indian politicians make in agreement with the current provision is that overturning it “has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage. If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress.”  Has rape not perverted the “institution of marriage” already? So what if it stresses out the family system? Wives are as much part of a family as anyone else. Why is it that the conventional family-centric Indian culture gets more importance than women suffering emotional and mental abuse every day?

I want to clarify that when I talk about marriage in India, I refer to it between a man and a woman only, because gay marriage is still illegal in the country. Women are considered assets, part of the property her husband owns. In a country where a woman’s most common occupation is that of a homemaker, her duties are to serve her husband in any way he deems fit. This is what convention says. Marriage is not always consensual. Women are forced into this legal bond by their families for many reasons, such as the mentality that the end goal of a woman’s life is getting married or for monetary gain. Women in many cultures are given submissive roles through no choice of their own. The law on marital rape is a free pass for any rapist who is aware of the law. Rape the woman, marry her, and avoid prosecution. Deboleena Roy, a user on Quora, provided an extremely helpful analogy. She wrote, “Marriage is a solution to rape in many parts of India. It’s like you walk into a store and damage any product, you need to buy it/pay the price of it. A raped woman is damaged goods. Marry her and rid the family of a liable asset and you are redeemed of your crime.”

Another absolutely ludicrous defense is that scrupulous women can abuse the law and prosecute their husbands for personal gains. First, women do not require a legal contract of marriage to accuse a man of rape and sue him for all he is worth. They can do so anyway. Marriage is a loophole to escape such prosecution. Secondly, having said that any woman can falsely accuse any man of rape, do we still overturn all current rape laws that protect women in general? Of course not. The law does more good than bad and is a much needed remedy in a country like India, where marriage is more an element of patriarchy than a consensual union of two people in love.

You’d think that a woman getting brutally raped by her husband is bad. You’d think that being physically abused with bodily injury if sex is denied is bad. You’d think that the very mentality that a woman is obligated to be sexually active with a man just because they are married is bad. Let me tell you some things that are worse. According to The Wall Street Journal, “two-thirds of married Indian women surveyed by the United Nations Population Fund claimed to have been forced into sex by their husbands.” India Law Journal reported that sexual assault by a spouse accounts for 25 percent of all rape cases in India and that 56 percent of women believed that occasional physical violence, meaning beatings, was justified .

In a country that has conditioned its women to believe that rape is their fault in how they dress and their personalities and that rape is a justified element of marriage and general existence, bringing about substantial change is an extremely steep, uphill battle.

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