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Debate: Should marital rape be criminalised?

By Pallavi

Marital Rape' is even more brutal than 'rape' since the woman cannot complaint. And this is precisely why, it has become a norm these days. Marriage is often being treated as a license of sexual coersion, whether a woman is ready for it or not.

A debate has raked up in the Parliament for quite some time now, discussing the necessity of making it a criminal offence. True, there are millions of cases where the woman is a victim, but there are millions more where the man too is a victim.


Might sound strange, especially in a scenario when we talk about women's upliftment most of the time. But can we really ignore the flip side?

The government weighs options

The NDA government had often been criticized for its decision of not making marital rape criminal. While it has its own justification, the fact that it can also be misused rampantly by revengeful, estranged wives, cannot be ignored.

Consider this. The Delhi Commission of Women has come out with disturbing statistics, establishing the fact that 52.3% of rape cases filed between April 2013 and July 2014, were false. In fact, out of 2,753 complaints of rape, only 1,287 cases were found to be true, and the remaining 1,464 cases were found to be false.

Will criminalization of marital rape still hold good in this case?

The Delhi Court in a particular said, "it was "becoming a very difficult job, now-a-days, for the courts to differentiate the genuine rape cases from the false ones".

Shamina Shafiq, of the National Commission of Women, once said, "It is sad that people are misusing the rape laws to settle scores, while there are so many women who have nowhere to turn to in genuine cases. How will they gather the guts if this turns out to be the trend? A victim's family will also dissuade her from complaining.".

The staggering number of fake cases registered with the police is evident from the following figures. In the year 2014, till the month of July, about 1,253 cases were registered, out of which 900 were false. In July 2014, 139 cases were unknown and could not be resolved.

Marital rape cannot be ignored

However, Chennai-based activist and lawyer Sudha Ramalingam believe that the numbers are highly exaggerated. "No one is denying that there might be some false cases. And that should also be a reason to work towards better implementation, so that not only do we reduce the number of false cases, but more importantly, we do not fail the real victims, and let the real rapists walk free," says another expert Ragamalika Karthikeyan, Programme Officer, Prajanya Trust.

According to the National Family Health Survey-III, one in every 10 woman in India has faced spousal sexual violence, which also includes marital rape at least once in their lifetime.

Difficulty in proving marital rape

When proving rape is challenging, marital rape investigations are long-drawn and pivotal, especially when most of them are done by known people. In marital rape, the person is the closest to the woman and it is difficult to establish the circumstantial evidences proving rape since it happens in a familial background. Sometimes, even the parents of the woman support it, adjudging it a marital ritual.

Pointing out the medical evidence in such cases, a Chennai-based lawyer Akila RS said, "A history of physical violence, results of a rape-kit and medical examination of the wife, witness testimony and possible admission of the husband in electronic communications could be ample evidence to prove his guilt."

"Yes, there is some difficulty in the criminal jurisprudence here, but we have to develop it. And at least, in cases where there is enough proof for proving marital rape, the law will help punish the husbands," he further added.


Having said that, he also offered a solution: "Let's get one thing clear: those of us arguing for criminalising marital rape are not asking for a ‘special provision' for married women. What we are asking for is the special status accorded to some rapists to be removed. We cannot have 'good rape' and 'bad rape', there cannot be gradations based on the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator."

However, the question remains: Can we afford to allow a marital rape law when our rape laws have to be amended in the first place?

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