Marital rape is the act of indulging in sexual intercourse without proper consent of the partner. People often mistake marital rape as an act of domestic violence or sexual abuse, although a lack of consent is enough in itself. The right for sexual intercourse within the marriage was considered as a naturally consigned right of the spouse, historically. Many countries around the world have rightly classified non-consensual sexual intercourse as “rape”, yet countries including India regard this intimate assault a perfectly legal crime.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code propounds rape as all forms of sexual assault involving non-consensual intercourse with a woman. Yet the Exception 2 to Section 375 absolves the unwilling sexual intercourse between a husband and a wife over fifteen years of age from Section 375’s definition of “rape”. Thus the atrocities and abuses within the sacredness and sacrosanctity of marriage are legalized by the government under this section. This is a clear case of discrimination against female victims by the Indian criminal laws, just because they have been raped by their own husbands.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reports, an average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence from her own husband than others. Such heinous acts go unreported due to the ineffectiveness of the existing laws. Though India is striving hard to empower its female population, it fails to ensure their safety even in the very basic social structure like family. The patriarchal social structure of India is the fundamental reason for the mortifying status of women in Indian society and the persisting ineffectiveness of laws protecting them.
NGOs for the empowerment of women and Constitutional experts are of the opinion that the Exception 2 to Section 375 is a clear violation of Article 14 and Article 21 and insists that its high time India criminalize marital rape and frame new laws for protecting women from intramarital violence. The equality and liberty rights assured for all citizens in Article 14 and Article 21 of the constitution are denied in exception 2 to section 375. Even the UN General Committee has recommended the Indian government to criminalize marital rape back in 2013. A large part of the British influenced Indian laws which need timely amendments remains untouched for the past 73 years since independence. No Indian government has, however, so far shown an active interest in remedying this problem. As a result, many of such primitive practices still exist in our society.