In her first statement following her ministry’s controversial reply to Rajya Sabha on marital rape, Woman and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi has said that her ministry could consider taking a step towards criminalising marital rape provided there is ample proof of enough number of complaints.
“We know it (marital rape) happens frequently,” Maneka told The Indian Express. “But women need to come and complain about this aspect of violence, and once there is enough data, the government could respond.”
At present, she said, the government does not have a case for introducing a separate law to criminalise marital rape since women do not use even existing laws on domestic violence to register complaints of rapes by husbands.
“Violence is violence. It has to be strictly dealt with,” she said. “We already have a section that covers domestic violence, and if that was used sufficiently for marital rape complaints, there would be grounds to move a new law… (However) police figures show it has not been used even once.”
Sources said the WCD ministry has retracted its earlier reply to Rajya Sabha. It has now sent an amended answer to the Secretariat citing the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs’ 2013 report, which states that if marital rape is criminalised “the entire family system will be under great stress…”
Section 375 of IPC, which deals with rape, makes an exception for such instances within marriages. It holds that “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape”. Protection of Woman from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, brought by UPA, provides for civil remedies for all kinds of domestic violence, including “sexual abuse” within marriage, but doesn’t make it a criminal offence.
The ministry came under fire last month over its reply in Parliament to a question on whether it plans to criminalise marital rape. The reply read, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors e.g. level of education/ illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat marriage as a sacrament, etc.”
The ministry’s amended reply is expected to state that the Standing Committee’s report on Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill has been prepared after considering the Law Commission’s ‘Review of Rape Laws’ (2000) as well as the Justice J S Verma Committee recommendations. While the Law Commission report was not in favour of making marital rape a criminal offence, as it held that doing so would be “excessive interference with the marital relationship”, the Justice Verma report made a strong case for criminalising marital rape.
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