Our flagship daily news show, where hosts Shashank Bhargava and Snigdha Sharma talk to in-house experts about what is going on and why you need to care about it.
First, Indian Express’ Apurva Vishwanath joins host Shashank Bhargava to talk about the Delhi High Court’s verdict on marital rape, and why it could be the beginning of the end for the exception that gives men legal immunity.
Next, Indian Express’ Esha Roy talks about the alarming finding of the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) regarding children’s diet in India (12:22).
And in the end, Indian Express’ Udit Mishra explains how the Indian rupee falling against the US dollar affects you (23:28).
Shashank Bhargava: Hi, I’m Shashank Bhargava, and you’re listening to 3 Things, The Indian Express news show. In this episode, we talk about the alarming data that the National Family Health Survey reveals about children in India. We also talk about the Indian rupee hitting an all time low, and what that means for an average citizen. But first we talk about the Delhi High Court. Yesterday, two major things happened as far as the Indian courts are concerned. One was that the Supreme Court directed the centre and the states to put on hold all the pending trials, appeals and proceedings that deal with sedition. Now, this was an important directive, and we will talk about it in detail in tomorrow’s podcast. But the second major thing that happened yesterday was regarding marital rape, a two judge bench of the Delhi High Court while hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the exception provided to marital rape delivered a split verdict, while justice Rajiv Shankar her struck down the exception that protects men who have forced non consensual intercourse with their wives. Justice C. Hari Shankar disagreed, saying that the exception does not violate Article 14,19 and 21. That is right to equality, right to freedom and right to life and liberty. Both the judges, however, granted the certificate of leave to the petitioners to appeal before the Supreme Court. And this is what many are considering a big deal and the beginning of the end of the marital rape exception. In this segment, Indian Express is Apurva Vishwanath, who writes on law for the paper joins us to talk about this matter and its significance. So Apurva, while rape is considered a crime under the section 375 of the IPC marital rape is not, which means that if a man rapes his wife, then it is not considered rape at all. And this happens because of this exception in the law, which gives men legal immunity. Could you tell us what this exception is?
Apurva Vishwanath: So section 375, which defines rape has lists about seven notions of consent, which if initiated would constitute the offence of raped by a man. However, the provision has a crucial exemption which says that sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, in cases where the wife is not under the age of 18, would not be considered rape. So this is an exemption that has its roots in Victorian morality. The idea is that upon marriage, a woman gets her consent in perpetuity, something that cannot be revoked by the woman for all times to come. So with this assumption of law, the Indian Penal Code gives an immunity to married men, in essence, to commit the offence of rape against their wives.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah and this seems to be a very archaic and horrible notion that just because you’ve married someone, you have now assumed that they have just forever consented to sex. And a lawyer previously arguing on this issue even said that, you know, five minutes after marriage, a woman cannot call it rape five minutes before marriage, she can, which seems absurd. Could you talk about where this notion comes from?
Apurva Vishwanath: So marriage, which is more of in the realm of personal law has its origins in religion, right? So if you look at several laws around marriage, like restitution of conjugal rights, which says that a man can through court have the wife come back and perform the conjugal rights of a marriage, or, for example, the marital rape exemption, these are all rooted in the religious notion of what a marriage is. And regardless of what the Constitution says, these provisions have sort of been introduced in 1860, when the Indian Penal Code was drafted and have just continued to remain on the books. Many other countries have, of course, over the years predefined. This marital rape exemption does not exist in the UK from where we have this law, but in India, it just continues to be on the books.
Shashank Bhargava: Now considering that there are a large number of women who do face sexual violence from their husbands. This exception has been challenged in the law, and there have been petitions to criminalise marital rape. The Delhi High Court in this regard had been hearing a clutch of petitions, and on Wednesday it delivered us split verdict. And this is what has been making a lot of news, basically a two judge bench granted certificate to the petitioners seeking to criminalise marital rape, to appeal to the Supreme Court on the issue. Could you tell us why that is a big deal?
Apurva Vishwanath: So for starters, split verdicts are not very uncommon. Charges usually sit in odd numbers by hearing important cases to sort of avoid this situation, but two judge benches are not uncommon. So what happens in case of a split verdict is that a larger bench is supposed to hear the case. So this would mean either a three judge bench which is that biggest bench that High Courts usually set up or parties can also appeal before the Supreme Court, which is why the High Court would grant them a certificate of appeal. But why even the split verdict is sort of crucial and really takes the debate forward is because justice Shankar’s opinion in which he holds that the marital rape exemption is unconstitutional, because it’s violative of article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees your right to equality. This opinion is perhaps the most significant judicial acknowledgement of the unconstitutionality of marital rape. So far we’ve had courts mentioned this in passing. So far, we’ve had courts urge the government to do something about it. But this is for the first time a judge of a Constitutional Court acknowledging this to be a deficiency in law, saying that this does not sit with the ideals of our Constitution.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah, and I want you to talk about this a bit more because this verdict has been delivered at a time when there is a lot of conversation going on about marital rape. A few weeks ago, the Karnataka High Court said that a brutal act of sexual assault on the wife against her consent, albiet it by the husband cannot be termed to be a rape. And this was challenged in the Supreme Court, but the court refused to put a stay on that order. So could you talk about the kinds of arguments we have heard about marital rape in Indian courts in the past.
Apurva Vishwanath: So in a way, the culmination of this Delhi High Court split verdict also and what’s happening in the Karnataka High Court, there is also a petition pending before the good wrath High Court challenge in this marital rape exemption. All of these things sort of sets the stage for a larger examination by the Supreme Court very soon. In fact, what’s happening in the Karnataka case is that a married man for the first time in India will face trial court on charges of marital rape. And that is something that is monumental. The Karnataka High Court was hearing an appeal of a Sessions Court ruling in which the marital rape charges were framed against a married man. So this is a case of a very gruesome domestic violence sexual abuse case that a woman filed against her husband and the Karnataka High Court, although it did not strike down the marital rape exemption. A single judge justice Nagaprasanna said that the marital rape exemption cannot be looked over cannot be closed in this case, and the man will have to face charges. So the Karnataka High Court ruling also like you know, it is the same process in which UK began the conversation on marital rape in 1991, a House of Lords judgement actually, just like how the Karnataka High Court ruling did said that marital rape immunity has to be struck down. And later this was challenged, but eventually through legislation, this was overturned in the UK only in 2003. But between 1991 and 2003, the crucial conversations on the issue took place, and that eventually forced the legislation to repeal the provision. So that’s what’s happening in the Karnataka case as well. And even that the Supreme Court has only refused to grant an interim state, but the final consideration is pending. And with the Delhi High Court ruling, all of this shows that the time has come for a big judicial intervention on marital rape.
Shashank Bhargava: Right and some are viewing the Delhi high court verdict as the beginning of the end of that marital rape exception. What is the reason for that?
Apurva Vishwanath: Yeah, if you look at other IPC provisions, which are similar rooted in Victorian morality, colonial vestiges, which have been struck down, for example, section 377 of the IPC, which criminalised homosexuality. The conversation started like this court orders acknowledging that this provision is not in consonance with the goals of the Constitution, and of course, even a split verdict. It still sets the stage for a larger debate, and it also pushes the government to make a decision on these issues. For example, before the Delhi High Court, the centre had initially defended the marital rape provision. It subsequently came and said that there is a review the government will require larger consideration on this issue, and there is a committee that is reviewing criminal laws, which will also look at marital rape exemption. However, the court at that time did not, said that it cannot wait for the centre to take a decision and ask the centre to decide one way or the other. The Delhi government also supported the marital rape exemption and said that there could be cases of misuse if the Court strikes down the provision, but the judicial intervention also forces the government to take a stand on this I and also go for a rethink if there is need for it. So
Shashank Bhargava: Let’s say if this matter goes to the Supreme Court, what will the top court look at?
Apurva Vishwanath: So the arguments the petitioners have made so far have all been about the right to equality. And we’ve had these line of rulings in the last few years. From the Adhaar ruling that cemented the right to privacy, the 2017 ruling which struck down Triple Talaq as unconstitutional, because it said that laws can’t be manifestly arbitrary, or they have to be in consonance with the right to equality that the Constitution guarantees then you have the 377 verdict, which decriminalised homosexuality, that also underlying the right to privacy, even, for example, the Sabarimala ruling which said that even religious and social practices cannot be gender discriminatory, and the constitution will not permit that. So this slew of judgments over the years have allowed the petitioners to now make this argument, which is multi fold, which ranges from gender equality, which includes right to privacy, and also the fact that potential misuse of a law cannot be a ground to violate somebody’s rights under the constitution. So these are all arguments that the petitioners have made in court so far.
Shashank Bhargava: And Apoorva, whenever we talk about doing away with this exception, or criminalising marital rape, there are some who say that this could lead to false cases, that this could lead to women falsely accusing their husbands of rape. So what would you say to those people who raise these concerns?
Apurva Vishwanath: Absolutely. So the fear of false accusations always comes up when you talk about rape, not just marital rape. But there is a due process that happens in courts, the way criminal justice system works is on evidence. So the courts will have to be alienate these concerns from the real issues involved here that is of equality. So the fear of misuse does not mean a blanket legal immunity for a married man against rape should continue. And research has also shown us that this phenomenon of callings a rape case of false case because the man was acquitted is also not really true. Experts have routinely flagged that courts equate men for various reasons, including lack of evidence, and some cases are even filed on the behest of families. And not really because of the lying woman phenomena. As you know, critics always say, and also there is a massive underreporting of sexual crimes in India. And this is a phenomena that you will see across the world. Even in countries where marital rape is now an offence, you will see very, very little reporting of these cases by women. And more often than not, courts in other jurisdictions like South Africa have considered this a less serious form of rape. So there are a lot of issues to deal with, even if a marital rape is actually criminalised. But before that the fear of false allegations should not be the only driving force behind keeping the provisions on books.
Shashank Bhargava: And next week, talk about the findings of the latest set of the National Health and Family survey. The survey has been revealing a lot about things like India’s fertility rate, the frequency of sexual violence that women face, and the prevalence of underage marriages in the country. But one very alarming thing that this survey talks about is the diet that children in India fail to receive. It says that 89% of children between the formative ages of six and 23 months do not receive a minimum acceptable diet. And experts say that this ends up affecting such children pretty much their entire lives. Indian Express’s Esha Roy joins us to talk about it. Esha this figure of 89% of children between six to 23 months not getting a minimum acceptable diet. I mean, this is a very shocking and alarming figure. But could you first explain what constitutes a minimum acceptable diet?
Esha Roy: Yes, so a minimum acceptable diet is basically a composite of two different things. The first is breastfeeding and the frequency with which a child receives breast milk. Now breastfeeding is carried out under six months exclusively. And then after six months, it’s a combination of breastfeeding and solid or semi solid food. The second component is dietary diversity, which means different food groups which need to be included into a child’s diet to ensure that it’s balanced and it’s nutritious. The World Health Organisation has actually prescribed seven to 10 different food groups which are essential for a child’s well being and this includes cereals and millets pulses, milk and milk products, roots and tubers, green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, fruit, fatter oil, fish, egg and other non veg, like meat, and sugar. Now the WHO has recommended that at least four to five different food groups amongst these must be included in a child’s diet every day for the child to grow up healthy, both physically as well as mentally and cognitively.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah. And 89% of children in this particular age group are not getting this kind of diet, they’re not getting diverse food, or the right amount of breast milk. How does this impact these children?
Esha Roy: Yeah, so first of all, this figure is absolutely alarming. The six to 23 month period of a child is of vital importance. And these are the formative years. As a matter of fact, nutrition experts who work with the government, and to our activists have actually said that the first 1000 days from the conception of a child when the child is in a mother’s womb, till the time the child is two years old, is the most important period of a child’s growth. And if it does not receive nutritious diet, at this point in this window, then it doesn’t only affect them physically, which very obviously it does, the child will grow up shorter, thinner, underweight, but also impacts their cognitive abilities in a major way, as well as their sensory abilities and their ability to pick up languages and communication. The experts have said that 80% of a child’s brain growth and development happens by the time it hits that two year stage. So if the child is not receiving a nutritious the diet, then it is a huge disadvantage for them not only growing up, but also when they become adults.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah and there have been a number of studies that look at the effects of such an improper diet, right?
Esha Roy: Yes, this has been well documented. Now, that dietary deficiency as a child affects productivity, there are studies which have said that it can affect a grown ups salary by 50%, if a child has a low birth weight, you know, so the mother has not received adequate nutrition when the child is born, and then grows up can affect its salary by 50%. And if the child is stunted, on top of that, then another 25% of salary can be affected. So effectively, a child with such a deficient diet can grow up to earn 75% less than what they would otherwise earn.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah, and you write that this can have a huge impact on the country’s human capital potential as well. But Esha, what are the reasons that so many children in the country are not being able to receive a proper diet, which is impacting pretty much the rest of their lives?
Esha Roy: Yeah, so the multiple reasons, it’s a very complex issue with a diverse range of reasons, I mean, the most obvious being poverty for those who belong to the lower quintile of wealth. So, you have a large section of the rural population of the urban poor, who simply cannot afford nutritious meals, they cannot afford the kind of dietary diversity which is required, they can’t buy fruits, not more expensive vegetables, even eggs and fish sometimes. So, that is one major contributor to those who belong to the economically weaker sections. However, interesting, this is an indicator which ranges across socio economic backgrounds from the poor to the middle class to the upper middle class to the rich, it affects all stratas of society. And one of the reasons for that is education and awareness as well. And the fact that traditional dietary systems that we have in India, which are very community specific, so I as a Bengali we used to have a complete meal raditionally, when my grandparents around which would start with bitter and end with sweet I mean, there was a reason why every food group was included in a meal, that no longer happens, because traditional systems are eroding. And also because diversity of crops is also not as robust as it used to be. So you would only have wheat in one area only have rice in one area only one kind of vegetable which is mass produced.
Shashank Bhargava: So despite having the money to buy whatever food they need for the children, some people are not able to do so because one, they may not have easy access to it. And two, they may not be aware of it.
Esha Roy: Yeah, so as we all to be ordering pizzas and burgers and Italian and fast food and KFC and McDonald’s. Really it does have a child’s well being and it has been documented and established. As a matter this one indicator that all experts talk about, which is that obesity. Now obesity when you see a child who is overweight and NFHS five has shown that there’s 3% of children in India right now are overweight. And you think that oh, this child is healthy because nutrition is often confused with the amount of food the quantity quantitatively that okay, this child receives enough food however, the child may not be receiving nutritious food. So obesity strangely enough, and interestingly enough, is also an indicator of malnutrition.
Shashank Bhargava: And when we are talking about children in this age group of six to 23 months, are there states that do better than the others in providing kids this kind of diet?
Esha Roy: Yes, there are a couple of the top two ranking states from the Northeast which is Meghalya and Sikkim. Meghalya has 28.5% children Sikkim has 23.8% children in this age range, which is six to 23 months who are receiving a minimum acceptable diet and that may be because agriculture and diversity of crops and still quite a big thing in the Northeast. So that could be one reason of course, the other states which are doing well are Kerala, Ladakh, the Union Territory of Puducherry, West Bengal they also seem to have performed better on this indicator, the states which have not done well, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh have the lowest adequate diets for children in this age range at 5.9% each, and this is followed by Assam, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh, there could be any number of reasons why this has happened. It could be that the states are not receiving adequate government services at the last mile and by government services, I mean, Poshan Abhiyan, and ICDS, which works through anganwadi centres across the country, which is the government scheme to take responsibility of ensuring nutrition for pregnant women, lactating mothers, newborns, and children under five years.
Shashank Bhargava: And now what are the things that experts suggest to tackle this problem to ensure that children do get the right kind of diet?
Esha Roy:I mean, they have suggested a number of things. One is awareness campaigns are imperative, maybe not in cities, but in rural areas where most of our population lives. So this is very important. One expert Dr. Basanta Kaur that I have been speaking with, he said that running in these areas, running awareness campaigns, through social media through television programmes is not enough, there has to be direct contact between the anganwadi worker, the ASHA worker who looks after health indicators and medical needs of these families in villages, there has to be a door to door campaign there have to be regular visits and direct contact with these families so that they understand what nutrition is. That’s the first thing the others are of course, more, that’s an immediate step that can be taken the others are more long term because this is linked to education and growing economic development of a family unit. Of course, I mean, it is an issue that like I mentioned earlier ranges across socio economic structures, but nevertheless, those in the lowest two wealth quintiles the poor, and the lower middle class are affected most by this more than those in the highest more than the rich and the upper middle class for instance. So of course, access to education, access to employment, growing economic and personal wealth is also important to ensure this, but those are long term goals.
Shashank Bhargava: And in the end, we talk about the Indian rupee. On Monday, the Indian rupee had hit an all time low exchange rate against the US dollar during trading hours at 1.1 dollar was equal to 77.46 rupees. Now, this development made a lot of news and this is obviously not surprising because whenever the rupee falls, every medium covers it newspapers, magazines, TV channels, radio and even podcasts. But why does it matter? How does the rupee becoming weaker than the dollar affect you? This is what we will look at in this segment, where Indian Express’s Udit Mishra who writes about the economy for the paper joins us.
Udit Misra: Okay so, there are two levels at which this affects us. One is obviously the economics of it. Basically rupees exchange rate against dollar or any other currency falling basically means that now you need more rupees to buy a single unit of dollar. And why do you need a single unit of dollar because when you import anything from a product to a service to wanting to invest in US or any other country, you would have to buy dollars because they are not using rupees so you will have to give you a rupees by some dollars, then use those dollars to buy that product or service. Now, when the rupee exchange rate vis-a-vis dollar falls, essentially, everything that you want to buy from outside becomes costly if it is being bought in dollars. Now, there are things that are being bought in dollars from whenever we buy something from US, say an Apple computer, or else it could also be that you are paying some other country but you’re paying in dollars, because the dollar is the reserve currency. It’s the global currency. So for example, crude oil, crude oil payments typically are measured in dollars. So you’re paying dollars. And essentially that means that everything all your imports become costlier, there is a flip side on the economics of this is that when the imports become costlier, your exports become cheaper also. So if you were selling an Indian product or Indian service, it is now cheaper for an American to buy. And as such, it’s more attractive. So if he was wondering whether to buy a shoe made in India or a shoe made in Vietnam, and now it’s much cheaper to buy a shoe made in India, then your exports rise. So that’s the benefit of that. That’s the economic argument.
Shashank Bhargava: Okay, so to be clear, with the fall of the rupee things coming from the US become more expensive for people. But since oil is also traded in dollars, things in general could become more expensive. But on the other hand, it could be a good thing for some businesses that export, because now they will potentially sell more items. Yeah, broadly
Udit Misra: Yeah broadly speaking what you’re saying is right. For a country like India, which imports 80% of its oil, and that’s a very crucial factor, inflation is likely to go up because we pay in dollars, it’s a international price and that will all seep into our domestic inflation. So everything will become costlier for most exporters, the argument that I mentioned would hold that your exports are now more attractive, you might benefit. However, not all exports are made of only domestic products, often you import a lot of raw materials or intermediate materials to make the product now a rupee fall would actually make your intermediate imports costlier. So, often it is the dynamics of how you price your product and what are the constituents that will determine but yeah, broadly speaking, that is the dynamics.
Shashank Bhargava: And how is the exchange rate calculated what factors determine whether a rupee falls or become stronger.
Udit Misra: So it’s simply a demand supply thing then we talk about an exchange rate which say between dollar and rupee we are basically looking at how many dollars are demanded in all transactions and how many rupees are demanded in all transactions. So, Indians in any year any quarter Indians are demanding a lot of American goods and products denominated in dollar and the rest of the world or Americans are demanding Indian products denominated in rupee and there is an exchange based on that, if you are demanding in a particular time period, you’re demanding more products, which are in dollars. So, you are needing more dollars and the demand for rupee doesn’t go up then the rupee depreciates. So on paper that is how it functions, but unlike a free market economy, where this is solely decided on demand and supply for dollars and rupees in India, RBI has a certain role to play what RBI typically does is that it intervenes from time to time to ensure that the fluctuations in rupees value vis-a-vis dollar or other currencies do not happen too violently, because wild fluctuations will be detrimental for all economic activity. And what RBI does is that for example, when there is lots of rupee being demanded right and a lot of people want to invest in India or buy Indian products and a lot of dollars are coming into India to do that what RBI does is that it takes out those dollars from the market, how does it take out the dollars it buys those dollars from the market and it buys those dollars by paying rupees. So, rupees flood into the market and that’s how the demand supply mismatch is taken care of and rupee does not depreciate appreciate as much as it would have and whatever RBI does either to ensure that rupee doesn’t depreciate too much or appreciate too much it has its own ramifications in terms of whether we are accumulating foreign reserves or getting rid of our foreign reserves.
Shashank Bhargava: You were listening to 3 Things by the Indian Express. Today’s show was written and produced by me Shashank Bhargava and was edited and mixed by Suresh Pawar. If you like the show, then do subscribe to us wherever you get your podcast. You can also recommend the show to someone you think would like it, share it with a friend or someone in your family. It’s the best way for people to get to know about us. You can tweet us @expresspodcasts and write to us at podcasts@indian express.com