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India's Code of Silence Over Marital Rape

Kashyap (2nd year student of Gitam school of law)


Marital rape, the act of sexual intercourse by a husband with his wife without her consent, remains a deeply controversial and largely unaddressed issue in India. Despite being a criminal offense in many parts of the world, Indian law continues to treat it as a non-criminal act, reinforcing a code of silence that perpetuates gender-based violence within the sanctity of marriage.

 

Indian law, under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, explicitly exempts husbands from being prosecuted for raping their wives, provided the wife is over the age of 18. This legal loophole stems from outdated notions of marriage that view women as the property of their husbands, inherently obligated to submit to their spouses' sexual desires. This perspective is not only archaic but fundamentally violates the principles of bodily autonomy and consent.

 

The silence surrounding marital rape is compounded by societal stigma and a lack of awareness. Many women in India do not even recognize non-consensual sex within marriage as rape due to deep-rooted cultural norms that emphasize a wife's duty to satisfy her husband's sexual needs. Fear of ostracism, familial backlash, and the potential for increased domestic violence further deter women from speaking out or seeking justice.

 

Human rights organizations and women's rights activists have long campaigned for the criminalization of marital rape in India, arguing that consent should be a cornerstone of all sexual relationships, regardless of marital status. However, legislative progress has been slow. The Indian government has repeatedly deferred the matter, citing concerns over the sanctity of marriage and the potential for misuse of the law.

 

Recent judicial developments offer a glimmer of hope. In 2022, a split verdict by the Delhi High Court on the criminalization of marital rape reignited public debate and highlighted the urgent need for legal reform. The case, now pending before the Supreme Court, could potentially pave the way for recognizing marital rape as a crime, aligning India with global human rights standards.

 

Addressing marital rape in India requires a multifaceted approach. Legal reform is paramount, but it must be accompanied by widespread societal change. Educating the public about consent, challenging patriarchal norms, and providing robust support systems for survivors are essential steps toward breaking the silence and ensuring justice for all victims of marital rape.

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