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India Continues To Dither On Marital Rape Issue

India’s highest temple of justice, it seems, is not keen to deal with marital rape - a sensitive issue in our social context. Activists are demanding that it should be declared a criminal offence.

Man Mohan

Though India continues to dither, more than 50 countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, France, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, have already criminalised it. A United Nations Population Fund survey (2014) revealed that 52 per cent of the women surveyed had experienced some form of violence during their lifetime while 60 per cent men said they had acted violently against their wife/partner at some point in their lives.

In July 2019, the Supreme Court once again refused to criminalise marital rape. This has triggered a fresh debate where social activists and feminist leaders say that “it is one of the worst open secrets of our society”.

A bench headed by Justice S A Bobde asked a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitioner Anuja Kapur, an advocate, to approach the Delhi High Court, which was already seized of the matter.

This was not for the first time that the apex court had chosen not to deal with the contentious issue. In 2015, it had refused to entertain the petition of a Delhi-based woman executive of a multinational company who had sought directions for the central government to declare marital rape a criminal offence. It wasn’t possible to order a change in the law for one person, the SC had said.

The MNC executive had complained that her husband repeatedly resorted to sexual violence but she was helpless because of the legal position that didn’t treat marital rape as crime. The apex court had also rejected a PIL on the issue, noting that “it is for the Parliament to take a call on the matter”.

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August 2019