Faced with growing outrage and pressure from the public, India’s women and children’s minister Maneka Gandhi says the government will “deliberate” criminalizing marital rape in India.
“The ministry of home has requested the Law Commission to deliberate upon the subject of marital rape during the course of its comprehensive review of the criminal justice system,” Gandhi said in a written statement.
“Ministry of home affairs has informed that the Law Commission of India, while making its 172nd Report on ‘Review of Rape Laws’ in March 2000, did not recommend criminalisation of marital rape. However, the Justice JS Verma Committee, while giving its report on ‘Amendments to Criminal Laws’ in January 2013, recommended that the law ought to be amended to delete the marital rape exception,” she added.
Previously, Gandhi openly dismissed the idea of making marital rape a crime as not even worth consideration, but changed her position in the face of widespread criticism.
“This is one of the most complicated places to intervene because you are intervening in the bedroom,” she explained to reporters this month. “How to do it with grace and with firmness is something we need to negotiate.”
The current law states that “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape”.
India has been under fire at home and abroad in recent years due to its epidemic of sexual violence. In a survey conducted in India two years ago, more than half of women said they had suffered some form of sexual violence at the hands of a partner and 60 percent of men surveyed admitted to committing acts of sexual violence against a partner.
The penalties for rape were toughened in 2013 after the fatal gang rape of a Delhi student sparked international shock and horror. A former chief justice of India, appointed by the government at the time to investigate the laws, recommended including marital rape in the new legislation but his suggestion was disregarded. A parliamentary panel said such a law would place the “Indian family system” under “great stress”.
Activists, however, argue that current are inadequate and making it a crime to rape your wife would give married women in India much-needed protection.
“You can’t have two yardsticks for rape. You can’t discriminate just because a woman is married,” said a mother-of-two, Roma, at a counselling session for marital rape in a Delhi neighborhood.
“I am sure if this law is put in place, husbands will think twice before raping their wives.”