By Sharanya Gopinathan
The Delhi High Court yesterday heard a PIL filed by NGO RIT Foundation, which challenges the Indian Penal Code’s Section 375. Section 375 of the IPC, which deals with rape, contains a controversial exception that says that sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.
The PIL contends that the exception to Section 375 discriminates between different women, as it creates different ages of consent for girls who are married at 15, whereas the specified age of consent for other women is 18. It also says that this exception to the rape law is a state-sponsored license to husbands to rape their wives, which they say is a violation of her Right to Privacy.
When hearing this case, the bench remarked that it’s a very serious issue (gee, thanks), and wondered aloud how many countries it’s criminalised in. To answer that question, the bench might want to check out this interactive (and depressing) map that reveals how many countries have expressly and partially criminalised marital rape. The bench also remarked that marital rape has become part of the culture, and observed how difficult it is for a woman to file a case.
The bench observed this in what sounds like a sad and sympathetic way, pointing out that it was a problem marital rape had become something that was so taken for granted that it had become part of the culture. It’s weird, because Maneka Gandhi used the same logic to make the opposite point, when she said that marital rape shouldn’t be criminalised in India because of “myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mind-set of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament” (i.e. culture).
Anyway, while it may sound like good news that the Delhi HC thinks that marital rape is a serious issue, there’s a long way to go yet. The SC in 2015 rejected a plea to declare marital rape a criminal case in the case of one woman and her husband, claiming that it was an individual case, and not a public cause. Those grounds for rejection actually make the prospects for this case seem fractionally more hopeful, as it’s coming from a PIL and not an individual criminal case.
The court has posted this matter for the next hearing on July 18th.