On February 15, 2018, the Delhi State Government informed the Delhi High Court that marital rape or forced intercourse is a criminal offence under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code and ground for divorce. This particular section of the law deals with cruelty and harassment faced by married women from their husbands and relatives.
Under Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution women can refuse to have intercourse with their husbands. This particular article ensures that bodily integrity and privacy is secured to all women regardless of whether they are married or not.
Section 375 that defines rape also says sexual intercourse by a man with his wife aged 18 years (earlier 15 years) or above is not rape even if it is without her consent. Section 376B deals with sexual intercourse by a man with his wife during separation.
However, the actual problem is far greater than legal issues; it is about the mentality of the general Indian population towards rape victims. And the worst part is, marital rape is not even considered rape at all.
There are no fixed statistics but the recent data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 released by the Union health ministry shows 5.4% women have experienced marital rape, the data also records for the categories of “forced her to perform any sexual acts that she did not want to” and “forced her with threats or in any other way to perform any sexual acts that she did not want to.” Overall, 2.5% and 3.6% of married Indian women answered affirmatively to these categories as well. That takes the percentage of married women who have experienced what would be considered rape or sexual violence had the perpetrator not been their husband up to 11.5%.
However, these figures can be highly misleading, as many women are not able to speak or not allowed to talk with government employees due to heavy restrictions. Some feel hesitant, and various other cultural, religious and regional aspects determine whether a woman can convey what she wants to. Actual numbers can be far more than what’s shown in the survey.
Another issue is the behaviour and attitude of the Indian Government. It believes that all those who are actively seeking to stop the rape of women by their husbands are “blindly” following western customs. Also, government’s ignorance and insensitiveness towards the issue of marital rape is highly problematic.