The issue of marital rape has now reached the Supreme Court of India. The Delhi High Court recently delivered a split verdict on criminalisation of marital rape and referred the matter to the SC. It is only appropriate that the Supreme Court resolves the matter as it involves substantial questions of law. The institution of marriage, built on the premise of equality, should not be allowed to be used as a cover for sexual violations. It should not give any special male privilege or a licence for unleashing a brutal beast. Looking at the way the current laws are being implemented, one wonders whether marriage automatically grants amnesty for all crimes of sexual violence. Therefore, there is a strong case in support of criminalisation of marital rape in a patriarchal society.
The central government, which has been resisting criminalising marital rape, had put forward the argument that since the matter involved intimate family relations and considering the social impact caused by criminalising marital rape, the high court should defer hearing the case. The major bone of contention is the validity of the exception granted to married men under Section 375, which deals with rape. The exception states that sexual acts by a man with his wife, if she is not under the age of 15 years, don’t amount to rape. This exception was founded on the Victorian mediaeval law that husbands wielded their power over their wives. One of the main arguments against criminalising marital rape is that it would lead to the breakdown of the institution of marriage with wives falsely accusing husbands. It is time the patriarchal notion that husbands are the rulers of their wives, their body, mind and soul should be done away with and the voices of those who are silently suffering must be heard.