Daily WTF: Marital Rape Is Officially Legal In India
Sexual assault in India has been on the media’s radar for some time now, most-notably starting with the horrific gang-rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old Delhi woman in 2012. That same year, of the 706 rape cases filed in Delhi only one resulted in a conviction. After many more sexual assaults took place squarely in the global public eye, India’s laws were altered in 2013 to reflect the massive outcry.
The changes were mostly in the right direction -- the definition was broadened to include acts beyond vaginal penetration, lack of physical resistance was no longer a factor, and acts of gang rape would result in a term of imprisonment “not less than 20 years.”
But there’s one sticky little loophole in the law that India’s government just won’t tie off -- marital rape. Though many women’s rights groups have long lobbied for sexual assault by a spouse to apply under the country’s criminal code, a judge in India confirmed this week that, for legally married couples, the term rape does not apply.
The official word from controversial judge Virender Bhat is as follows: “The prosecutrix (the wife) and the accused (Vikash) being legally wedded husband and wife, and the prosecutrix being major, the sexual intercourse between the two, even if forcible, is not rape and no culpability can be fastened upon the accused.”
Spousal rape is considered a crime in over 100 countries, including other Asian countries like Thailand and South Korea, and in Canada -- though it wasn’t always so. Marital rape wasn’t criminalized in Canada until 1983, after the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted. In fact, prior to that, the law “was explicitly defined… to exclude marital rape from criminal sanction.”
It was the lobbying of feminist groups that lead to legal reform in Canada, so I have high hopes for the growing female protest movement in India. But, for now, the situation remains dangerous for women who experience this form of intimate partner violence.
Besides the obvious problems with legalizing rape behind the closed door of a marriage, India also suffers from a high instance of child marriage, which makes this loophole all the more terrifying.
According to the BBC, “Some 40 per cent of the world's child marriages take place in India.” While these ceremonies are illegal, and punishable, they are common practice and girls as young as six can be married off. A joint project by the World Health Organization, Girls Not Brides, UNICEF and many others asserts that “Girls married young are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual abuse than those who marry later.”
Approximately 14-million girls under the age of 18 are married annually around the world -- that’s five million girls in India, legal or not. Five million girls who are told that rape by a husband is not rape at all.
The logic that being married equals consent for all eternity is faulty, and acts as just another measure of control over a population of women who already feel they are not taken seriously. This is an instance of India’s justice system letting women down, literally handing a blank cheque to violent husbands throughout the country.
A move to repeal this law would go a long way to proving to the women of India that they are valuable citizens, who deserve the right to safety.
No rapist should be immune to punishment, whether he wears a gold band or not.