Indian women are campaigning to criminalise marital rape

Indian women are campaigning to criminalise marital rape

Raped by her husband on her wedding night aged 17, Divya described her repeated suffering --- an all-too-common account in India, permitted by a terrifying colonial-era legal loophole.
03 Jul, 2024

“I told him I have never had sex, and asked him if we can take it slowly and try to understand it,” 19-year-old Divya said.

“He said: ‘No, the first night is very important for us men’.”

He then slapped her hard, ripped her clothes off and forced himself on her.

What followed her arranged wedding in 2022 was 19 months of sexual and physical abuse.

“If I was hurt, it was invisible to him,” said Divya, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

“He used to have sex with me ruthlessly.”

Six per cent of married women aged 18-49 report spousal sexual violence, according to the government’s latest National Family Health Survey. In the world’s most populous country, that implies more than 10 million women have been sexual victims of their husbands.

Nearly 18pc of married women feel they cannot say no if their husbands want sex, according to the health survey. Moreover, 11pc of women thought a husband was justified in beating his wife if she refused, it found.

Victorian mentality

Under India’s inherited British-era penal code, an exception clause stated that “sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape”.

India introduced a new penal code on Monday but the exception clause remains — although it does now state that “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his wife, the wife not being under 18 years of age, is not rape”.

Lawyer Karuna Nundy is challenging that.

Nundy, who has a case for the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) rights group at the Supreme Court, condemned the clause as “colonialism from a Victorian mentality”.

She holds a “fervent hope” for change, mentioning some of the more than 50 nations who have outlawed it.

Chief Justice DY Chandrachud called it an “important issue” this year.

But the decade-long case has made painfully slow progress.

In May 2022, a two-judge bench in the Delhi High Court issued a split verdict. One judge, C Hari Shankar, said that while “one may disapprove” of a husband forcibly having sex with his wife, that “cannot be equated with the act of ravishing by a stranger”. The other judge, Rajiv Shakdher, disagreed.

Shakdher said it “would be tragic if a married woman’s call for justice is not heard even after 162 years”, referring to the British-era statute.

Monika Tiwary from Shakti Shalini, a rights group which supports sexual violence survivors, said marriage should not shield a crime.

“How can marriage change the definition of rape?” she said.

“Getting married does not take away the rights over your body.”

Arranged marriages

“Most of the survivors do not really have this understanding that it is not okay, and it is marital rape,” Tiwary said.

“The moment we label it and attach a law to it, people start recognising it, awareness increases”, Tiway added.

Divya’s marriage was arranged, like many in India. But her family did not pay the usual hefty cash dowry to the husband — something he used against her.

“He would taunt me by saying ‘It’s not like your parents gave any dowry, I can at least do this’,” Divya said.

“At times he would put a knife on my throat and dare me to say no. (He would say) ‘You are my wife, I have full rights on you’.”

Swati Sharma, a 24-year-old mother of two, said she married a man for love.

The first time her husband assaulted her was after their first daughter was born.

“I used to think: ‘Okay, we are married, so we can do this’,” she said.

Death threats

When he was angry, he would take it out on her. If she refused sex, he accused her of having an affair.

The tipping point came when he stripped her naked in front of their children, waiting until they slept.

“Then he proceeded to have sex with me,” she said. “He didn’t leave me till he had his way.”

She packed her bags, took her children and left.

But despite the abuse, some women return to violent husbands fearing for their children, and under intense social pressure. Sharma also returned to her husband, after he went to counselling and persuaded her to come back.

While Divya escaped, she still lives in fear.

Her husband messaged her mother threatening that he “will not let her live”. But she says she is “proud” that she left.

“There are many girls who still endure this, happening to them day and night,” she said.

“Such men should be punished.”


Syed Hasni Jul 03, 2024 04:34pm
A marriage license should not be viewed as a license for a husband to forcibly rape his wife with impunity” is one of the finest Quotes by Sol Wachtler which clearly explains the turmoil that a woman faces when she is raped by the person to whom she is married. Despite many penal changes to protect women, the non-criminalization of marital rape in India threatens women’s dignity and fundamental rights.
Samsam Sunshine Jul 03, 2024 04:47pm
Marital rape is barbaric. Sex if it is not consensual and for love is rape!!! Irrespective of who is doing it.
Taj Ahmad Jul 03, 2024 05:14pm
This is our world of today, where good and bad people all everywhere, please be careful in your surroundings day and night, specially women’s and children’s.
NYS Jul 04, 2024 12:12am
Similar case was registered in KHC marital rape / sexual assault in Feb 2024 and it was convicted husband for sodomy or unnatural way of sex .This was first time, and count to be landmark decision so far...bring on board more pending laws
Gulabo Jul 04, 2024 06:00am
Indian women are liberated than their pakistani counterparts
Abhi Jul 04, 2024 11:05am
It is true that such things do happen in every society. However law is also misused by a lot of women in India to an extent that the supreme Court recently stated that any dowry or harrasment complaint should be assessed before arresting the in laws. Misuse has become rampant wherein the husband and his parents are the victims. No one is talking about this reality.
Jamil Soomro Jul 04, 2024 06:05pm
@Gulabo Do read this article one more time. This is about an Indian woman. History tells us no South Asian woman is liberated in 2024.? Rape is the worst violation of a woman by the husband.
Queen Jul 05, 2024 08:19am
Has Aurat March in Pakistan ever raised a voice on this issue?
Laila Jul 06, 2024 10:46am
It comes down to consent. Marriage is not a carte blanche to force oneself on ones spouse. Rather show compassion and empathy and work out the issues through communication, patience and therapy. It should be enjoyable for both and sometimes even husbands may refuse. Sex starts in the brain. Not the nether regions. Good luck with the decriminalisation. You will need it.
Laila Jul 06, 2024 10:54am
@Queen You seem rather fixated on Aurat March. Why? Did you ever raise your voice independently of AM on the matter of martial rape? Even once? Publicly? Did you try to lobby the government for change? And yes AM did. It caused quite the outrage and people called their efforts vulgar. Apparently a woman has no say, consent or choice when it comes to her body. Only men do. I really think you should contact AM and ask them about their views. Maybe you can join then next year and raise awareness on this issue and others? It will be more productive than asking on random unrelated articles.
Laila Jul 08, 2024 05:18pm
@Abhi But this article is about marital rape. Not dowry or abuse of dowry laws?? Not sure what reality you are talking about. Women physically cannot overpower and rape a man. So marital rape is reality for women. It largely goes unreported and unpunished because neither society not courts take it seriously. Clearly this is reality in India too.