Landmark verdict on marital rape upholds women’s dignity

NEW DELHI | Updated: 19 December, 2023 11:06 am IST
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The recent verdict by the Gujarat High Court on marital rape marks a significant and welcome decision affirming the dignity and autonomy of women in India. The court’s rejection of a bail application in a case where a woman filed a complaint of rape and domestic violence against her husband and in-laws sets a crucial precedent.

The case involved disturbing allegations that the complainant’s husband and in-laws recorded intimate moments via a CCTV camera and circulated the videos on the family WhatsApp group. The court rightly recognized these actions as a gross violation of the woman’s privacy and dignity, constituting offences under the Information Technology Act, of 2000, and the Indian Penal Code, of 1860.

Crucially, the court dismissed the argument that the complainant had consented to the sexual acts, emphasizing that marital rape is a recognized offence in India. It referenced the Supreme Court’s judgment in Independent Thought v. Union of India (2017), which deemed sexual intercourse with a minor wife below 18 as rape, irrespective of consent or marital status.

The court also challenged the constitutional validity of the exception clause in Section 375 of the IPC, providing immunity to a husband from prosecution for rape if the wife is above 15 years. It deemed this clause unconstitutional and violative of women’s fundamental rights, aligning with recommendations from committees like the Justice Verma Committee and the Law Commission of India, advocating for the criminalization of marital rape.

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This verdict represents a progressive and courageous step against patriarchal norms, challenging the view that marriage grants a license to commit rape. It emphasizes that consent is paramount in any sexual relationship, irrespective of legal or social status. The decision aligns with international human rights standards, including commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), urging the elimination of violence against women, including marital rape.

While the court’s verdict is commendable, it alone is insufficient to eradicate marital rape in India. Urgent legislative action is needed to enact a comprehensive and gender-sensitive law criminalizing marital rape and providing robust protection and support to survivors. Equally important is raising awareness and sensitizing the public, police, judiciary, and medical professionals on the issue of marital rape and the rights available to victims. Addressing patriarchal stereotypes and norms perpetuating a culture of impunity and silence around marital rape is crucial.

The Gujarat High Court sets a precedent for the nation, offering hope for the countless women suffering sexual violence and abuse within marriages. It underscores that marital rape is neither trivial nor private but a serious offence deserving legal consequences.

However, for lasting change, India must join other civilized nations in recognizing and criminalizing marital rape, ensuring justice and dignity for its women. The court’s decision paves the way, urging the country to prioritize legislative measures, awareness campaigns, and the challenging of harmful stereotypes to confront the pervasive issue of marital rape.

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