Marital Rape: A Crisis Worsened By COVID-19 Pandemic

by Aakash Sharma
Marital Rape: A Crisis Worsened By COVID-19 Pandemic

December 15, 2020

Across the globe, a majority of countries deem any form of forced sexual attempts as rape.

In any situation where a person forcefully imposes themselves on another person without their consent, the problem is categorical as an act of rape or any other form of sexual violence.  But the situation in India differs.

If a man forcefully imposes himself on his wife in India, the law does not consider it rape. According to the Indian Penal Code, Section 375, Exception 2 – “if the wife is not under 15-years of age, forced sexual activities by a man with his wife are not rape.”

Historical Flaws in the Legal System

Even though the non-criminal consideration of marital rape by the Indian Penal Code violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution that assures all person equality before the law, amendments to the IPC have been complicated. It is clear by this law that the Indian criminal law discriminates against female victims by not considering the non-consented sexual intercourse by their husbands as rape.

The IPC was drafted in the 1860s in British India. In those days, a married woman was not considered an independent legal entity. Instead, she was seen as the personal property of her husband. As a result, many of the rights guaranteed to a separate legal entity, including the right to file a complaint against another under one’s own identity, were taken away from women.

Exception 2, which essentially keeps out actions perpetrated by husbands against their wives from being considered acts of “rape,” is primarily influenced by and derived from this already existing doctrine of merging the woman’s identity with her husband. This notion can be tracked down to the British colonial era in the Victorian period. The marital exception to the IPC’s categorization of rape was drafted based on the Victorian patriarchal ethos that did not consider men and women as equals, did not allow married women to own property, and merged husband and wife identities under the “Doctrine of Coverture.”

Modern Day Anomalies

As times have changed, Indian law now affords husbands and wives separate and independent legal identities. Much legal armistice in the modern era is explicitly concerned with the protection of women. Many laws are passed to protect women from violence and harassment in the 21st century, including “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act” and the “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.” But the core issue of marital rape remains unaddressed despite major reforms and amendments to laws.

Criminalization of Marital Rape- A Societal Issue

Any form of forced sexual violence should undoubtedly have amounted to rape. But in India, if a man forcefully imposes himself on his wife, the law does not consider it rape. In a society like India, victim shaming is anticipated, and that’s the main reason women hesitate to report abuses. Practical steps in the face of toxicity and violence, like separation, legal confrontation, and divorce, are frowned upon, and most of the women refuse to leave their abusive partners.

India is one of the 36 nations where marital rape is not a crime. Research by the UN Population Fund remarked that more than 2/3rd of married females in India, from the ages of 15 to 49, have faced violence, raped, or forced to provide sex

Marital Rape Aggravated by COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic forced people to stay within their houses. The dangers of lack of income, growing threat of hunger, and an unforeseen lurked on them. Amidst all this, women had to deal with abusive partners inside the house and the virus outside. As a society, we must join forces and combat this issue that directly threatens women’s lives and potentially poses a threat to us.

Three months of lockdown in 2020 recorded more domestic violence incidents and abuses than those received in the previous decade. Most of the cases were coming from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Haryana.

Statistics of Domestic Violence

The issue of marital rape has long existed in India. The pandemic has made it worse. From March 25 to May 31, 2020, 1,477 incidents of domestic violence were made by women. In the ‘first’ 3-weeks of the lockdown, 587 reports of violence were filed with the National Commission for Women.

Reportedly, 86% of women who faced violence during this period did not seek any aid, and 77% of the victims did not even disclose the incidents to anyone. The pandemic had put many constraints on women to reach out for support from anywhere.

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Escape From Domestic Violence

There are various ways to counter gender violence if the home is not a safe place.

Help from neighbors, friends, or family members play an essential role in helping domestic violence victims. Keeping key items ready like documents, money, medicines, and clothes is also necessary to leave the house immediately for safety. There are also quite a few NGOs and citizen collectives that help women escape violence. 

As a society, we must come together and combat this issue that directly threatens women’s lives and potentially poses a threat to us as well.

Do you think Marital Rape should be criminalized in India?    

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