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Marital rape in India

What’s India’s stand on marital rape cases?

In a recent development, the Supreme Court of India has instructed the central government to submit its response in an appeal against the Delhi High Court’s split verdict in a significant marital rape case. The matter has been scheduled for a hearing in February 2023.

The Delhi High Court’s Split Verdict:
The Delhi High Court’s division bench delivered a split ruling in May of the current year, wherein one judge struck down Exception 2 to Section 375 as unconstitutional, while the other judge upheld the same provision. Exception 2 to Section 375 states that a man cannot be charged with rape if he has non-consensual sexual intercourse with his wife.

Justice Rajiv Shakdher’s Opinion:
Justice Rajiv Shakdher of the Delhi High Court held that Exception 2 to Section 375 was “violative of Article 14.” In his view, this exception was in conflict with the constitutional guarantee of equality before the law.

Justice C Hari Shankar’s Opinion:
In contrast, Justice C Hari Shankar disagreed with Justice Shakdher’s view and stated that there was no evidence to suggest that the impugned exception violated Articles 14, 19, or 21 of the Indian Constitution. He did not find any constitutional basis to strike down the provision.

Supreme Court Clubbing All Matters Together:
The Supreme Court has decided to consolidate all matters related to marital rape. The division bench of the Delhi High Court had granted leave to the petitioners to appeal before the apex court. The central government is expected to file its reply by the next hearing date.

Centre’s Previous Stance:
In 2017, the central government argued against the criminalization of marital rape, expressing concerns that such a move would “destabilize the institution of marriage.”

Prevalence of Marital Rape:
According to the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), conducted between 2019 and 2021, approximately 32% of women aged 18-49 years in India reported experiencing spousal physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in the 12 months preceding the survey. This data indicates that marital rape is a widespread problem in the country, even though it is not officially recognized.

The Supreme Court’s decision to seek the central government’s response in the appeal against the Delhi High Court’s split verdict on marital rape is a significant step in addressing this contentious issue. The divergent opinions within the high court and the prevalence of spousal abuse underscore the importance of a thorough examination of marital rape laws in India. As the matter proceeds, it will be essential to monitor further developments and the potential impact they may have on the recognition and protection of victims of marital rape in the country.

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