The statement made by the Minister of State for Home, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, that "the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament etc.", actually justifies all kinds of atrocities perpetrated on women within the institution of marriage by invoking social customs and religious beliefs. By underscoring that marriage is a 'sacrament', the statement also, therefore, encourages women to not speak out against abusive marriages, to silently accept domestic violence and meekly submit to all kinds of inequalities socially imposed by marriage. Similarly, in the name of 'Indian context', the statement, in effect, condones child marriage, forced marriage, dowry and a host of like evils.
In fact, the Justice J S Verma Committee, set up in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape incident to suggest changes in the criminal law, had recommended that the exception for marital rape be removed from the Indian Penal Code. Not only did the then UPA government not accept the recommendation, the Parliamentary standing committee on Home in its report on the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012 also agreed with the view of the Home ministry that criminalising marital rape would weaken traditional family values in India, and that marriage presumes consent. Now, the present Modi government – despite being so strident in its opposition to so many of its predecessor's positions and measures – has been prompt to uphold the UPA government's regressive and barbaric stand on this issue.
Accepting that the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women had recommended to India to criminalise marital rape, Minister Chaudhary has justified the government's position by emphasizing that the Law Commission in its report after reviewing the rape laws too had not recommended the criminalisation of marital rape.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, 75 per cent of married women in India are subjected to marital rape, and, in the last National Family Health Survey, an overwhelming majority of women respondents reported sexual violence within marriage. Despite such alarming statistics, the Modi government has chosen to ignore the long standing demand of women's rights activists to give cognizance to sexual violence perpetrated by a husband on a wife and make marital rape a punishable offence.
At a time when all over the world as well as in our country the struggle for gender equity and women's liberty is becoming increasingly vigorous, the Modi government's unconscionable attack on the dignity of women – the government's apparent pledge to remain one of some mere 30-odd countries to not criminalise marital rape – is something that should be militantly resisted. AIRWO calls upon all women and democratic masses to take to the streets on this issue and make it clear to the powers that be that sexual violence and rape will not be tolerated, whether within or outside marriage.
AIRWO, 30 April 15
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