The Delhi High Court on Tuesday was informed by women’s rights activists that 52 countries in the world have criminalised marital rape as they sought a direction to make it a criminal offence.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar asked if there was any study done on the impact of criminalising marital rape in countries such as Nepal, Britain or the US.
The court remarked that the exception in the law granting immunity to a husband was very wide, giving him absolute freedom to do whatever he wanted in a marital bond.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for Khushboo Saifi, who is one of the petitioners, said the number of women who experienced sexual violence by husbands was 40 times the number of women who experienced sexual violence by non-intimate perpetrators.
Petitioners NGO RIT Foundation, All India Democratic Women’s Association and a marital rape victim have challenged as unconstitutional an exception to Section 375 and Section 376B of the Indian Penal Code.
Section 375 that defines rape also says sexual intercourse by a man with his wife aged 18 years or above is not rape even if it is without her consent. Section 376B deals with sexual intercourse by man with his wife during separation.
The Central government had told the court that criminalising marital rape “may destabilise the institution of marriage” and would become an easy tool for harassing husbands.