Kiran Bedi Lobbying for Criminalizing Marital Rape?

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Kiran Bedi has finally broken her silence on the absurdity that is the Indian Legal System’s take on Marital Rape. In a thought-provoking opinion piece she wrote for NDTV recently, she challenges the provisions and clauses of Indian laws against Rape, that don’t recognize marital rape as a form of rape. Binjal Shah brings you the highlights



In the newly amended  Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, the IPC brought about sweeping changes, but also had a shocker: it said explicitly that “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” This implies that, an act of sexual intercourse between two individuals, even if it is against the will of one of the individuals, is allowed and legitimate and cannot be reported as rape- when the individuals are legally married.



Minister of State for Home Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary in the Rajya Sabha last month attempted to explain that, saying that the concept of marital rape cannot be applied to India because “our social customs, values and religious beliefs” all preach that marriage is “sacrosanct”.



But the presence of wedlock cannot be more sacrosanct than presence of mutual consent, when it comes to a sexual relationship. “How does a cruel marriage remain sacred, how is it sacrosanct?” Bedi reacted, to the chutzpah of that statement. “Is a wife merely body parts?”



Highlighting the “painful” story of a woman who was raped by her husband everyday, even when she was pregnant, and after she delivered his children, Bedi wrote:What compels a wife to continue living with her husband who is a sex-maniac? What kind of man commits such atrocious acts on his wife, almost daily? Why does he treat the mother of his own children in such an inhuman way? How does he get away with this brutality? Is it because marital rape is not a criminal offence, compared to one committed on an outsider? Is he abusing this distinction? Is marriage for such depraved men a license to rape because of the ‘implied consent’ which comes with wedlock? 



The figures of marital rape perpetrated in India, which have to go unreported because they are not recognized as crimes, are startling. Surveys conducted by the UN and other agencies reveal that as many as 75% women are subjected to marital rape at some point or the other. And in India, child marriage is far from being eradicated – and millions of little girls, who don’t even understand the concept of sexual intercourse, let alone the idea of consent, are married off at a young age.



According to an NCRB study that surveyed 1,00, 000 women-  only 157 of the 6747  women who admitted to having been sexually abused, said that they were attacked by someone other than their husband.



In December 1993, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and declared marital rape as a human rights violation. Most of the west started implementing laws prosecuting marital rape around that time. In the US, where the incidence of marital rape was found to be as high as 25 percent of all  rapes committed, laws were framed making Marital Rape a criminal offence in all of its 50 states in 1993.



Britian ruled against the legality of marital rape in 1991, too- declaring that “the rule that a husband could not be guilty of raping his wife if he forced her to have sexual intercourse against her will was an anachronistic and offensive common-law fiction, which no longer represented the position of a wife in present-day society, and that it should no longer be applied.”



Cyprus has a much more clear-cut method of reasoning: “rape is rape irrespective of whether it is committed within or outside marriage”. Various other countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Sweden, Russia, Poland etc. have criminalized marital rape.



These rulings by Cyprus and Britian combined sum up the premise of this law. Perhaps the ideas we propagate about marriage culturally are wrong, and most importantly, outdated when compared to current conversations that we have started about women’s position in the society. This is exemplified by a comment on a Firstpost article: “The term ‘Rape’ may not be correct to put a charge on ‘Ardhangini’ who has the right to conjugate. What is rape for wife can be a right for the husband,” it read.



The problem originates from the idea that sex is the ‘right’ of a husband. In this case, the onus of initiation is laid upon the husband, with complete disregard to a wife’s sexual agency. Maybe this needs to be called out and weeded out of our values completely.



While the scope of the Domestic Violence Act covers sexual abuse, the maximum punishment offered is nowhere close to bringing justice to an heinous act like rape. The couple is prescribed counselling, police protection for the household. If the husband fails to change, he may invite a sentence of up to 7 years- which is extremely rare and has almost never come to that. The cruelty clauses of section 498A of Indian Penal Code. also cover physical and mental harassment. But the punishment is fine and a maximum of three years before the husband walks free.



Hence, if the wife wants to protect herself, she  has no option but to take matters into her own hands and file for divorce, and suffer through its social ramifications.



Kiran Bedi says that is inadequate. “She (the wife) wants to see her husband punished, and finds no avenue for that. Instead it is she who struggles and suffers most if she has children, no financial resources and is without family support. Victims remain victims. They either give in, or give up.”



Bedi runs a Foundation for family counselling for the last 25 years. It isn’t unusual for our nation to look up to her as a champion for women’s rights, as she has been vocal about various issues in the past. Whether she turns this stance into an aggressive and successful lobby, remains to be seen.



Image Courtesy: The Hindu