Marital Rape in India

First published in Women Under Siege Project.


‘I was like his sex slave and not his wife’: An Indian woman tries to criminalize marital rape

May 29, 2015

In India, it is legal to rape your wife. And as of last month, when a government minister explained why he thought the issue can’t be remedied in his country, marital rape is back in the news.

On April 29, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, minister of state for home affairs, said in a written statement: “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, e.g., level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc.”

The media widely covered Chaudhary’s statement, and reporters and rights activists roundly condemned it.

As of April 2011, India was one of 127 countries—including China and Saudi Arabia—that had still not criminalized marital rape, according to a 2015 UN report. Only 52 states in the world had outlawed it, the report said. Thousands of women in India live under this lack of regulation, unable to speak up and unable to seek justice.

I spoke to a 27-year-old woman last week, who, after being abused, beaten, and raped by her husband in their first year of marriage, petitioned the courts to change the archaic law.

In India, where it is legal to rape your wife, one woman is trying to change the law.

“They say that the institution of marriage is sacred and that family life will be disturbed if a husband/wife relationship is questioned. But I want to know that if a woman is tortured under the bondage of marriage, will that not affect the family structure?

“Every night was a nightmare. I used to get jitters before going into my room at night. I would dread the thought of what was awaiting me. What happened in our bedroom every night was not what normally happens between a husband and wife. I felt like he had bought me. I was treated like a sex slave, like a sex toy. He would insert things inside me, slap me, and bite me. I had bite marks all over my breasts. He was like an animal. Even during my mensuration, he wouldn’t spare me.”

A similar brutal act perpetrated on a woman by a man other than her husband under Section 376 of the Indian penal code, which provides punishment for rape, would be punishable by between seven years and life in prison. But an exception inSection 375 of the code states: “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

“It was the 14th of February 2014, and it was his birthday. I had baked a cake. What he did to me that night is a disgrace to the institution of marriage. He hit me 17 to 18 times with a box and with a [flashlight], after which he inserted [the flashlight] into my vagina. I started bleeding but instead of taking me to the hospital he took me to my in-laws’ house and locked me up until late evening. When the bleeding didn’t stop, my in-laws took me to the hospital. I was in a semi-conscious state and had to be taken in an ambulance. My legs and my entire body had swollen up. I was bleeding profusely. I bled for 60 long days.

“The torture is not just limited to that one incident. My life changed completely after that day. I was thrown out of my house within 10 days. My husband told the landlord that he had nothing to do with me and that I should leave. I also lost my job of working as a human resources executive in a multi-national company because I wasn’t able to work. My manager told me to keep my personal life aside and work, but I wasn’t in a position to ignore my personal life.”

After almost a year of trying to get justice in lower courts, the woman—who is not being identified because Indian law forbids revealing the identity of sexual assault victims—with the help of lawyers from the New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), a collective of lawyers and human rights activists, approached the Supreme Court of India in February, petitioning to declare marital rape a criminal offense. But the apex court said it wasn’t possible to change a law for one person, and dismissed her plea.

“No one cares about you if you are a married woman. If a girl is raped, then at least people come out to support her and the rapist is treated as an outcast. But if your husband rapes you, no one says or does anything. You are on your own.

“This marriage is not about sitting together and mutually deciding things. The Delhi Police [Crime Against Women] unit would summon us together, but I was even scared to face him.

“I’m in a bad financial condition today since I took a loan for my marriage, sold my car, and also withdrew my [pension fund] to give a dowry to my husband’s family. I am almost penniless now. One night, I was on the [streets] because I didn’t have a house to go to. There have been days when I had no money for food and survived on oats and milk. No one comes to help you.”

A 2014 study by the Washington-based women’s rights and anti-poverty organization the International Center for Research on Women highlighted some incredible numbers. Nearly a fourth of the male survey respondents in India reported perpetrating sexualized violence at some point, a majority of them against an intimate partner—a girlfriend or a wife.

“I’m not angry, but I’m sad. I’m sad at the condition of the women in my country who face this, day after day, night after night. If, as an educated and independent woman, I’m struggling for justice, think about the many women who endure the pain and torture in silence every day. Will there never be a law that upholds their rights?”

The woman continues to fight her case in a lower court in the National Capital Region. Her complaint has been registered under Section 498 A of the Indian penal code,  under which cruelty in the form of physical and mental harassment by a husband or family is punishable with up to three years in prison, and under the Domestic Violence Act 2005, which does not allow for criminal charges to be filed against a husband. Her lawyers at HRLN have decided to go back to the Supreme Court with new litigation, which will involve many women’s rights organizations as well as countrywide data on marital rape. But still, no matter what, no change in the law will mean justice for her, as the law is never retroactive.

“I don’t understand the law. I’m a layman. All I want to know is: Don’t married women have any right to approach the legal system? Are they only meant to suffer, commit suicide or die?”


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