The Supreme Court on Wednesday declared that marital rape was not a penal office and reinforced the Parliament’s view. According to a bench of justices MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta, “Parliament has extensively debated the issue of marital rape and considered that it was not an offence of rape. Therefore, it cannot be considered as a criminal offence.” However, it added that marriage of a girl below the age of 15 years was illegal.

But the SC’s statement has not gone down well with many women activists in the country who took to social media to express their outrage. Activist Malavika Sharma says, “The legal age of marriage for girls in India is 18 years, but as a nation we have not been able to stop child marriage. The only thing which was a deterrent to this was having sex with underage girls could be deemed rape. But now that the SC has ruled that 15 years and above, sex in the marital home shall not be considered rape breaks the teeth to the law of age on marriage as 18 years. The fear of rape charges was the only thing which stopped men from consummating their marriages. We now have that fear also removed!”

The SC was reiterating Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which defines the offence of rape. This section has an exception clause which states that intercourse or sexual act by a man with his wife, above the age of 15 years, is not a rape. There are reportedly 23 million child marriages in India and the Centre has stated that the exception in the rape law was to protect to the institution of marriage.

States author Sangita Nambiar, “I think it’s a terrible decision. Firstly, for women everywhere in India. To deny that forced sex in a marriage is not rape is in itself appalling and demeaning. I know of at least two women who got raped while pregnant against doctor’s orders. And of husbands forcing themselves whether she’s ready or not. This is a reality. And to treat sex like it’s a right of a husband no matter what seems so feudalistic.”

Women term rape as the most heinous violence against women whether as a standalone crime or in marriage. In fact, the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey found that most common source of violence for married women were their spouses. Bhavani Giddu, who specialises in policy advocacy, also tweeted out, “Marital rape is a sickening form of violence against women. If SC doesn’t recognise it then there’s no hope in hell for women!!”

Some do feel that the SC judgement comes with a lot of forethought but it doesn’t do enough to protect the girl child. “The fact that girls aged 15 to 18 are in some grey zone is heart- wrenching. I get that the ruling has been made with great thought and reasoning and mighty logic of the Apex Court, but it seems to be skewed,” feels Sangita Nambiar.
Concludes Malavika, “Where does the young girl find any form of self-protection? We are further weakening systems of protection of the girl child.”

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