What is marital rape?
Marital rape refers to sexual intercourse between a husband and wife without the
wife's consent. It is a form of violence against women that is often ignored or
trivialized due to the belief that marriage implies the consent of the wife to
sexual activity with her husband.
It can have long-lasting physical and psychological consequences for the
survivor, including trauma, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Marital rape is recognized as a form of violence against women and a human
rights violation by many international human rights organizations. However, it
is still not criminalized in many countries, including some that have laws
criminalizing rape in other contexts.
The Hindu Marriage Act, of 1955, does not specifically recognize the concept of
marital rape. The act does not provide any legal protection to women who are
subjected to sexual violence by their husbands." Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage
Act deals with the restitution of conjugal rights.
However, this provision has been criticized for perpetuating patriarchal norms
and violating the fundamental right to privacy and personal liberty of the
spouse who has left the matrimonial home." Section 13 of the act deals with
divorce, and it provides several grounds for divorce, including cruelty,
adultery, and desertion. However, the act does not include marital rape as a
ground for divorce.
In recent years, there have been several attempts to introduce legal reforms to
recognize marital rape as a criminal offense and provide legal protection to
women who are subjected to sexual violence by their husbands. However, these
efforts have faced opposition from some quarters, citing cultural and
In 2016, the Women and Child Development minister Maneka Gandhi, in her written
reply, said that the concept of marital rape cannot be applied in India due to
various factors like level of education or illiteracy, poverty, myriad social
customs and values, religious beliefs, and the mindset of the society to treat
marriage as a sacrament.
How Marital Rape Intersects with Gender Inequality
Marital rape is a manifestation of gender inequality and reflects the unequal
power dynamics between men and women in society.
Firstly, marital rape is a manifestation of the power dynamic between men and
women within a marriage. Historically, women have been viewed as the property of
men, and marriage has been seen as a transfer of ownership from a woman's father
to her husband. This belief has led to the notion that a man has the right to
engage in sexual activities with his wife, regardless of her consent. Such a
belief reinforces gender inequality, as it reinforces the idea that men have the
right to dominate women, both sexually and otherwise.
For example, in some countries, marriage is considered a contract, which gives
men the right to have sexual intercourse with their wives without their consent.
In such cases, the law is designed to protect men's rights rather than women's
rights, perpetuating gender inequality.
Secondly, gender inequality often makes it difficult for women to seek legal
recourse when they experience marital rape. Due to social and cultural norms,
women may not speak out against their husbands. Furthermore, the legal system
may not recognize marital rape as a crime, making it challenging for women to
Thirdly, gender inequality in terms of economic and social power often makes it
challenging for women to leave abusive marriages, including those involving
marital rape. In many cases, women may be financially dependent on their
husbands and may not have the means to leave the marriage.
Furthermore, social norms may make it difficult for women to leave their
marriages, as divorce may be stigmatized in their communities. Finally, marital
rape is a manifestation of gender inequality, which perpetuates the power
imbalance between men and women in relationships and needs to be addressed.
Looking forward into Feminist Perspective:
The feminist perspective on marital rape is centered around the idea that sexual
violence within marriage is a form of gender-based violence that perpetuates the
power imbalance between men and women. From a feminist perspective, women should
have control over their own bodies and have the right to choose when and with
whom they engage in sexual activities.
In contrast, the Indian situation is complex, as the issue of marital rape is
still largely ignored and stigmatized in the country. India's patriarchal
society has long ignored the issue of sexual violence within marriage, and there
is a lack of legal protection for women who experience marital rape. India's
legal system does not recognize marital rape as a criminal offense, and there
are no laws in place to protect women from it.
Furthermore, cultural and social norms in India often place a significant burden
on women to maintain the sanctity of marriage, even at the cost of their own
well-being. Women who speak out against their husbands may be ostracized and
face social stigma, making it challenging for them to seek legal and social
However, there is a growing feminist movement in India that is challenging the
cultural and legal norms that perpetuate gender inequality and violence against
women, including marital rape. Feminist organizations in India have been working
to raise awareness about the issue of marital rape and to advocate for legal and
social protections for women who experience it. Some examples of feminist
movements and organizations in India that are working to address the issue of
The Pinjra Tod movement, a student-led feminist collective that began in Delhi
in 2015, aims to challenge the patriarchal norms that limit women's freedom and
mobility, both inside and outside of educational institutions. The group has
been active in protesting against sexual harassment and violence, including
marital rape; the "One Billion Rising
" Campaign is a global movement that
aims to end violence against women and girls; the "Majlis Legal Centre
is a feminist legal aid and advocacy organisation based in Mumbai. The
organisation provides legal support to women who have experienced violence and
discrimination, including marital rape. The Majlis Legal Centre has been
actively involved in advocating for legal reform to recognise marital rape as a
criminal offence in India.
The Other Facet:
There are several views against the criminalization of marital rape in India,
and they are based on cultural, legal, and social factors. Those who oppose the
criminalization of marital rape argue that it is a private matter, the law could
be misused, the concept of marital rape goes against Indian culture and values,
it is difficult to prove, and existing laws related to domestic violence are
sufficient. Some people believe that what happens within a marriage is private,
and the government should not intervene in such matters. They view marriage as a
sacred institution that should be free from government interference.
Secondly, some opponents argue that the law could be misused by women to falsely
accuse their husbands of rape for personal gain, such as gaining leverage in
divorce or custody battles. They view this as a potential risk, especially in a
society where false allegations against men are not uncommon. They fear that
criminalising marital rape would be used as a tool to falsely accuse men,
leading to unwarranted legal action and punishment.
Thirdly, some opponents argue that it is difficult to prove marital rape because
there is no physical evidence and the crime often happens behind closed doors.
They believe that criminalising marital rape would create unnecessary legal
They argue that the legal system should focus on crimes that are easier to prove
and leave the private sphere untouched. Finally, some people argue that existing
laws related to domestic violence are sufficient to protect women from abuse,
including sexual abuse. They believe that these laws are comprehensive and
cover all aspects of domestic violence.
Marital rape is a serious issue that requires legal and social attention in
India. The prevalence of marital rape in India highlights the need to challenge
traditional gender roles and promote gender equality. This issue in India
requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of gender
inequality and promotes the rights of women. By challenging cultural and legal
norms that perpetuate gender inequality, India can take an important step
towards promoting gender equality and ending sexual violence within marriages.
Feminist perspectives have been instrumental in raising awareness about the
issue of marital rape and advocating for legal reforms to criminalize it.
However, there is still a long way to go in terms of changing cultural and
social norms that perpetuate gender inequality and accept marital rape as a
In conclusion, the issue of marital rape intersects with gender inequality and
feminism, and addressing it requires a comprehensive approach that challenges
patriarchal structures and promotes gender equality. By working towards this
goal, we can create a society where women are safe, empowered, and treated with
dignity and respect.
- Raveena Rao Kallakuru & Pradyumna Soni , Criminalisation Of Marital Rape
Understanding Its Constitutional, Cultural And Legal Impact (2018).
- Mridull Thaplu, Marital Rape: - Need For Its Criminalisation In India ,