Indian moral and religious values do not permit marital rape to be labeled as a crime, a senior Indian government official said on Wednesday. While most countries have criminalized marital rape -- in which the perpetrator is the victim’s spouse -- it is not classified as a criminal offense under Indian laws.
“It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, the mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament,” Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, the Indian minister of state for home, said.
According to a 2011 study by the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based nonprofit, one in every five Indian men admitted to forcing their wives to have sex. The U.N. Population Fund, meanwhile, states that over two-thirds of married women in India between the ages of 15 and 49 have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex.
“I accept that the institution of marriage is an integral part of our social structure. Many people across many faiths hold it sacred. But it has not stopped us from bringing the anti-dowry law or domestic violence legislation,” Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, a member of parliament in India's upper house, reportedly said. “This is not against our culture. It is about protecting our women from violence and abuse.”
Chaudhary’s comments were made in response to a question over whether the government was planning to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to remove the exception of marital rape -- a recommendation recently made by the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
“The Law Commission of India … did not recommend criminalization of marital rape by amending the exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code and hence presently there is no proposal to bring any amendment to the IPC in this regard,” the government said in a statement released Wednesday.
In 2013, the Verma Committee, a three-member panel constituted in the aftermath of a gang rape incident in New Delhi in 2012, suggested amendments, including criminalizing marital rape, to India’s sexual assault laws. The suggestion was, however, rejected by the government.
“Several members felt that the marital rape has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage. … It was, therefore, felt that if the marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress,” a report compiled by a panel of lawmakers, submitted to parliament in 2013, argued.