Why does Indian law protect men who rape their wives?


Next month, the Supreme Court will begin hearing a batch of petitions that seek to have the “marital rape exception” struck out of Indian law. The exception, found in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with rape, states that a man cannot be charged with the crime of raping his wife.

Activists have fought long and hard to have this antiquated law removed from Indian law books. And the battle has not been merely one of principle: according to data from one NGO, which runs a programme to protect women against violence, of nearly 4,000 women who approached the organisation between April 2022 and March 2023, nearly 20% reported being raped by their husbands.

Those who oppose striking down the law claim that doing so will destroy the institution of marriage. But as Nolina Minj found, reporting for Common Ground, activists and others have conclusively refuted this argument, and every other made in favour of retaining the law.

“It was disconcerting to learn about how sexual violence is rampant yet underreported in cases of domestic violence,” Minj said.

As she writes in this week’s story, there is substantial evidence from experts that the large majority of women who face domestic violence do not seek to put their husbands behind bars. “Yet the misogynist misconception that striking down the marital rape exception will lead to a rise in false cases persists,” she said. “I find the disconnect between on ground conditions and people's perceptions quite baffling.”

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Ajay Krishnan
Senior Editor

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