Joining the chorus of women’s groups in demanding an end to impunity for marital rape in India is United Nations Development Programme administrator Helen Clark.
In an interview with The Hindu’s Suhasini Haidar, Clark said criminalizing marital rape should be the first step towards ending violence against women.
Her remarks come days after union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi told Parliament: "It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education or illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament etc."
However, just a year ago, she appeared to hold different views. In June 2015, she spoke in favour of criminalizing marital rape, "My opinion is that violence against women shouldn't be limited to violence by strangers. Very often a marital rape is not always about a man's need for sex; it is only about his need for power and subjugation. In such case, it should be treated with seriousness," Gandhi said.
While several women’s groups have been demanding an end to impunity for married men who force their spouses into sex, India’s political establishment (the few politicians who’ve spoken on the subject) and other institutions are a study in diverse and bizarre opinions. Here’s a glimpse at what some politicians and institutions have said in the past:
A high profile lawyer, Meenakshi Lekhi’s views on women’s rights are often progressive. After all, she helped draft the women’s reservation bill. However, Lekhi, party spokesperson Shaina NC and MoS for Home Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary echoed Gandhi’s statements saying marital rape should be treated under the purview of domestic violence given the “Indian” context.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in April, 2015 had said, “I think this is a very disappointing reply by the government, what they are overlooking is that rape is not a matter of sex, it is a matter of violence. It is a matter of forced violence upon a woman which is equally condemnable if it happens within a marriage.”
In May last year, DMK MP Kanimozhi spoke in favour of criminalizing spousal rape saying, “Definitely we have changed our opinions and we have become more sensitive to women's issues these days, and I don't think there is any harm in re-looking laws and changing them and amending them to protect our women."
The Samajwadi Party deserves special mention here. Several members of the party, including party Mulayam Singh Yadav have made some of the worst and most regressive statements about sexual assault. While Yadav once said that “boys will be boys” and that “they make mistakes”, another leader made a bizarre distinction between consensual rape and forced rape.
National Commission for Women
National Commission for Women (NCW) member Rekha Sharma was critical of Gandhi’s stand. She said, “In the name of religious beliefs we can't let women suffer cruelty by their husbands. We made laws against animal sacrifices too. A rape is a rape whether done by husband or outsider and punishment must be same. If people are not educated, they will once law gets made.'' However, she said that the Commission would give its views if sought by the ministry.
In March 2000, Law Commission of India on its 172nd Report on Review of Rape Laws did not recommend criminalisation of marital rape.
The Supreme Court in a judgement in February, 2015 had rejected a plea seeking criminalization of marital rape, saying that the petitioner was making a personal case.
Justice Verma Committee
After the rape and death of Jyoti Singh, who was gang raped in Delhi in 2012, the Justice Verma committee, set up to look into crimes against women recommended that husbands should not be exempt under the law.