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Nagendar Sharma Nagendar Sharma, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 06, 2013
The government’s age-old reluctance to declare marital rape as a criminal offence is on the radar of the Justice JS Verma committee, set up for providing sharper teeth to anti-rape laws.

The step was taken in the aftermath of a ghastly gangrape in Delhi last month. The jurists’ panel, headed by Justice Verma, a former CJI, is learnt to be examining this aspect after taking cognisance of a large number of demands from women organisations that sexual assault by spouses on married women be punished.

At present, marital rape is viewed as an exception to the offence of rape in the IPC. Section 375 of the Code, which describes rape as an offence, excludes “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife from the offence — provided that the wife is not under 15 years of age”.

The government’s proposed criminal laws (amendment) bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha last month has left out this critical issue untouched once again.

The Law Commission had recommended in 1971 that marital rape be criminalised, but the then governments did not pay heed. However, in a surprising move nine years later, the commission reversed its stand completely.

“Representatives of an NGO Sakshi argued that where a husband causes some physical injury to his wife, there is no reason why a concession should be made in the matter of offence of rape/sexual assault where the wife happens to be above 15/16 years. We are not satisfied with this, it may amount to excessive interference with the marital relationship,” it said.

Currently, women are forced to turn to the anti-dowry and protection of domestic violence laws to deal with instances of sexual assault.