The Union women and child development (WCD) ministry has said marital rape should be treated seriously, a nuanced shift from an earlier controversial stand in Parliament that such concepts couldn’t be “suitably applied” in India due to religious beliefs and social customs.
The ministry has written to the Rajya Sabha secretariat to amend the government’s reply in the House last month, stating the Indian Penal Code has provisions to deal with cruelty against women and “marital rape should be treated seriously”.
In a written reply to an unstarred question on March 10, WCD minister Maneka Gandhi had stated, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors such as level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament.”
The statement triggered international uproar with Gandhi facing flak from women’s groups, who said the BJP leader insulted thousands of victims of marital rape.
The response also baffled many as Gandhi had earlier described marital rape as “violence against women” and maintained that “it should be treated with seriousness”.
So, how did the goof-up happen? Following an explanation sought by Gandhi, it emerged that oversight by officials led to the fiasco.
Officials described the WCD ministry’s March 10 response as a “goof-up” by a junior official.
“During a Parliament session, officers are burdened with preparing replies to over a dozen questions every day. It is quite possible that nobody noticed the mistake,” a ministry official said.
Sources said a junior official “cut pasted” the answer from a similar reply that minister of state for home Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary gave on marital rape in the Rajya Sabha last April.
About half-a-dozen- senior officials in the ministry who are supposed to go through the replies to un-starred questions did not detect the error either. And as the answer was laid on the floor of the House, it skipped the WCD minister’s eyes too.
But the latest clarification is unlikely to settle the debate around marital rape as the government’s stand remains ambiguous.
In 2013, the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs observed that if the marital rape was brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress.
The home ministry has now requested the law commission to deliberate upon the matter during the course of its comprehensive review of criminal justice system.