Author: Shivang Dhingra, Student at IMS Unison University, Dehradun
This article analyzes the ongoing legal debates and developments surrounding the criminalization of marital rape in India. It discusses the marital rape exception in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which grants immunity to husbands raping wives over 18 years old. The article traces the historical origins of this exception and its persistence despite reform efforts. It examines the Delhi High Court’s landmark split verdict in 2022 challenging the constitutionality of the marital rape exception, intensifying national debates on legalizing marital rape. The study highlights the contradictions between the exception and other laws recognizing sexual violence in marriage. It argues for the imperative need to criminalize marital rape by removing the legal anomaly to protect women’s rights to dignity, autonomy and bodily integrity within marriages. However, concerns over misuse and preserving marital institutions prevail. The analysis also points out India’s divergence from evolving global consensus on criminalizing marital rape despite its human rights commitments. The article recapitulates key findings and reiterates the urgent need for reform towards gender-just laws prioritizing consent. It suggests the Supreme Court verdict could catalyze progress but overturning risks stagnancy. The conclusion recommends a multidimensional approach spanning legal, social, policy and institutional spheres to transform the understanding of women’s sexual agency within marriage in India.
Keywords: Marital Rape, Marital Rape Exception, Section 375 IPC, Marital Rape Criminalization, Delhi High Court Verdict, Women’s Rights, Sexual Consent.