Recognize rape irrespective of relationship between victim and accused

Written By Unknown on Sabtu, 02 Februari 2013 | 22.23

MUMBAI: An ordinance cleared by the Union Cabinet remains silent on criminal recognition to marital rape. The omission has drawn sharp criticism from women's rights groups, even as it has yet again ignited the debate over rape within the institution of a marriage.

It is time that we perhaps moved on from men versus women paradigms when it comes to addressing societal issues like marital rape and abuse. Much of such forced abuse occurs behind closed doors and is difficult to prove. As the three-member committee set up under the chairmanship of Justice J S Verma rightly pointed out, rape is rape irrespective of the relationship of an accused to the victim.

The committee clearly suggested that "the exception for marital rape be removed". It went further to state that "the law ought to specify that a marital or other relationship between the perpetrator or victim is not a valid defence against the crimes of rape or sexual violation; The relationship between the accused and the complainant is not relevant to the inquiry into whether the complainant consented to the sexual activity" and "The fact that the accused and victim are married or in another intimate relationship may not be regarded as a mitigating factor justifying lower sentences for rape."

The committee report cited similar provisions in other countries. It pointed out for instance, that the provisions which denied criminal liability for marital rape in Canada were repealed in 1983; South Africa criminalized marital rape a decade later. The United Nations lists 104 countries as recognizing marital rape.

Many critics of recognition to marital rape believe such clauses will be misused by wives or their families to settle scores when relationships turn awry. They use as an example the the inclusion of section 498A to the Indian Penal Code which made "cruelty by husband or relatives of husband" as a cognizable offence under the law and cite false cases lodged against men and their families.

What then is the way forward? It might be worthwhile for the government to examine the scale of misuse of existing pro-women legislations rather than shying away from introducing new protective measures, all together. There could be ways to incorporate punishment for false cases, as well. This of course would demand a just and non-corrupt police and judicial system, which remains a far-fetched reality.

There are many who also believe the existing clauses in domestic violence legislation are itself sufficient enough to deal with sexual abuse within marriage, but rue that the law isn't effectively implemented.

The Justice Verma committee rightly points out that "changes in the law therefore need to be accompanied by widespread measures raising awareness of women's rights to autonomy and physical integrity" as well as "accompanied by changes in the attitudes of prosecutors, police officers and those in society more generally." After all, marital rape in countries like South Africa continues to be poorly reported and convicted, despite the existence of legal protection.

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