An Indian woman accused her husband of forcing her to have ‘unnatural sex.’ A judge said that’s not a crime in marriage

Mon May 6, 2024

A woman’s allegation that her husband had “unnatural sex” was dismissed by an Indian judge since it is permissible for a husband to coerce his wife into having sex.

The decision, rendered last week by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, highlights an Indian legal loophole that exempts married couples who have a wife over the age of 18 from criminal prosecution for rape.

For years, activists have been working to amend the law, but they claim they are up against conservatives who believe that government intervention could ruin India’s marriage customs.

A legal challenge against the statute has been making its way through the nation’s courts; in 2022, the Delhi High Court handed down a divided decision on the matter, which led attorneys to submit an appeal with the Supreme Court of the nation, which is currently awaiting hearing.

The woman claimed police her husband visited her home in 2019, not long after they were married, and engaged in “unnatural sex,” as defined under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, according to the Madhya Pradesh High Court judgment.

Before the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in 2018, the offense, which includes non-consensual “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal,” was used to punish same-sex couples who had consensual sex.

The woman said in court records that the conduct had occurred “on multiple occasions” and that her husband had threatened to file for divorce if she disclosed it to anybody. The court heard that after telling her mother, she eventually came forward and that mother pushed her to make a lawsuit in 2022.

In court, the husband contested his wife’s lawsuit, arguing that since they are married, any “unnatural sex” that occurred between them was not illegal.

In delivering his ruling, Justice Gurpal Singh Ahluwalia cited the Indian marital rape exception, a holdover from British colonial rule that persists more than 70 years after independence and does not criminalize a man forcing sex on his spouse.

“The wife’s consent becomes irrelevant when a rape involves the insertion of a penis in a woman’s mouth, urethra, or anus, and if the act is performed with his wife and she is not less than fifteen years old. Thus far, marital rape has not been acknowledged, the judge stated.

In a historic ruling in 2017, India’s Supreme Court raised the age of marital consent from 15 to 18.

According to the court judgment, the woman also claimed that her in-laws had harassed her physically and psychologically “because the dowry demand was not fulfilled.” There is an ongoing trial.

Ahluwalia’s comments have sparked debate on how women are treated in India, where they are still vulnerable to discrimination and abuse in a country with a strong patriarchal culture.

Although the 1.4 billion-person largest democracy in the world has made great progress in passing legislation to better protect women, advocates and attorneys claim that because of its unwillingness to make marital rape a crime, women are not adequately protected.

One of the proponents pushing to outlaw rape within marriage, lawyer Indira Jaising, stated that “many women will benefit” if the exception is overturned.

She demanded that the courts take immediate action to resolve the case.

“The crime remained undetectable. These women are stuck here today,” the woman remarked. “Moving the case along quickly will convey to everyone the importance of violence against women.”

In the Government of India’s 2019–2021 National Family Health Survey, more than 100,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49 were polled. Of them, 17.6% stated they couldn’t tell their husbands no when they didn’t want sex, and 11% said it was okay for their husbands to hit or beat their wives if they refused.

In India, women who accuse their husbands of rape have a few legal options at their disposal.

For instance, they may file charges under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with sexual assault other than rape, or Section 498A, which deals with domestic abuse, in order to obtain a restraining order under civil law.

Lawyer Karuna Nundy previously told CNN that these regulations are ambiguous and that judges may use them to impose prison sentences for sexual assault in situations when a married woman has accused rape, though many do not.

According to a 2022 study, many married women experience the same lack of response when they attempt to register a police complaint.

According to the study, which looked at data from three public hospitals in Mumbai between 2008 and 2017, out of 1,664 rape survivors, no police reports of rape were made. Ten of those women claimed to have been raped by a former spouse or partner, and at least eighteen of those women reported marital rape to the police.

According to the article, four women were informed by the police that there was nothing they could do because marital rape was not a crime.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top