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Spotlight on marital rape

New Delhi, Jan. 7: The Centre is set to make marital rape a crime under the Indian Penal Code if a committee headed by a former Supreme Court chief justice accepts the suggestion that several civil society groups have come up with.

Sources said the Justice J.S. Verma committee, set up after the Delhi bus gang rape, had been flooded with proposals to include marital rape when the panel submits its recommendations on a new anti-rape law.

Under current IPC provisions, a husband can be charged with raping his wife only if she is below 16.

This is the first time in years that marital rape is being discussed at the central level. Rape laws in India — one of 30-odd countries that don’t recognise marital rape as an offence — date back to 1860 and have been amended only twice since, in 1983 and 2003.

Some of the other countries where marital rape is not an offence include Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, China, Lebanon, Sudan and Libya.

Women’s groups have also demanded that stalking and stripping be included along with marital rape as an offence under the penal code.

Sources said the suggestions, sent to the Verma committee as one set of proposals, came from groups representing women from diverse social and religious backgrounds. They included the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the All India Women’s Conference, the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, the National Federation of Indian Women, the Young Women’s Christian Association of India and the Muslim Women’s Forum.

One point these groups came up with was that because of lack of adequate laws, victims have at times been considered to have consented when they had merely been passive.

The groups said the definition of “consent” be widened to “unequivocal voluntary agreement by a person to engage in the sexual activity in question”, which, they suggested, would help differentiate between consent and passiveness.

Another proposal the Verma panel received was the new rape law should include oral penetration, anal penetration and insertion of a foreign object into a woman’s body.

The sources hinted these suggestions would be included in the final recommendations of the panel.

The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012, which had been cleared by the cabinet in July 2011, seeks to amend laws relating to sexual assault in the Indian Penal Code. It has proposed broadening Section 375 to include all forms of penetrative sexual assault, making the law gender neutral.