Legal Article

Recognition of Marital Rape in India: A Controversial and Evolving Issue

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow


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Published on: 1 Aug, 2023

Marital rape, a term that denotes the act of a spouse raping their partner within the confines of marriage, remains one of the most controversial and debated subjects in Indian legal and sociocultural spheres. Despite growing demands and international attention, India has yet to criminalize marital rape fully. Let’s delve deeper into the intricacies surrounding this contentious topic.

Historical Perspective

Historically, wives were considered the ‘property’ of their husbands in many societies. As such, husbands were often seen to have an unquestionable right to their wives’ bodies. India’s legal standpoint, rooted in colonial-era laws and traditional cultural norms, has struggled to evolve beyond this archaic and patriarchal view.

  1. Exception in Section 375, IPC: The Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with rape, contains an exception which states that sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape. This has been a significant point of contention.
  2. Protection for Minors: Marital rape of a girl child between the ages of 15 and 18 is prosecutable under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
  3. Domestic Violence Act, 2005: While the act does not criminalize marital rape, it recognizes it as a form of domestic violence, allowing women to obtain restraining orders against abusive husbands.

Why Has Marital Rape Not Been Recognized Yet?

  1. Sociocultural Norms: The sanctity of marriage is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. Many argue that criminalizing marital rape would destabilize the institution of marriage.
  2. State Arguments: The government has argued that criminalizing marital rape could be used as a tool by wives against their husbands, leading to potential misuse.
  3. Proof and Evidence: Demonstrating conclusive evidence in cases of marital rape is challenging, making it difficult to prosecute.

The Call for Change

  1. International Pressure: Many international bodies and human rights organizations have criticized India for its stance on marital rape, pressuring the country to align its laws with international standards.
  2. Rising Awareness: With increasing education and awareness, especially post the Nirbhaya case in 2012, there has been a significant public outcry demanding the recognition and criminalization of marital rape.
  3. Judicial Observations: While the Supreme Court of India has not explicitly recognized marital rape, it has made several observations hinting at the need to reassess this legal position.

The Road Ahead

While recognizing marital rape as a criminal offense remains a contentious issue, there’s an undeniable momentum pushing for change. It’s crucial that India’s legal system, societal attitudes, and cultural norms evolve to prioritize the autonomy, dignity, and safety of women within the sanctity of marriage.


The debate surrounding marital rape in India underscores the challenge of reconciling age-old traditions with modern human rights perspectives. While the path to legal recognition is filled with obstacles, it’s a necessary journey to ensure the safety and dignity of married women in India.

Tags: #MaritalRape #IndianLaw #GenderJustice #MarriageInIndia #WomenRights


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