Putting conjectures to an end, and sparking a myriad of debates that are here to last; the Supreme Court declared that marital rape cannot be declared a criminal offense if the wife is above 15 years of age. How long will the Supreme Court take to understand that sexual intercourse, without a woman’s consent, AT ANY AGE, is a beastly and heinous activity? And to begin with, why is a woman’s age even a deciding factor about whether an atrocious crime needs to be severely punished or not? Rape is rape, after all.
The issue here is Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code which defines the offense of rape. This clause of rape has an exception to it, something that should be labeled as ‘fatal’, for physical relations between a man and his wife, given that the wife is above 15 years of age, are not criminal according to this exception. What is more shocking is that a woman, between 15 to 17 years of age, has no protection for herself when subjected to marital rape and its related atrocities, when in fact, the woman is well below the legal age of marriage.
At the time of a verdict like this, women’s equality and safety is a far cry when women are not safe even inside the four walls of their domestic household. The news that the central government defended this exception by claiming that it ‘protects the institution of marriage’ is not at all shocking now.
There seem to arise two apparent issues when we talk about this judgment. The marriageable age of a girl in India is 18 years. As a matter of fact, any girl below this age is prohibited from getting married. Secondly, the simple concept of ‘consent’ rings no bells in the deaf ears of the SC.
Does this mean that the consent of a woman has no role to play? That a man can continue to exploit his wife and exploit her, both physically and consequently, emotionally; simply because they entered into the bond of matrimony? Going by The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, minors who were forced into marriage can void this within two years of attaining adulthood. This clearly means that, until that time, a 15-year-old will have to tolerate sexual intercourse and subject her body to great pain and suffering.
When a woman who is not 18 years of age is not considered mature enough to vote, how can the SC expect a 16-year-old to understand what consummation of a marriage actually is, let alone, give consent for it?