Recently, the Minister of Women and Child welfare Maneka Gandhi faced flak after she said that the government would not criminalise marital rape because of various factors like “level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament etc.,” noted a Firstpost report
Just days after her remark, UNDP chief Helen Clark said that the issue is not one of culture, but of consent. Further, she added that if India failed to criminalise marital rape, it would be flouting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) it has adopted, according to an interview with The Hindu
While she had nothing to say about Maneka Gandhi, she did assert that each country must look at its laws in light of the SDGs and whether or not these laws are progressive or regressive towards women, she told The Hindu.
In the interview with The Hindu, the UNDP chief raised a valid point when she said that most countries view marital rape and other acts of domestic violence as 'no business of theirs'. She emphasized on how issues of domestic violence and marital rape is never something that is ‘within the family’ and reiterated the gravity of criminal offence committed when a woman is assaulted in any way at home.
To amend or not to amend
The Hindu report further notes that in April 2015, the government had said that there was no proposal to amend to section 375 of the IPC, which excludes “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife” as long as the wife is over age of 15. The then Minister of Women and Child welfare Haribhai Chaudhury had said that the government had rejected the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s suggestion to amend the law.
However, in September 2015 India agreed to 17 SDGs by 2030, one of which includes a target of eliminating ‘all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres’. The UN believes that if India is to keep the promise, India must criminalise marital rape.
Clark said that she doesn’t question the commitment of the PM, but it is imperative to make it a goal. She further added “It’s pretty clear in the circles I move in at the UN that rape is rape. The issue is the consent of the women, and if it isn’t there, it is rape.”