A New Delhi court ruled this week that a man can’t be convicted of raping his wife because India’s rape laws do not apply to married couples.
Women’s rights activists say the ruling effectively strips women of the right to refuse sex with their husbands.
The court heard a case in which a woman, who was not identified, said her marriage was illegal and was conducted against her will after the man sedated her. She signed a marriage certificate in Ghaziabad, Uttah Prradesh, last March while intoxicated. She says she was raped, then the man, identified only as Vikash, fled.
Vikash denied forcing the woman into marriage and said the sex was consensual.
Judge Virender Bhat said there was “no clinching or convincing evidence” that Vikash drugged her and forced her into marriage, but even if Vikash had raped her it wouldn’t be a crime under Indian law.
"The prosecutrix (the wife) and the accused (Vikash) being legally wedded husband and wife, and the prosecutrix being major, the sexual intercourse between the two, even if forcible, is not rape and no culpability can be fastened upon the accused," the court ruled.
"Under Indian law, what the judge has said is correct and that is horrifying,” Nilanjana Roy, a leading author and women’s rights activist, told The Telegraph. “It’s easier for a woman to file a case for a black eye. If a woman is being repeatedly raped in a marriage and he does not use extreme violence, she has no recourse in law, there is nothing she can do.”
Ranjana Kumari, an activist who lobbied members of parliament on the issue, said marriage in India isn't a partnership, it's ownership.
"Rape within marriage is not illegal in India which says everything about the position of women," Kumari said. "We are donated for marriage rather than enter it as a partner. The ownership is with the man and whatever he does after marriage is acceptable."
Bhat is renowned for victim-blaming statements regarding sexual assault. In an order he issued in October, he said that it’s unfair for young girls to engage in premarital sex and then pretend they were raped.
“Girls are morally and socially bound not to indulge in sexual intercourse before a proper marriage, and if they do so, it would be to their peril and they cannot be heard crying later that it was rape,” Bhat wrote in the judgment.