By Preetha Nair
Marital rape is condemnable as is violence against women in any form, said Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi. Her view assumes significance as it runs contrary to the government’s position that charge of marital rape was untenable in India due to the nature of the society and its beliefs and mindsets.
Gandhi said that marital rape is about a man’s need to assert his power on a woman. “My opinion is that violence against women shouldn’t be limited to violence by strangers. Very often a marital rape is not always about a man’s need for sex; it is only about his need for power and subjugation. In such case, it should be treated with seriousness,” Gandhi said in the course of an interview.
The government’s stand on marital rape sparked a row recently as it held that this cannot be treated as a criminal offence as marriage is seen as a :”sacrament” between husband and wiife in India.
Minister of State for Home Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary had told parliament that there is no proposal to bring any amendment to the law for criminalizing marital rape. “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context owing to various factors, e.g. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat marriage as a sacrament, etc,” he said.
Contradicting the argument, many activists and champions of women’s rights, as well voices in the opposition ranks, have denounced the government stand as retrograde, with many pointing out that the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recommended to India that marital rape be criminalised. The Justice J.S. Verma committee also recommended the criminalisation of marital rape. According to United Nations Population Fund, 75 percent of married women in India were subjected to marital rape.
This is not the first time Gandhi has voiced her difference with the decisions of her government. In March, Gandhi had come out with her opposition to the proposed amendments to the Anti-Dowry Act. It has been reported that the home ministry was mulling amendments to the Act to check the spurt in the fake cases of harassment and misuse of the law. Gandhi was quoted as saying that the legislation should not be changed as it was women-friendly.
In another dissenting note, Gandhi’s recently wrote a letter to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley protesting the slashing of 50 percent allocation to her ministry’s budget for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme. However, Gandhi said that the finance ministry has now assured her that the funds won’t be cut. “I got an assurance from the finance ministry that the funds for ICDS would not be cut,” she added.