Marital Rape Statistics in India: The Alarming Reality According to Recent NFHS Data

Marital rape statistics in India: Delhi HC's split verdict of May 2022 heads to Supreme Court for a 21st March 2023 hearing.

India’s rape laws, particularly concerning the alarming marital rape statistics in India, have undergone significant changes, especially post the infamous 2012 Nirbhaya Case. This incident sparked massive public outrage, demanding more stringent rape laws. Consequently, in 2013, an amendment was welcomed that further changed the rape laws.

However, marital rape continues to remain a taboo term due to its legal treatment. Rape laws in India are governed under Section 375 of the IPC. Exception 2 of Section 375, however, does not recognise marital rape as a crime.

The Legal Battle Against Marital Rape in India

To change this, a petition to criminalize marital rape was filed by a nonprofit called the RIT Foundation, which sought to strike down Exception 2 of IPC Section 375. On January 2, 2022, the day-to-day hearings of the case began. On May 11, 2022, the Delhi High Court handed down a Split Verdict on Marital Rape. This petition has now been taken to the Supreme Court, listed for 21 March 2023.

“The husband can’t be made to suffer for no fault of his and be deprived of his natural urge to enjoy sexual happiness if the wife is unwilling to share the bed and discharge her duties,” said the Karnataka High Court in a judgment back in 2012, more so highlights the need of stringent laws on marital rape.

marital rape statistics in india

The original petition filed in Delhi High Court also included data from the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) that highlighted the cases of spousal sexual violence. NFHS-4 revealed that sexual violence goes hand in hand with physical violence in a spousal relationship. The act of physical violence, whether it is slapping, punching, pushing, etc. do not happen in isolation, rather, it happens as a consequence of the wife refusing to have sex. This highlights the amount of marital control a husband enjoys over his wife.

Marital Rape Cases: A Look into the Judicial Proceedings and Consequences

There have been many cases where a wife was gang-raped by her husband and his friends. However, the husband has been acquitted as rape charges cannot be pressed against him due to the exception. One such case is from Ahmedabad, where the wife pressed rape charges against her husband, however, the court dismissed the case stating the exception. The court further ruled that though there was a clear communication of refusal of consent, however, in a marriage, the consent becomes immaterial.

Furthermore, such cases, if processed at all are not considered rape, rather are processed under cruelty and the husband is not given the same punishment for rape as others. Section 376B of IPC provides a minimum of two years punishment for such an act, whereas general rape laws prescribe a minimum of ten years up to life imprisonment.

marital rape statistics in india

Marital Rape Statistics in India

According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2020 data, almost all rape offenders in India (95.6%) are people who are known to the victim. Out of 20,046 reported rape cases, 2,502 were committed by family members, but it is not clear whether these family members were married to the victim. The data also does not include the unreported cases.

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This is where the NFHS-4 data comes in that specifically provides the numbers for reported rape cases committed by the husbands. Among the ever-married women 83% of the women claimed their current husbands to be the perpetrators. While 9% of the women claimed their alleged perpetrators were their former husbands. This data, as cited in the petition by the amicus curiae of the case – Raj Shekhar Rao (mentioned again later in this piece) – has not been denied by the union.

marital rape statistics in india

The PIL further provides the information that 99% of the cases go unreported. Though the NFHS data shows a dip in reported cases, it is to be questioned if the cases have come down or were just not reported.

Spousal Sexual Violence

As mentioned, NFHS has revealed that sexual and physical violence goes hand in hand thus it records marital sexual violence under the umbrella of spousal violence. According to the report, physical violence is the most common type of spousal violence used to force wife into committing a sexual act. Though the report does account for the dip in the cases, it also highlights that women’s experiences stayed the same.

Among the reported cases, 45.4% of married women have experienced both physical and sexual violence, resulting in cuts, injuries, burns, broken bones, and teeth, etc.

NFHS data 2019-21

Persisting Issue of Spousal Sexual Violence: Insights from NFHS Data

The recent publication by NFHS reveals that spousal sexual violence is still relevant. 82% of married men were sexually violent to their current wives, as were 13.7% of former husbands.

​NFHS has published its data in 5 sets from 1992 to 2021 that too not in an organised manner. However, the data on spousal sexual violence, a critical component of marital rape statistics in India, has only been recorded from 2005.

The PIL has cited NFHS-4 to counter the argument of the Men’s Welfare Trust (MWT)- who have intervened in this petition against the criminalisation of marital rape, stating that it will lead to the lodgement of false cases.

The amicus of the case cited to state “that there will be a deluge of false cases against offending husbands does not appear to be correct. If the NFHS data is taken into consideration, it establishes that 9.9 out of 10 cases of sexual assault in India go unreported.

Prachi Nirwan, Defense Attorney at Delhi High Court for this story agreed that once a law is implemented, there will be cases of misuse. However, “that should not be the sole reason why you should strike down marital rape laws. [One should] come up with stringent measures in order to counter it,” she claims.

The amicus of this case (linked to above) also claims that the courts in India are fully equipped to deal with false cases. “Noticing oddities in certain cases and/or false complaints being lodged the legislature has not spurred them into removing this clause from the stature,” writes the amicus in the petition.

With the NFHS5 data highlighting the cases of spousal sexual violence, it is to see whether the Supreme Court will consider the recent data as it hears the petition on 21st March 2023.

Image source: YouTube

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About the Author

Ishita Roy

Ishita is based in Delhi and is a student of History and Journalism. She covers stories on law, gender and heritage. read more...

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