Reimagining Marriage: Addressing Marital Rape

Author: Shruti Mistry, a student at Amity University Chhattisgarh


Marital rape, a contentious and sensitive issue, remains a significant lacuna in India’s criminal law system, contradicting constitutional provisions of equality and autonomy for women. Despite strides in legal and societal reforms, the absence of clear laws against marital rape perpetuates gender-based violence and violates fundamental human rights. This article underscores the necessity of legal reform to criminalize marital rape, challenging entrenched patriarchal practices and affirming the value of autonomy, consent, and the right to live free from violence, regardless of marital status.


Marital rape, characterized by non-consensual sexual acts within a marital relationship, intersects with law, human rights, and societal dynamics. The traditional legal stance, treating marital rape differently from other forms of sexual assault, reflects patriarchal norms and undermines gender equality and individual autonomy. The lack of explicit criminalization of marital rape in India raises concerns about violating fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Defining Marital Rape:

Marital rape, motivated by the desire to violate a woman’s right to self-determination, stems from power disparities entrenched in society. Legal systems historically upheld marital immunity, assuming consent within marriage and perpetuating gender-based violence. Despite international advancements, India’s legal framework retains exceptions for marital rape, reinforcing patriarchal norms and denying women autonomy over their bodies.

Legal Framework and International Conventions:

The legal position on marital rape varies globally, with some countries fully criminalizing it while others maintain exemptions or lack explicit laws. International conventions, such as CEDAW and DEVAW, advocate for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, including marital rape. However, cultural sensitivity and implementation gaps pose challenges to enforcing legal reforms.

Proposed Legal Reform in India:

India’s legal history reveals reluctance to criminalize marital rape, citing cultural and religious beliefs. While recommendations for legal reform have been made, parliamentary sessions have rejected criminalization, viewing marriage as a sacred institution. However, recent judicial decisions and shifts in government stance suggest evolving attitudes towards marital rape. Proposed reforms aim to challenge patriarchal norms and uphold women’s rights to equality and autonomy.

Case Laws:

  1. Joseph Shine v. Union of India: In this landmark case, the Indian Supreme Court abolished the criminal offense of adultery in 2018, challenging the patriarchal notion that women lose their legal identity after marriage. The court emphasized women’s autonomy and right to dignity, laying the groundwork for legal reform in cases of marital rape.
  2. RIT Foundation v. Union of India: In this case, filed in 2015 before the Delhi High Court, the issue of criminalizing marital rape was brought to light. Although the division bench delivered a split decision in 2022, with one judge supporting criminalization and the other dissenting, the case underscores the ongoing legal debate surrounding marital rape in India.
  3. X v. The Principal Secretary Health and Family Welfare Department: In this recent ruling, the Indian Supreme Court affirmed women’s right to safe abortions regardless of marital status. The court recognized the need to broaden definitions of rape to include marital rape, signalling a shift towards recognizing women’s autonomy and bodily integrity within marriage.


Criminalizing marital rape in India is a moral and legal imperative, essential for combating gender-based violence and advancing human rights. It reflects a commitment to justice, equality, and the protection of every individual’s autonomy and consent within marriage. Comprehensive legal changes, public awareness campaigns, survivor support programs, and ongoing advocacy efforts are necessary to ensure a safer, more equitable future for all citizens.

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