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A Far Reaching Verdict That Ends a Regressive Exception


Karnataka has recently pronounced an end to the marital rape exception in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code in a nuanced judgment.


GS-II: Indian Constitution—Historical Underpinnings, Evolution, Features, Amendments, Significant Provisions and Basic Structure.

Dimensions of the Article

  • Background of the Case
  • Earlier Judgments
  • Roots of the Principle
  • Way Forward

Background of the Case

  • Hrishikesh Sahoo vs. State of Karnataka Case
  • A woman had filed complaint of rape against her husband.
  • Police registered her complaint under Section 376 notwithstanding the marital rape exception.
  • Husband filed an application to get the charges under Section 376 dropped.
  • Karnataka High Court has refused to quash the charges.
  • Court held that a rape is a rape, if a man, being a husband is exempted for his acts of sexual assault, it would destroy a women’s Right to Equality.
  • Constitution recognizes and grants equal status to women, but the exemption to marital rape under Section 376 of IPC is discriminatory because a wife is treated as a subordinate to the husband.
  • Constitution recognizes marriage as an association of equals and does not in nay sense depict women as subordinates and guarantees fundamental rights under Articles 14,15, 19 and 21.
  • Exemption of the husband on committal of such assault cannot be so absolute that it becomes a license for commission of a crime.

Earlier Judgments

  • Independent Thought vs. Union of India – Supreme Court diluted and removed the exception to marital rape to a wife not below 15 years and made it 18 years.
  • Court said that a woman cannot be treated as an object and that all her rights are intact whether she is married or not.

Roots of the Principle

  • Exception to marital rape in law was introduced based on a dictum by Chief Justice Matthew Hale of Britain in 1736.
  • According to him in a marriage the woman had given herself up to her husband by mutual consent which is unbreakable contract and hence the man cannot be charged with rape upon a lawful wife.
  • This concept suggested that a woman surrenders her body to her husband which in the modern world has no grounds.
  • This principle has now been abolished.

Way Forward

Such judgments are testimony that our constitution is a living document. It evolves with the wants of time and development of the society. Courts have recognized the changing scenarios and have done away with several regressive laws. This perhaps is the beginning of a ‘New India’.

Source – The Hindu

December 2023