In most countries around the world, marital rape may be prosecuted (see box 11 on page 113 of this UN report). But in India, marital rape is not classified as a crime. Recently the Government of India filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in support of keeping things the way they are: criminalizing marital rape, the Government reasons, would “destabilize the institution of marriage, apart from being an easy tool for harassing husbands.”
Understanding the consequences of legally permitting marital rape requires, in part, understanding whether it is common or rare. As writers and experts have reacted to the Government’s statement this week, they have often cited one of the few population-level statistical studies of this question: “Reporting and incidence of violence against women in India,” by r.i.c.e.’s Aashish Gupta. Aashish summarizes:
Using data from the National Crime Records Bureau and the National Family Health Surveys, this article estimates, conservatively, the under-reporting of violence against women in India. I calculate under-reporting of sexual and physical violence, both for violence committed by “men other than survivor’s husband” and violence committed by husbands. In 2005, only about six of every hundred incidents of sexual violence committed by “men other than the survivor’s husband” are estimated to be reported to the police. Most incidents of sexual violence, however, were committed by husbands of the survivors: the number of women who experienced sexual violence by husbands was forty times the number of women who experienced sexual violence by non-intimate perpetrators. Less than 1% of the incidents of sexual violence by husbands were reported to the police. Similarly, only about 1% of the incidents of physical violence by other men, and 2% of the incidents of physical violence by husbands were reported. These striking findings shed further light on the presence of endemic violence against women in India, and reveal the extent of the obstacles confronted by women in reporting violence.
This research was originally discussed in 2015 in an op-ed in The Hindu by Aashish and Kanika Sharma. This week it has again been widely reported and discussed:
- “Statistically, Nearly All The Sexual Violence Indian Women Experience Is Within The Marriage” by Rukmini in the Huffington Post.
- “Government’s refusal to criminalize marital rape is unjust, inconsistent” by Roshan Kishore at Mint.
- “Indian government files legal papers to try to stop marital rape being outlawed” by Ben Kentish at the Independent.
Aashish’s research used India’s most recent Demographic and Health Survey for which data have been released. But those data are from 2005-2006. Sexual violence is yet one more topic on which badly needed understanding is obstructed by India’s enduring bipartisan opposition to what, in other comparable countries, counts as minimally adequate demographic data collection and transparent public release.