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‘Rape is rape, be it by husband’: Karnataka HC on marital rape

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Guwahati:  In a ruling that could help shape the debate on marital rape, the Karnataka High Court Wednesday refused to quash rape charges filed by a wife against her husband, defying the exception in law, and, instead, called on lawmakers to hear the “voices of silence.”

“A man is a man; an act is an act; rape is a rape, be it performed by a man the ‘husband’ on the woman ‘wife’,” a single-judge bench of Justice M Nagaprasanna of the Karnataka High Court said. The “age-old…regressive” thought that “husbands are the rulers of their wives, their body, mind and soul should be effaced,” the court said.

While the court did not explicitly strike down the marital rape exception, it forced the married man to face trial for rape charges brought by his wife. The husband had moved the High Court after a trial court took cognisance of the offence under Section 376 (rape).

IPC Section 375 that defines rape carries a crucial exemption: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under eighteen years of age, is not rape.”

In 2018, a similar case was brought before the Gujarat High Court in which a married man sought quashing of the rape case against him filed by his wife. Although the HC quashed the FIR to remove the rape charges, it gave a lengthy reasoning on the need to criminalise marital rape.

The Constitutionality of the marital rape exception is currently under challenge before the Delhi and Gujarat High Courts.

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