The government’s stand on Thursday that the concept of marital rape as understood internationally cannot be applied in the Indian context is unfortunate.
Union minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi’s logic that illiteracy, poverty, social customs and religious belief prevent criminalizing it is fundamentally flawed.
Laws cannot always follow the path of least resistance; they must, when traditional norms and ground realities are contrary to fundamental rights and the core tenets of a democratic society, set a higher bar.
The right of a woman not to be subjected to sexual assault is one of those rights; marriage should not make the right negotiable. By these standards, reforming any number of retrograde social practices—for instance, those practised by the khap panchayats that had elicited much public and political outrage a few years ago—and traditional societal structures that perpetuate inequality should be verboten.
The government must rethink its stance.