In a significant legal development, the Allahabad High Court has declared that marital rape cannot be classified as a criminal offense under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) if the wife is over 18 years of age. This precedent-setting statement emerged during the acquittal of a husband accused of an ‘unnatural offense’ against his wife.
Justice Ram Manohar Narayan Mishra’s bench, in its ruling, emphasised the absence of an equivalent provision to Section 377 IPC in the anticipated Bhartiya Nyay Sanhita, slated to replace the existing Indian Penal Code. The High Court underscored that, at present, there is no legal sanction for marital rape if the wife is 18 years or older, pending a decision from the highest court.
The court acknowledged that petitions advocating the criminalisation of marital rape are awaiting consideration by the Supreme Court. Until the apex court makes a decision, there is no legal basis for criminalising marital rape if the wife is 18 years or older.
In the case under consideration, the complainant alleged that her marriage was characterised by an abusive relationship, citing verbal and physical abuse, coercion, and acts of sodomy by her husband. The husband had been previously convicted under sections 323, 498-A, and 377 of the IPC in the lower court.
Upon reaching the High Court, the accused was acquitted of the charges under section 377 of the IPC. Instead, the court found him guilty under sections of cruelty by the husband or relatives of the husband (498-A) and voluntarily causing hurt (IPC 323). The court noted that the medical evidence did not substantiate the allegations of unnatural sex.
This ruling comes amid the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider pleas advocating the criminalisation of marital rape. The central government had expressed concerns to the apex court, citing potential “social ramifications” associated with such criminalisation.