The Delhi High Court heard a slew of petitions on Wednesday contesting an exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which exempts a man’s violent sexual intercourse with his own wife from the accusation of rape if the wife is over the age of 15.

Senior Advocate Rajshekhar Rao briefed a bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher and Justice C Hari Shankar as an amicus curiae in the case as follows: “When a lady is assaulted by a stranger, she is better off as a matter of law. When a loved one assaults her, however, she is not allowed to label the act rape, according to the law.”

While the courts have frequently emphasised that rape dehumanises a woman’s basic existence, Rao contends that the question that must be addressed is whether the Court should sit by and watch a provision that aids in the daily dehumanisation of a woman. “No amount of informing a woman that she can prosecute her husband under ten different articles of law can cure the helplessness that she faces because she is violated by the person who is meant to be her companion, her spouse, her partner, a person in a fiduciary position,” he continued.

Sections 376(2) and 376C of the IPC, according to Rao, place a premium on relationships and impose more obligations on those who have a fiduciary connection. For example, a man who rapes a woman while in a fiduciary relationship with her faces a harsher penalty under Section 376(2). Similarly, Section 376C makes it criminal for a man in power to rape a woman. Rao also gave an example of a couple’s relationship being separated into three stages: courtship, engagement, and separation.

“Three stages of a relationship for the same pair. If a guy imposes himself on a lady during courting, he is in violation of the law. He breaks the law at every point, but he is plainly guilty of an offence at Sections 375 and 376. Consider the following scenario: romance leads to engagement. The partnership becomes even more formalised. Even if the man forces himself on the same girl, he is still breaking the law. The act is not illegal five minutes after the marriage. The wife has no legal remedy to hold the man accountable for his actions. She has the legal authority to prosecute him under a variety of other statutes, but she can no longer label it a rape “Rao is a character in the film Rao
The RIT Foundation and the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), two of the petitioners, had previously told the Court that Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code’s marital rape exception violates a woman’s right to dignity, personal and sexual autonomy, and self-expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

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