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Indian government files legal papers to try to stop marital rape being outlawed

India's government has rejected calls to outlaw marital rape after saying it could "destabilise the institution of marriage" and put husbands at risk of "harrassment".

A plea from campaigners and victims is currently being heard by the Dehli High Court. Judge's asked for the government's stance on the issue.

There is currently no crime in the country's law about rape taking place within marriage and the section of the Indian Penal Code that outlaws rape includes an exception stating that "sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape."

In their submission to the court, government lawyers said: "What may appear to be marital rape to an individual wife, may not appear so to others. As to what constitutes marital rape and what would constitute marital non-rape, it needs to be defined precisely before a view on its criminalisation is taken."

Changes to the law on rape should not happen without "broad based social consensus", they added.

The law should not be changed until there are guarantees to "ensure adequately that marital rape does not become a phenomenon that may destabilise the institution of marriage [and become] an easy tool for harassing husbands", they said.

As in other countries, marital rape in India is thought to be far more common than assaults carried out by a man who is not the victim’s husband. An analysis by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics found that 98 per cent of rapes of women were committed by their husbands.

However, the Indian government suggested that those seeking to stop women being raped by their husbands were "blindly" following Western customs, The Times of India reported.

"The fact that other countries, mostly Western, have criminalised marital rape does not necessarily mean India should also follow them blindly," the government said. "This country has its own unique problems due to various factors like literacy, lack of financial empowerment of the majority of females, mindset of the society, vast diversity, poverty, etc. and these should be considered carefully before criminalising marital rape."

Several women’s rights groups in India have already filed petitions seeking to remove the legal exception that allows marital rape.

A number of high-profile cases of assault on women in recent years have drawn attention to India’s rape laws and the fact that millions of women are being abused, mostly without seeing their attackers brought to justice.

Last month, a guru was jailed for 20 years was convicted of raping two of his followers.

Lawyers said Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh may have committed crimes against at least 48 other women.

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