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Rape in Marriage, what’s that?

Phulmoni Dasi Case, Age of Consent and the Unaddressed issue of Marital Rape

The world knows India as a country that values culture, heritage, history, and traditions, but they are not aware of the darkness that comes with upholding such values. In the year 1890, the British ruled India brought on reforms with regards to the Age of Consent and sparked the debates surrounding marital rape. In the year 1890, a 10-year-old girl, Phulmoni Dasi died of her injuries sustained after her husband sought to consummate their marriage.

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A ten-year-old girl was married to a 30-year-old man, who then forced himself onto a child which resulted in her brutal death on the same night. According to her autopsy reports, she died due to excessive blood loss from her vagina. The reports also showed that her reproductive organs were not fully developed and that she didn’t possess any of the external signs that would suggest the onset of puberty. Enough proof was provided to establish that she sustained these injuries due to sexual intercourse initiated by her 30-year-old husband and despite that, he was only sentenced to 12 months of hard labor as the laws failed to include marital rape as a punishable offense as well as the fact that she was his wife which exempted him from rape charges. This case from the colonial era is then deemed extremely important as issues that were generally ignored or skirted around were being brought into the light and discussed.

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This case opened up discussions around the legal age of consent and marriage, marital rape, and the custom of child brides. At that time, the legal age of consent was 10 years but after this case came to light, the age of consent was pushed to 12 years and deemed the act of sexual intercourse between a bride below 12 years of age and an older man as rape. Until 2013, the legal age of consent for girls was 16 years after which it was amended to 18 years.

Even today, in some areas of the country, the custom of child bride prevails despite there being laws that prohibit such practices. These customs prevail due to the ingrained patriarchal ideology of viewing girls and women as liability and property, to be bartered and sold. Some of these girls marry out of necessity, knowing that there is no other way out whereas others are forced into marrying by their parents so as to get rid of the ‘bojh’ or liability that they deem their daughters to be.

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These practices essentially reduce the identity of a young woman into that of a wife and a mother, having no identity of her own and being dependent on their husband or child to 'fulfill their destiny’.

Another issue that we must address is that of marital rape which is not recognized as a crime in India. According to our former Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the inclusion of marital rape as an offense in India would only cause more problems for the image of the country, as well as affect the familial values that make us look good internationally, given that we have a low rate of divorce. These comments made by privileged and educated men in our society are the same ones who make comments about the female body, trying to mansplain issues that do not concern them. Marital rape must be included under the list of offenses, not only for the protection of married women but also to control the narrative which has ignored the loud voices of women for centuries.

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