In what might not be welcomed by women forums across the country, the Delhi High Court, on Monday, reserved its judgement in a batch of petitions demanding the criminalisation of marital rape (RIT Foundation vs Union of India). The decision comes following the central government’s input that “it would not be prudent for the HC to take a stand on the issue until it consults with all the stakeholders involved.”
Appearing for the government, solicitor general Tushar Mehta stated that since such a case might impact social and family life with varied consequences, the Centre would put forward its stand after consulting with the stakeholders. The petitioners had asked the Court to quash Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code that states: “charges of rape cannot be filed against husbands even if they establish sexual relations with their wives forcefully.”
The division bench of Justices Rajiv Shakdher and C Hari Shankar has been hearing a batch of petitions demanding the criminalisation of marital rape. In today’s hearing, Mehta informed the Bench that a fresh affidavit has been filed by the Centre reiterating its earlier position that it needs more time to form a considered view on the issue.
The Court was told that a communication has been sent to all state governments asking for their suggestions ‘most immediately’. On inquiring if the Union has received any response to the communication from any state governments, Mehta replied in the negative.
“Generally when a legislative enactment is challenged, we take a stand. But those are commercial or taxation laws. There are very few cases when such wide consequences are found. It is, therefore, our stand that we will be able to put our stand only after consultation,” he said.
Mehta added that there is no stand of the Centre on the issue except that the matter be deferred. Therefore, the counter affidavit filed by the Centre in 2017 should not be considered as its position.
There are two affidavits filed by the Centre in the matter so far. The 2017 affidavit opposed the petitions, and the written submissions filed this year were also on the same lines. Mehta, as well as Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma, however, has said that neither of these affidavits reflects the Centre’s stand on the issue.
The Bench, however, said that it cannot defer indefinitely an ongoing matter. It noted in its order that since the parties have already addressed their arguments, judgment is reserved.