05/04/2018 8:29 AM IST

Marital Rape Is Not A Crime In India. But One High Court Judge Is Pushing For Change.

Sexual violence protesters on the streets of New Delhi in 2015.

In India, it is not illegal for a man to rape his wife — but a high court judge said in a ruling this week that it should be.

Justice J.B. Pardiwala of the Gujarat High Court was presiding over a case involving a woman who’d accused her husband of sexually assaulting her. He repeatedly forced sex on her, she said, according to the Hindustan Times. He also subjected her to “mental and physical torture,” the woman claimed.

Pardiwala ruled on Monday that the husband could not be charged with rape in this case since the Indian Penal Code explicitly states that “sexual acts by a man with his own wife … is not rape.” The judge said the man could be charged with sexual harassment and spousal cruelty (which carry lesser punishments than rape).

As he delivered his decision, however, Paridwala expressed dismay at the limitations of the law. He advocated for the criminalization of marital rape, saying that outlawing nonconsensual sex in a marriage is the “first necessary step in teaching societies that dehumanized treatment of women will not be tolerated.”

“Marital rape is not a husband’s privilege, but rather a violent act and an injustice that must be criminalized,” he added.

Marital rape is a widespread problem in India. According to a 2018 National Family Health Survey, more than 80 percent of married women who have experienced sexual violence named their current spouse as the perpetrator. 

In a 2014 survey of more than 9,200 men across seven Indian states, one-third admitted to having forced a sexual act on their wives.

“Marital rape is an extremely widespread problem,” Mihira Sood, a New Delhi-based attorney, told HuffPost in 2015. “[It’s] compounded by the fact that it is not recognized as an offense, either by the law as well as by much of society that is conditioned to see it as an inevitable part of marriage.”

Observers said this week that the Gujarat High Court’s ruling is a positive step toward the criminalization of marital rape in India. Though public pressure has been mounting to change the law, there’s no indication a revision is forthcoming.

Last year, the Indian government pushed back at suggestions that marital rape should be outlawed, saying that such a change could “destabilize the institution of marriage.”