In a tweet on marital rape, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said that it was important to lay emphasis on consent to ensure the safety of women.

“Consent is amongst the most underrated concepts in our society,” Gandhi wrote in a tweet. “It has to be foregrounded to ensure safety for women. #MaritalRape”

The Congress leader’s comment came as the Delhi High Court continues to hear a clutch of petitions seeking to make marital rape a criminal offence. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines rape, lists forceful sexual intercourse by a man with his wife as an exception if the woman is above 15 years of age.

Two non-government organisations, the All India Democratic Women’s Association and RIT Foundation, and two individuals have filed petitions in the Delhi High Court seeking to remove the exception.

At a hearing on the matter on January 12, the Delhi government, which is a party in the case, had submitted to the court that non-criminalisation of marital rape does not compel a woman to have sexual intercourse with her husband. Senior counsel Nandita Rao, representing the Delhi government, said that the option of divorce and other criminal provisions remained open to the women.

In an oral observation at the hearing, Justice Rajiv Shakdher of the Delhi High Court said that the nature of the relationship cannot place it on a different pedestal.

“...merely because you are married, it is not good enough to say it is not an offence,” he noted.

At another hearing on January 14, the court observed that a sex worker has the right to say no to a client, and questioned how a married woman can be denied that right with respect to her husband. This was after amicus curiae (friend of the court) Rajshekhar Rao had submitted that every other woman, including a sex worker, has the right to accuse a man of rape.

The amicus curiae also told the court that marital rape inherently violates Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty of every citizen.

Even as marital rape has not been criminalised yet, multiple courts have in the past passed verdicts to protect the rights of women.

On August 6, the Kerala High Court held that marital rape was a valid reason to seek divorce. In November 2017, the Gujarat High Court had said that marital rape is a “disgraceful offence” and not criminalising it has made “a large population of women” suffer.