India has failed to criminalise or even recognise the social evil of marital rape that continues to plague society, the central government-appointed Pam Rajput committee said on Tuesday in its report on the status of women in the country. The panel came down heavily on the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2013 for keeping marital rape out of its ambit.

Though the report has not been made public yet, reactions started coming in on the same day. Contrary to her earlier position, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday said the Centre was considering criminalising marital rape, reported The Times of India. However, she did not divulge any further details in the matter. Gandhi was criticised in the past when she said that marital rape as it is understood in the international context cannot be applied to Indian society.

“The Act is silent on the issue of marital rape, making it an offence only in cases where the wife is under 15 years of age. The Verma committee had, however, recommended that marital rape should be made an offence irrespective of the age of the wife. This shows the legislature’s failure to appreciate the growing menace of this crime wherein the victim has to suffer on a daily basis,” it observed. The Justice Verma committee was formed after the gangrape and murder of a student in Delhi in December 2012. The Act was passed on the basis of the recommendations submitted by the panel, though the suggestions on marital rape were ignored.

“Marriage is sacrosanct but that does not give anyone the right to abuse the body and dignity of women. It is in this context that we asked that marital rape be criminalised,” Pam Rajput, founder director of the Centre for Women’s Studies at Panjab University, told The Indian Express,

The panel said the exemption of marital rape from criminal offences dates back to colonial beliefs that assumed a married woman had no rights over her sexuality. However, the English themselves have come a long way since then as it now holds consent to be specific to each occasion of intercourse, the panel added.

The United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) had observed that India should amend its laws to “reflect the realities of sexual abuse experienced by women and to remove the exception of marital rape…,” the report pointed out. In the absence of a law that addresses this offence, women are left with the only option of approaching the Protection of Woman from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, for a criminal offence like rape.