Recently our maid entered the house, wearing her threadbare sari which entirely failed to conceal the ugly purple bruises all over her body. Her wretched condition was a reminder of a feature of their life common to all the maids who had worked in our house. It is the same story in other people’s houses as well as in the newspapers and magazines everyday. Cases of dowry deaths, abuse of girl child, and female foeticide are increasingly coming under the public scrutiny. The result of this is that the media; various NGO’S and even the government has now started taking these social evils seriously.However, one such evil which occurs in many a household, regardless of status, caste and culture, yet remains a rarely acknowledged and even more rarely discussed topic is – MARITAL RAPE.

Marital Rape was first acknowledged as a reality in the 1970’s in the U.S. However, even in 2003, all states had not declared it as a felony. In India, the situation is much more complicated and dangerous than in the U.S. The Law regarding Rape in India clearly says that “Rape” can only occur when the man is aware that he is not the victim’s husband. This points to the fact that consent to sexual intercourse as per the husband’s will and desire is considered a natural implication of marriage. Moreover in a country where girls are married and sold off for money, words such as consent and will are rendered meaningless. Spousal Rape was recognized as a form of domestic violence in India on October, 2006. Even today, it is not regarded as a criminal offense in the court as it is easy to prove that the sexual intercourse happened with the wife’s consent. Thus many lawyers have argued that “consent “cannot be the primary criterion when judging a case of rape.

This form of rape accounts for almost 25%of the rape cases in our country. This figure is based loosely on reported cases. We can only imagine the number and figures of unreported cases of marital rape. It is often considered to be the worst form of rape since the woman is always asked to bear the suffering and forced to live with her rapist. However marital rape will not be treated as a criminal offense till people accept it as a wrong. In India, where sex is a severely taboo subject and women are considered to be a guest in the parental home, accepting marital rape as a possibility seems a distant dream.

The first step must be taken towards educating the parents, girl child and couples about conjugal rights, responsibilities and relationship. It is important to break the notion that the bride is merely a sexual object and treating her as a human being and a life partner. Even more important is to break away from the secondary status that our society offers to a woman. Today, Spousal rape is a crime which not only challenges a woman’s identity and position in Indian society, but questions the Law, the outdated notions of our social order and the oldest and one of the most sacred institutions of our nation, that is marriage. If we fail to address marital rape, then the entire population will become willing accomplices in practicing and perpetuating this heinous crime and forcing women to suffer the odious fate of living with the devil.

Pallavi Bannerjee