In what I consider a major affront to Indian women, Minister of State for Home, Haribhai Parathibhai Chuadhary on Wednesday said, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat marriage as a sacrament.”
This reprehensible remark came in reply to a written question by DMK’s K Kanimozhi, who sought to know whether the government was planning to amend the law to make marital rape a crime, citing an appalling UN estimate that 75 percent of the married women in India are subjected to rape by their husbands.
The government, in return, made it amply clear that it has no intention to make marital rape a crime because of cultural and religious values and society’s belief that marriage is a sacrament.
According to an article on CNN, “The number of women sexually assaulted by their husbands is 40 times the number of women attacked by men they don’t know. Yet, marital rape is legal.”
While a lot of Indian laws are notoriously known for their ambiguity, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, states, in no ambiguous terms that “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”
Marital rape, a phrase that does not exist in the legal lexicon of this country, is actively suppressed or dismissed by the political class, as a “controversial” issue with no easy solution. And the present government, with its conspicuous Hindutva agenda, has proved yet again that it is happy to arrest women’s sexual freedom in the name of religion and culture.
A 2012 report to the Parliament, for instance, says, “if marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress.” To my mind, there is no more direct way of admitting to the fact that in this country, a huge factor on which the institution of marriage hinges is forced sexual intercourse. How else does one explain atrocious claims such as the above, that are, in fact, ubiquitous?
The Justice Verma Committee submitted a report, which in Kavita Krishnan’s words was “a breath of fresh air, letting in the wind of democracy and freedom into all the prisons of patriarchy.” While some of its legal reforms to reduce crimes and violence against women were accepted, the one on marital rape was disregarded. This is one of the most telling ways to institutionally sanction the implicitly held social belief that women are the “sexual property” of men.
In a society that gives little, if any, reason for a woman to speak up against institutional violence, it already requires tremendous grit for a woman to stand up and declare that “my husband rapes me”. Add to this culture, the legal impunity enjoyed by men to rape their wives, and we have a perfect strategy to militate against the sexual freedom of married women.
The horrors related by married women are no less in terms of brutality than those of unmarried women raped by strangers. Their miseries are only magnified by their prolonged perpetuation. If you think that marital rape is just forced penetration, which in itself ought to be socially unacceptable, but is not; you’re mistaken – much like I was. Anecdotal evidence of victims of marital rape has it that women face extreme sexual violence within their marriages. A 27-year old marital rape survivor, for example, said on NDTV that her husband would insert torches in her vagina, and would press pillows on her face while he forcibly had intercourse with her. When she moved the Supreme Court to declare marital rape as a criminal offence, the court refused to entertain her petition, saying it could not decide on an individual case. Another survivor on the same show too painfully related her story and said that her husband would often sprinkle chilli powder on her vagina.
These are just two of the panoply of such cases that take place every single day within our homes – just because our society considers women the sexual property of first, their fathers and brothers, who must protect their own honour by protecting the chastity of their daughter or sister; and then of their husbands who lawfully have the right to own their wives’ sexuality.
The anxiety around the issue of marital rape adequately betrays the state’s reluctance to allow women to own their sexuality. Further, by constantly asserting that making marital rape would adversely impact the institution of the family in the country, politicians obliquely admit to the fact that they seldom look at women as a significant voting group in their own right. Because they cannot afford to antagonize men on whose agency their political career hinges, they choose to suppress the rights of women. Not to forget that an overwhelming population of lawmakers and politicians themselves are men.
They say rape is an act forgotten in silence, but marital rape is an act that cannot be forgotten, for it is lived through, each day, in silence.
Image Source: The Viewspaper