Some numbers that give voice to marital rape cases in India:
In the year 2013, the UN Population Fund and the International Center for Research on Women carried out a survey across the nation in a sample of more than 9200 men. Around 1/3rd of them admitted to having forced a sexual act on their wives. There are several other alarming statistics available on domestic violence in India but the numbers for marital rape cases are still reported by few.
Despite these astounding statistics, most cases go unreported. And that’s perhaps a convenient escape. Reporting would merely serve to antagonize the perpetrator in light of India’s invisible punitive measures.
Marital rape has been one of the longest running bones of social contention in India’s socio-religious narrative.In a country, which is still bound by its static regressive orthodox beliefs progressive social dynamism seems a utopian paradise. Realization that rape occurs even after marriage and that its terminology ‘marital rape’ is still unintelligible to many. If rape is a violation of consent, then does marriage imply dissolution of consent on the part of the woman? Or, does consent for marriage imply a woman’s consent to violate her sanctity? Does the legal code of the largest democracy in the free world legalize feminine subservience?
Our laws: The existing ones do not offer justice or protection to married women who have been subjected to rape by their husbands.
As of now, the Indian laws consider marital rape punishable only in two circumstances: when the wife is below the age of 15 and second, when a man rapes his wife who has been living separately from him. The maximum punishment that a man can be given is upto three years in prison for having unnatural and forced sex with his wife. Do the legal code and the legislative powers view it as a minor offense? The fact that India hasn’t criminalized marital rape even when more people seem to be getting better access to education, high paying jobs, good homes, etc. some men still consider women as objects who can be coerced anytime into sex as per their moods and wishes, is worth contesting, especially when more than 100 countries have criminalized it.
Under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005), marital rape cases are considered only when they are life threatening to the woman. Now, a scenario where a woman had a complete objection to her man forcing her is not liable for any consideration, under the available laws for the protection of women, which is a grotesque reality. A woman’s opinions, choices aren’t respected and she is supposed to bear the brunt of abuse, until she has made her peace with our social reality.
The government’s point of view:
What is abominable on the part of the government is its ignorance in realizing that the institution of marriage develops deep loopholes when one gender, mostly men in India and I presume elsewhere in the world too, think that they are superior to their wives and enjoy full liberty in doing whatever they might want to. Sex toys I suppose is what such men think of their wives. “I was treated like a sex slave, like a sex toy” was narrated by a highly tormented woman to a Priyali Sur a journalist, as reported by Huffington post.
Instead, the reasons cited are the traditional social structures of the religious and cultural aspects of the country that preach marriage as a sacred institution. In India, many of us are devout bhakts of various goddesses and perform various Poojas in their names etc. But the respectability and sanctity of a woman is restricted to figurines. She should manage the house, cook for the husband and other family members, manage the children, and still face abuse because she is a woman.
As quoted by the Huffington Post, “The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 states that a married person can take his or her spouse to court to demand the “restitution of conjugal rights” if the partner refuses to have sex with them”. I do not mean to say that religions promote such acts, but they apparently do not speak against it. Religions as thought to be institutions of peace, sometimes fail to empower gender through their teachings. Religion is meant to be critical. It should make us question the very fundaments of life, not blind us to dogma.
Through this article, I do not intend to harp on the failure of just the Indian government and the constitution in dealing with the issue, but the Indian society as well. We have been shaped by what our generations have taught us and what our historic cultures and traditions have preached. Our religious laws and teachings do not consider husbands forcing their wives for sexual activities as rape because practically in all religions women occupy an inferior level of individuality with respect to men. As a result, it is not considered a crime under many religions when marital rapes happen. Many go unnoticed and unheard and these women are forever forced to lead lives of trauma, and not a life of dignity Constitution who?
A man after all has the right on his wife is what many women are expected to believe and made to understand and that since their husbands love them they are told that they hold all the right to also beat them up and coerce them into having sex. Unfortunately, and sadly, some women in India think that husbands torturing their wives is justifiable to an extent. “The United Nations published a report that stipulated that 69% of Indian women believe that occasional violence was justified, for instance when a meal hasn’t been prepared in time or when sex has been refused. Further, statistical research reveals that 9 to 15% of married women are subjected to rape by their husbands, a staggering and sobering statistic.18”, as cited in a research report by Dr. Mukesh Garg and Dr. Nareshlata Singla on “Marital Rape Under Indian Law: A Study, issue of the International Journal in Management and Social Sciences.
In most parts of our country, women are asked to be subservient to the demands of their husbands and try to be ‘dharam patni’ all their lives no matter how the husband would treat them.
Perhaps just like incidents like the Nirbhaya Gang Rape case, the government has a habit of waiting until a case comes up, which has seen intolerable levels of brutality. Sensitive much?
Some believe that the current laws are enough, to protect women who face sexual abuse. They have the options of legal recourse thorugh laws like the Domestic Violations Act, Criminal Law(Amendment) Act of 2013, etc. But the major question arises when marital rapes are not considered rape under any of these laws. Sadly, divorce is also one of the ways suggested for a woman to get rid of her husband permanently instead of taking legal actions. But, the atrocities suffered by a woman do not deserve to be put aside by suggesting alternatives that do not have any element of justice. Men who consider that raping their wives is not an issue might also think that raping other girls or women is merely ‘questionable.’ Letting such people get away is not just unfair but of potential risk and danger even to other women and girls who might fall victims to such men.
There are many cases where husbands have also resorted to subjecting violence on their wives apart from forced sex. Getting beaten is a common phenomenon reported in such cases. Women who have bled, been subjected to extreme torture and abuse, cannot be expected to keep mum and ignore the issue by not going against their husbands. Police officials cannot be just pacifying women who come for help to them in order to demand justice. Our government ministers should not be mentioning lack of education, poverty, or the customs of some traditional cultures, as factors that can never allow for any laws to be formulated punishing men who rape their wives.
And, it unnerves me to think that many believe what happens between a man and a wife is of no significance to the court. Of course,it is. When women in the 21st century who have equaled men and even surpassed men in certain professional spheres, can we afford to sit and just wait for more marital cases to be reported and still consider it a “bedroom matter”?
To sum up why marital rape should be criminalized in India, a woman’s decision to have or not have sex should be accepted and respected regardless of her marital status. Marriage is no means to enforce personal opinions on women and coerce them into having sex.It is not a personal matter between a husband and a wife simply because abuse of any kind cannot go unnoticed by the law and categorized under family matters. Moreover, religions and social customs are no excuses to prevent the lawmakers of our county from formulating marital rape laws. If we can appoint women as our president, see them manage big MNCs and being CEOs, see them serve in the defense and army, see them earn medals for India in sports, we can surely provide justice to those women who have been subject to coercion and physical and mental abuse.
The Verma committee, led by Justice JS Verma one of India’s most renowned former chief justices, initiated after the Nirbhaya Gang rape case and on the UPA government’s behest, suggested some revolutionary changes including the marital rape be criminalized under the Indian law. However, the government took no notice of it and such changes still remain to be shunned. It is high time the government initiated a strong social change powered by marital rape laws. There is no empowerment or freedom of choice with no laws in place for marital rapes.
While India is a developing country and we take pride in having come so far, we cannot put aside these social evils that still grip India. What the government might also want to consider should be social equality, empowerment and justice for all women.
I am a woman. I have a voice. It will be heard.
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