The four letter word that has come to engulf women around the world– Rape. The dreadful blanket it weaves around a woman’s life is suffocating and maleficent. But the pain and the mental trauma are far worse when the perpetrator of the crime is a known person… one’s own husband.
The sacrosanct tradition of marriage in India is a reflection of the skewed relation of authority shared by the husband and the wife. Though certain things have changed for good measure presently, the norm of the ‘dominant man’still prevails in a lot of cases. The man calls the shots, both inside and outside the bedroom. The reversal of the ‘power’ equation in marriages these days, is a huge factor for the increasing no. of marital rapes. With the rise in women employment and empowerment, men need the constant reassurance of their status quo and use sex to salvage their insecurities.
“Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape,” states a 2013 amendment to section 375 0f the Indian Penal Code. Since marital rape has not been accounted as a crime, the actual stats are difficult to collect and comprehend. A conundrum is faced in the phrase ” not being under 15 years..” when marriageable age for women itself is 18 years. This shows how out of sync, the law is, with the present times.
The kind of argument, put forth by MPs and Ministers like Ms. Maneka Gandhi, to defend or altogether deny the existence of marital rape, quoting reasons like ,”level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament” does no favours to India’s global persona or to the institution of marriage.
The J.S. Verma committee constituted to look into existing legislations and provide suggestions to counter and curb sexual violence, post the Nirbhaya case of 2012, had recommended criminalizing marital rape. Unfortunately, this had been overlooked by the government.
Many would question the necessity for a Marital Rape law when the Domestic Violence Act (2005) covers sexual abuse. But the need arises as the Domestic Violence Act is only a civil act which only ensures protection and compensation to the victim and no jail term for the convict. The notion of justice that should be meted out in case of a criminal offence like rape is hence distorted.
Cruelty by husbands and relatives under section 498‐A of Indian Penal Code is the major crime committed against women across the country, with around 909,713 cases reported over the last 10 years, or 10 every hour. Though marital rape is not segregated from the other abuses, one cannot be so blind so as to negate their existence (Ahem Ms. Maneka Gandhi)
A 2013 global review by UN Women stated that up to 70% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence, atleast once in their lifetime from an intimate partner,
The problems that lead to marital rapes are abundant and right in front of our eyes, if only we agree to open them. Knowledge of basic etiquettes regarding sexual intimacy is lacking in the Indian cultural space. Men are often not educated on how to emote and express sexual desires without being tagged a pervert or a lust driven monster. Marriage is often treated as a freepass for sex in India, or to compensate for the lack of it previously. The stigma attached to sex before marriage also leads to penting up of sexual frustrations that vent themselves out, post marriage. Also, in a culture where a man’s sexual prowess is highly valued, men are under a great deal of pressure to exert force in the bedroom.
The total absence of support to women from the natal home is another factor. There have been countless narratives, where the woman has been told by family, friends and even police to ‘adjust’. How does one adjust to brutal shredding of one’s self esteem and respect?
Lack of sexual experience prior to marriage leads women to think that this is the only way their sexual life could be. A sense of agency is a must for women to start acknowledging marital rape as a crime first of all and not acclimatize to it.
One of the major issues with marital rape lies in the difficulty to prove it. It is unlike other cases of rape, where the semen and signs of external struggle are evidence enough. Here the semen is of the husband which he could argue was the result of consensual sex. How to prove instances where the wife was asleep or ill or just not in the mood for it? And what if the wife refused to go through with sex, having said yes initially?
It’s time the government transcends the cultural barriers and looks for solutions that maintain the privacy of the marriage and also effectively address the situation. A mandatory counseling workshop for about-to be married couples should be introduced, post the completion of which only the marriage certificate would be handed to them.
Free marriage counselling including sessions with sex experts should be initiated by the State, post marriage too. If the State grants the legal sanction to two individuals to get married, then the State should also extend the adequate apparatus to look into the well-being of that ‘sacred institution’.
Another important question to be raised is the sustenance of marriage post the rape? How does a marriage survive that? Sensitivity in legal procedures handling marital rape should be present as it is something that affects the entire family.
Sex is an important part of marriage and if the husband senses sexual inactivity from his wife, he should address it instead of forcing himself on her. This again, sadly, comes from the age old notion in India where a woman’s No means a Yes. We required a ‘Pink’ to shove this one down some people’s brains.
In conclusion, as rightly said by civil activist Prof Sujato Bhadra, “We need to do away with the term ‘marital rape’ just like we don’t have something called ‘marital murder’. Rape is rape. Murder is murder”.
Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru