Marital Rape In India: We Value ‘Institutions’ Over Women

Posted: May 2, 2015

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Parliament refuses to criminalise marital rape in India. How long will we focus on saving ‘culture’ at the cost of women?

“What mark is that? Goes well with your saree print!” I told my domestic helper as a blue colour popped up near her blouse. She tried to hide it and in the process I noticed that she had more than one of those blue prints on her. She looked at me with the most heartbreaking tears when she perceived that I had a suspicion as to why her skin was discoloured.  Yet, I wasn’t ready for what I was about to hear about what I saw.

Trigger alert: This post contains descriptions of violence that could be disturbing for some readers.

She broke down and told me that she was a victim of spousal rape. She has been subjected to rape ever since she has been married for the past 10 years. Her husband is a carpenter by day and a drunkard by night. She has had two children and four abortions in between these daily rapes. She disclosed that she was subject to anal rape as well as rape during her monthly periods. Rape in marriage by a trusted partner is a slaughtering of the emotions, a scattering of trust. Though the rape was committed on her body, I felt the pangs in mine.

I asked her why she tolerated the violence. Why she didn’t complain or protest? She told me, “My husband has the right to do whatever he wants with me. Protest and complaint is for people like you all. We have to tolerate and live with this beating and rape because even our own parents won’t take us back into their homes and I don’t have money to live on my own. If I lived on my own, then society would rape me on several occasions.”

I wondered what the legal standing on marital rape was in my country. The remote control beckoned me to a news channel where I got slapped by the latest news flashing across. The news tells me that a Central government minister says, “The government does not plan to introduce punishment for marital rape”. If that’s the government’s stand, then the government is punishing the victims by default by making them suffer. The news further said, “ It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably be applied in the Indian context”.

…there is a curious silence surrounding sexual violence towards wives as wife, family and children are considered private issues.

When a rape is committed, there is publicity about it, there are protests and rallies. However there is a curious silence surrounding sexual violence towards wives as wife, family and children are considered private issues. And if you thought this happens only within the four walls of thatched roofs or cemented floors, you are mistaken. This is equally prevalent in high rise apartments and tiled floors also.

Why marital rape should matter more

Marital rape is the term used to describe sexual acts committed without a person’s consent and/or against a person’s will by a woman’s husband or ex-husband.

In our country marriage has been known as a sacred institution, but I wonder how much of it persists today. If there is any kind of abuse in a marriage, it’s no more a sacrosanct institution, and we probably have to reconsider our definition. Sex in marriage has to be about love-making and not hate-making. This blueprint of the ‘sacrosanct institution’ of marriage is an allegory and conflicts with women’s perceptions of its veracity.

When a rape is committed by a spouse, it is not only the rape of the body but rape of the mind and soul as well. It is rape not just in the institution of marriage, but a rape of the very institution of trust. Rape in every form is a rape. If a wife isn’t safe with her husband within the four walls of her home, where else in the world would she be safe?

While rape by a stranger is highly traumatic, it is typically a one-time event. In the case of rape by a spouse or long term sexual partner, the rape is not one-time. It is regular and can be more emotionally torturous for the wife as she has to love him and hate him all at the same time.

There is a prevailing universal myth that rape happens when the wife withholds sex. “I have a headache, not today” the widely prevailing joke on women and sex is also helping the myth work convincingly. Most women who are raped also do have consensual sexual intercourse with their partners. So, rape as a solution to a partner withholding sex is not acceptable in a marriage.

Husband-rapists at times rape to reinforce their power or control over their wives or families, or to express anger.

Husband-rapists at times rape to reinforce their power or control over their wives or families, or to express anger. In the Indian context where Pati Parameshwar is the ruling marital hypothesis, women remain silent before their earthly God. According to the Pati Parameshwar culture, it’s the husband’s prerogative to use his wife’s body and the consent or enjoyment of the wife is immaterial. Whether he uses or abuses or misuses her body is entirely his discretion. But if he is Parmeshwar, isn’t she Lakshmi ? How do you rape her?

Stereotypes & Myths around women’s bodies

In Bollywood movies when the chocolate faced hero says, “Mujhe haq hai” (I have the right), the Indian audience is floored by the ‘romantic’ dialogue. Strange stereotypes about women and sex such as: women enjoy forced sex, when women say no they really mean yes, it’s a wife’s duty to have sex; persist to be reinforced in our culture through both mainstream and pornographic media. Even the culture to a large extend propagates these myths. Such messages not only mislead men into deeming that they should ignore a woman’s objections; they also make women feel guilty into believing that they should concede and accept forced advances of sex.

Some women don’t know who has the right over their own bodies; they are under the assumption that on getting married, like they shift homes, they also shift their bodies to their husbands. Some of these women, either illiterate or very poorly educated, are married at very young age. This circumstance leaves women with very little sexual autonomy.

There is also a prevailing myth that if you don’t ‘give sex’ to your husband, he will go looking for it elsewhere; so most women close their mouths and open up for sex to their husbands. The first thing we need to do is to banish such myths from our minds. Some women are not in a position to refuse sex even in dire conditions because they have to choose between unwanted sex and being subjected to violence, so they prefer this violence over an unknown violence.

Some women are not in a position to refuse sex even in dire conditions because they have to choose between unwanted sex and being subjected to violence, so they prefer this violence over an unknown violence.

When Indian girls get married, they are told to safeguard the respect and dignity of their home in their marital home by being good wives, that they should not disclose the problems of their marital homes in their own homes. So they are silent. Many religious doctrines outline sexual acts as a ‘duty’ for wives.

Let the law take its own turn; even if there was a law around, it comes to the fore only after the rape has been committed. Our Parliament seems to think that criminalizing marital rape has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage. It seems to me that this huge institution of marriage has no place for the female counterpart, she who makes the institution. Apart from judicial awakening, we principally require a generation of wakefulness.

Marriage does not thrive on sex alone. Sex lasts only for a few minutes but the scar that is caused by sexual violence lasts a marriage. Those caught in abusive traps need to be set free.

Marriage does not thrive on sex alone. Sex lasts only for a few minutes but the scar that is caused by sexual violence lasts a marriage.

What we need is a mindset change that stops the marital rape being committed. We ought to be committed to that commitment. A change in male mindsets that wives are not their property to marry, use and dispose is at the top of this commitment. A change in the female mindset that accepts that marital sex is the right of their husbands and that marital rape is tolerable. No one deserves to be beaten or raped, and no one is required to live with fear and violence.

There is a need to edify the masses about this crime, as the real objective of criminalizing marital rape can only be achieved if society acknowledges and challenges the prevailing myth that rape by one’s spouse is inconsequential. What about the conscience? Society needs to educate boys and men to view women as valuable partners. Everyone has the right to live in safe homes. It should all boil down to respect.. Respect … Respect… Respect.

Representational image of a victim of domestic violence via Shutterstock

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