Marital Rape Dehumanizes Wives In The Name Of ‘Tradition’; Why Must We Live With It?

Marriage isn't a a licence for sex, no matter what your 'tradition' says. A woman's bodily autonomy needs to be respected. Criminalise marital rape.

Marriage isn’t a a licence for sex, no matter what your ‘tradition’ says. A woman’s bodily autonomy needs to be respected. Criminalise marital rape.

Consent continues to be a concept that eludes many men who feel entitled to sex upon marriage. Marital rape isn’t yet considered a crime in its entirety. Here’s a look at why India should criminalise marital rape.

“He is your husband after all. And what about the society, what will people think of us then?” These are presumably some comments that an Indian woman has to hear if she speaks up against forced sex with her husband.

Indian women, more often than not, tend to keep intimate predicaments such as heinous marital rape to themselves. As per societal norms, it’s their spouse’s right. To put it in other words, the perpetrator is their legal partner.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) ‘Crime in India’ in 2019, about 70 percent of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Moreover, the National Commission for Women (NCW) reported a surge in domestic brutality cases during the lockdown last year. Due to the nonexistence of a concrete law, there is very little data available on the recorded number of marital rape cases.

However, simply because this horrendous crime lacks authentic data, that doesn’t imply that it is not present in Indian society.

The Indian Penal Code defines rape as…

Marital rape is one of the most undiscussed forms of domestic violence. According to Wikipedia, marital rape or spousal rape is the act of sexual intercourse with one’s spouse without the spouse’s consent.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines rape as “sexual intercourse with a woman:

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  1. Against her will.
  2. Without her consent.
  3. With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested, in fear of death or of hurt.
  4. With her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married.
  5. With her consent when, at the time of giving such consent, because of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by him personally or through another of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which she gives consent.
  6. With or without her consent, when she is under eighteen years of age.
  7. When she is unable to communicate consent.”

This sounds legitimate. But wait, there’s no mention of a woman’s rape by her legal husband. Besides, Exception 2 of Section 375 states that: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

Consent!? What does that even mean!

Non-consensual sexual intercourse, whether it is with a legitimate spouse or not, results in physical, sexual, and emotional cruelty. Yet, according to the IPC, marital rape, a dehumanizing sexual assault, is not criminalized. As per contemporary orders, a wife is supposed to give continual permission to have sex with her husband after entering into conjugal relations.

The aim of Section 375 of IPC is to defend women and penalize perpetrators involved in the horrible action of rape. If you glance at the ground level, you will certainly discern that wedded women find it more challenging to flee from brutal attacks at home because they are judicially, and many times, monetarily fastened to their partners.

Trusted partner violence is the most prevalent form of domestic violence. Is it that the marriage agreement grants the husband the right to have sex with his wife whenever he so wanted? India is one of the only 36 countries where marital rape is still not illegal. Marriage should not snatch the sexual sovereignty of women over their bodies.

These very facts have obtained recognition. Marital rape has been criminalized in about 150 countries as of 2019. Poland became the first country to have a rule, making it unlawful wrongdoing in 1932. Many countries across the globe have criminalized marital rape. Now it’s India’s turn to join the lineup.

Article 21 of the Indian constitution states that ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law’. Every human has a claim to privacy and dignity. A husband does not own his wife’s sexuality. Any coerced sexual act is a violation of the fundamental right under Article 21. The government needs to tweak Exception 2 of Section 375 rapidly. Not only this but also spread awareness by collaborating with various non-governmental organizations to make domestic spaces a safe home for millions of women.

Here I leave you with a citation from a courtroom drama film, Pink (2016), to spread awareness that No means No even when it is your lawful wife.

“No ka matlab No hota hai. Use bolne wali ladki koi parichit ho, friend ho, girlfriend ho, koi sex worker ho ya aapki apni biwi hi kyu na ho. ‘No’ means no and when someone says No, you should stop.”

Image source: a still from the film 7 Khoon Maaf

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Stuti Upadhyay

Writer on some days, reader on most.

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