Millions Of Indian Women Silently Suffer Marital Rape Every Day; Stop This Travesty Already!

What use is all this jingoism over 'independence' and freedom if marital rape is still not recognised as a crime, and millions of married women face this silently in their own homes?

What use is all this jingoism over ‘independence’ and freedom if marital rape is still not recognised as a crime, and millions of married women face this silently in their own homes? 

I came across the term marital rape for the first time as an 18-year-old. There was an article in a magazine (I can’t recollect the name, but it was an Indian publication) that questioned why marital rape should not be treated as a crime.

The points raised were very valid. Sex with a spouse without her consent is termed marital rape. Since the act is forcefully carried out on a woman, in the process causing her physical and mental agony, how is it any different from rape? To 18-year-old me it came as a shock that it is not treated as a crime in our country. It was only a few years later that I got to know why.

In college during a family law class, we were discussing the grounds for divorce. Someone from the class asked if marital rape can be considered cruelty, and the lecturer hurriedly said yes. When I asked why is it only termed cruelty and not a crime in our country, she looked quite discomfited, and her reply was (though I cannot recollect the exact words) that it cannot be considered as a crime.

Shocking as it was for me, I understood that it’s the societal mindset that has permitted perpetrators of this crime to roam free. Probably having heard this from a lady, it did not shock me when I saw similar words spoken by a female additional sessions judge from Mumbai, though it made me disheartened, sad and angry.

“Being the husband cannot be said that he committed any illegal thing”

This case is sub-judice, so let me just put forth the facts of the case.

A young woman who got married in November 2020 had filed a case against her husband, for forceful sex soon after her marriage as well as when they were on their honeymoon. She has also claimed abuse from other family members.

After the incident on their honeymoon, she started feeling unwell, and upon medical examination, it was revealed that she had suffered paralysis below her waist. This led her to register an FIR against her husband and his family.

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At the hearing of the case for anticipatory bail by the husband and his family in the Mumbai Additional Sessions court, the judge, Justice Sanjashree J Gharat made the controversial statements about marital rape.

The judge allowed the bail plea saying that “It is very unfortunate that the young girl suffered paralysis. However, the applicants (husband and family) cannot be held responsible for the same.” She also said “being the husband cannot be said that he committed any illegal thing.” A classic example of concentrating on just the technicality of law.

Even if marital rape was not considered illegal because the law says so, was grievous hurt not obvious here, or is that also to be considered his right as a husband?

The great Indian culture will of course fall apart if we recognise and criminalise marital rape!

In 2017 the Government of India refused to criminalise marital rape stating that “what “may appear to be marital rape” to a wife “may not appear so to others” also adding “may destabilise the institution of marriage apart from being an easy tool for harassing the husbands”.

In 2019, former Chief Justice of India Deepak Mishra said that marital rape should not be criminalised, stating it would destroy the institution of the family.

Marital rape has been exempted from punishment as it is treated as an ‘exception to rape’ under section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. Though there were several amendments made to the Indian Penal Code, this exception has remained untouched since 1860.

Is it not unbelievable that in 161 years not once did any government in power attempt to do away with this patriarchal and misogynistic exception? It was not that recommendations were not made; they were never accepted.

These statements and the laxity by those who’re supposed to give us justice make me wonder – how do we women see any hope in a nation where the government and judiciary trivialise the words and opinions of a woman?

Where do women who have endured marital rape stand in such a democracy?

Is it not akin to saying a woman does not understand whether she has been violated, only the alibi of the society counts?

Isn’t saying that marital rape cannot be legalised as it would lead to husbands being harassed, just another way of saying that a woman being harassed in a marriage is fine?

How do we even believe any promises of reform when several governments in power have held on to a century and half old archaic legislation, just so that our men can be protected against any action and can go on ‘enjoying’ their entitlements with impunity?

That said, there have been brave judgements in the recent past which have called out marital rape, like:

  • the most recent Kerala High Court judgement upholding marital rape as a ground for divorce and terming it as a violation of bodily integrity and individual autonomy and
  • The 2018 Gujarat High Court one which stated that a wife is not chattel and the husband cannot violate the dignity of his wife and engage in a sexual act without her consent, laying stress on the criminalisation of marital rape.

But such brave judgements do not seem to have influenced the judiciary elsewhere, let alone the public at large; in 2021 a judge dismisses the act of marital rape as “not committing any illegal thing”.

Told to ‘adjust’ with husbands and in-laws

Ask any married woman in the country and she will tell you about the lessons imparted to her before the wedding, on how she must always “keep her husband happy and never refuse him sex.”

This by the same family members who would otherwise behave like a blasphemy has been committed if the word ‘sex’ is even uttered. The same people who would chide the woman and chastise her, if she were to seek help for resolving her marital problems, or want to walk out of the marriage because of a lack of sexual satisfaction.

Is it not evident, that a lot of marriages have been sustaining because the woman in the marriage has little to no voice, especially when it comes to their sexual needs? Criminalising marital rape would bring out in open the dark secrets of umpteen ‘happy marriages’ in the country. Which is exactly what the supporters of our patriarchy fear.

An ‘equal marriage’ is a faraway dream in our country

We talk about ‘being modern’ and marriages having ‘evolved’. People in our country proudly proclaim that marriages in today’s times are ‘equal’.

When we look at the reality of our society, this statement seems to be the height of hypocrisy. A country where a woman’s consent does not count on her marital bed has no right to be claiming modern marriages are equal. A country that has the dubious distinction of being one among only 36 countries yet to criminalise marital rape should not be even talking about its marriages being modern. A country where a majority of its male population, educated or otherwise, consider marriage as a ‘license for sex’ and consent as unnecessary, has no right to proclaim about women’s empowerment or safety.

Ideally, a marriage is a partnership of equals. But seeing the present case, and the general perception of the society towards marital rape, it is evident that we want to be stuck in a time warp, and continue to equate the joru on the same scale as ghar and zameen. While the apex court may have said a husband is not the master of his wife,the reality sadly is far from that.

Image source: a still from the film Agnisakshi

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About the Author

Parvadavardini Sethuraman

A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and curious little princess. I long to see the day when Gender equality is a reality in the world. read more...

89 Posts | 331,708 Views

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