Husbands Do Not Get A License To Be Brutal Sexual Abusers To Their Wives!

This judgment is a tight slap on all the 'beasts' who feel that just because they have found a woman who is committed to them, they can scar every fiber of her being.

Trigger warning: This speaks of marital rape, domestic violence, violence against women, and gaslighting, and may be triggering for survivors.

In what could be a landmark development surrounding consent and agency of women in marital relationships, the Karnataka High Court declined to quash the charge of rape framed under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against a man accused of raping and keeping his wife as a sex slave.

Yesterday was just ‘A Wednesday’. And a distressing thought came to my mind.

Life is much tougher for women. That is the truth, no matter what we like to believe.

I felt weak for having this thought and I wanted to brush it away. In an attempt to gain much needed inspiration, I reread some interviews of the late Kamla Bhasin ji.

“When I’m raped, people say that I’ve lost my honour. How did I lose my honour? I like to tell everyone, why did you place your community’s honour in a woman’s vagina? It is the rapist who loses the honour, we don’t.”

I agree. But what happens in our country when the rapist is the husband?

This is where the judgment of the Karnataka High Court pronounced yesterday makes this Wednesday iconic, and a victory for women.

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The 90 page judgment was painful to read. There were countless incidents of mental, physical, and sexual assault on the woman, the petitioner, by her husband. The accused husband tried to find a recourse in the loophole of law against marital rape. I have written about marital rape earlier.

A society of entitled husbands

“Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines rape, has an exception clause: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” For married women, the only recourse the law offers in instances when intercourse is without consent is the much-maligned Section 498-A IPC (pertaining to cruelty against wife by husband and relatives) and the civil provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.”

It appalled me to read that the husband in this case had lied to each and every person known to the wife and him, that she was denying him sex, when in fact he had been subjecting her to unspeakable atrocities. The husband, despite being the perpetrator had filed a false complaint against the wife, that too in the Women’s Commission!

Before we say, ‘What a nerve!’, Ek to chhori upar se seena zori’ (doing wrong and then shouting around about it), let us first try to understand the psychology of the society. I read somewhere that law may favor women, but the society favours men. And this statement is so true.

‘A woman being a woman is given a status. A woman being a wife is given is a different status. Likewise, a man being a man is punished for his acts. A man being a husband is exempted from this acts’. Any woman who has had the unfortunate experience of approaching the police for any kind of complaint (not restricted to sexual assault) against the husband knows she gets no help because it is a “matrimonial case.”

A woman may get sympathy; a wife gets none

I would like to share the story of a friend of mine who had approached the police to file an FIR against her violent husband. The police inspector was reluctant saying that ‘Tomorrow he may have a son, and he dreads to think what a husband would go through if the wife files a complaint against him’. A female police officer asked my friend, “If you were such a good wife, why would your husband beat you up?”

The bar for ‘acceptable’ monstrous behavior by husbands in our country is pretty high. Women are told their bruises are not enough, they didn’t bleed enough, their assaults were ‘unintended’, their suffering is not enough, they are not dead, with the ever underlying not so subtle ‘hint’ that it must all somehow be their fault.

When a woman finally musters up some strength to get out of an abusive marriage, the so-called custodians of the society tell her that a marriage should be saved no matter what. That things happen and women should tolerate because at the end of the day, being married is better than being alone. The police more often than not, sympathises with the husband and makes the wife feel like a criminal. The marriage is what is sacred, and the wife is not.

Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned – is the general perception when a wife seeks help to fight for her rights.

A wife is a woman first

Guess what? It is time we showed that fury. A wife is a woman first. The sindoor that she adorns, the bichiya on her pretty feet, the annual fasting that she does, the clinking of her bangles, I know that it may all be a part of her identity so dear, that it is painful as hell as to dissociate from it.

But when the same identity of a ‘married woman’ becomes a black hole so deep in which she loses herself, her dreams, her dignity, her self-respect, to the point where she cannot even understand that a crime is a crime, even if committed by her husband?

It is time to place the shame where it belongs, with the perpetrator

The petitioner in this case pleaded to keep her name undisclosed when she finally mustered up the courage to punish her husband. It is not her shame, but a collective shame for our society. I want to hug her and I want to hug her daughter, and say that you have nothing to feel ashamed about. It is the society that failed her. Not the other way.

It is time to place the shame where it belongs. Why do we even title stories such as ‘Women raped by husband’, ‘Women subjected to domestic violence?’ It is time to shame the perpetrators. The real taint to the society are the men who treat their wives like their chattel, spread lies about them, and the accomplice women members of their family who encourage their criminal sons when the wife is being humiliated in the four walls of their homes, somewhere they were supposed to be free and safe.

In seemingly normal households amongst us are ‘normal’ looking homes where ‘normal’ looking couples harbour secrets and unfathomable abuse.

Quoting from the judgment, ‘The age old thought and tradition that the husbands are the rulers of their wives, their body, mind and soul should be effaced. It is for the law makers to ponder over existence of such inequalities in law. For ages man donning the robes of a husband has used the wife as his chattel; but his crude behavior notwithstanding his existence because of a woman.”

The law is reflection of society. This may be a small step. But nonetheless, it is progressive. The mindset needs to change. It is payback time. This judgment is a tight slap on all the ‘beasts’ who feel that just because they have found a woman who is committed to them, they can scar every fiber of her being.

The message is loud and clear. There should be no forgiveness and no mercy.

It is time to place the ‘Kalank’ where it actually belongs.

And P.S. It is NOT on the wives. The onus is NOT on the women to protect their husbands from their own demonic and barbaric acts.

Editor’s note: This verdict does not change India’s law on marital rape, but is hopefully a step in the right direction, and even this ruling in ONE case can open the door for a law will that protect the rights of Indian wives.

Image source: a still from the film Agnisaakshi

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I like to write about the problems that have plagued the Indian society. I feel that the concept of gender equality is still alien , and that has been the focus of my articles and posts. read more...

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