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‘Owned’ By Husbands Behind The Closed Doors Of Marriage, Are Women Ever Safe?

If a wife says “No” to any sexual act, the husband experiences feelings of rage, anger, rejection, and frustration, because he has grown up feeling entitled, and was never prepared to handle any rejection.

“Our women are safe.” Really? Examine that statement instead of just talking about it, will you?

A naïve person will be deceived by this statement and an optimistic person will not be left far behind. What most people fail to address is that despite a slow change in our society, we have not yet reached a stage, where we can proclaim that we have identified the basic rights to safety held by an Indian woman and recognize that these rights shouldn’t be denied.

Women are still largely considered properties of men

Indians have been slaves of patriarchy since time immemorial and this situation has not changed much. The idea that women are the dispensable and insignificant chattel of the powerful, worthy men of our society is deeply ingrained in most ignorant minds. Women are treated as someone else’s property at every stage in their lives.

Unmarried women are considered a liability to their fathers and are handed over as consideration in the contract of marriage to another man, her husband. They aren’t allowed to have any thoughts of autonomy or strength, leave alone pursue the rocky road of singledom. This stems from the belief that women are incapable of being self-sufficient, and always need a male form to protect them from the horrors of the world, that will be unleashed on them should they dare to step out alone.

This begs the question – how does she escape the abomination behind the closed doors of her home?

Sex is pleasure for the husband, but duty for the wife – Why?

Women are sent to their marital homes with a rule book installed in their brains that directs them to be dutiful wives, mothers, and daughters-in-law and to obey the husband’s family at all costs. The sultry aspect of sexual pleasure and intimacy also falls within the ambit of blind obeyance. This is because of the mindset that a woman and every part of her body exists and is created only for a man’s satisfaction.

The right of engaging in or performing any act on a woman’s body lies solely within the ‘superior grasp’ of men and not in her own ‘weak’ fingers. Women are stripped of their autonomy and made into mere objects owned by men, their very purpose being to satisfy the male species. Such an attitude promotes a sense of authority amongst men, due to which they are unable to digest any different opinions or a refusal from their women.

Rape is a crime, but not when you are married to your victim…

If a wife says “No” to any sexual act that she is not comfortable with, the husband experiences feelings of rage, anger, rejection, and frustration, because he was never prepared to handle any rejection, especially from his wife. The man going through these extremely negative emotions then forces his wife to engage in the act regardless of her wishes. It is an inane obligation expected out of her, and not something that she would willingly participate in.

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This is the exact point where the husband commits the terrible crime of raping his wife. Thus, the glass shielding a violent and abusive husband is shattered into pieces when the wife speaks out against his atrocities, leaving her utterly shocked and dismayed.

The act of marital rape is a completely appalling and unbelievable thought, difficult to even conceptualize. The neglect and non-intervention in such claims of marital rape have become a pattern. The general opinion that marital rape is “not a crime”, seems to have also seeped into the gaping holes of our legal system.

The act of rape is one of the most heinous crimes that one can commit and is highly condemned in any society. In ours, the condemnation is limited to those cases involving unmarried women. It is considered that the act of being married implies blanket consent from the woman and gives the man complete freedom to engage in any sexual act that he wants to, regardless of her opinion.

Marital rape cannot be criminalized because of provisions in the law allowing it

The act of rape is defined under section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) stating that the crime is committed when a man penetrates a woman without her informed consent. By definition, this would also satisfy the conditions of marital rape.

However, exception 2 of the same statute, is the barrier that asserts that married women are not given any respite through this section. This is inherently violative of Article 14 (Right To Equality) of the constitution as it diminishes the status of the victim just due to her marital status. When such provisions exist, it is immensely difficult to push for the criminalization of marital rape, though it was proposed by Justice J.S Verma in his Committee Report back in 2013.

‘Marriage is sacred, so marital rape doesn’t exist’

Several cases of marital rape are presented in court and have had contradictory outcomes, as some judgments are based on the moral stand that a few judges take per their conscience, while others rely on the age-old derogatory and discriminatory provisions of the law. The latter judge these cases with the notion that rape is the infringement of the ‘honour’ of a woman. They believe that a wife has crossed that threshold of becoming dishonorable, as she is under the ‘protective umbrella of the husband’.

In Arnesh Kumar vs the State of Bihar, the court dismissed a wife’s plea to criminalize marital rape stating that “the law cannot change for one woman,” and that doing so would initiate the collapse of the systems of society.

This view is furthered by several notable people who reiterate the sanctity of marriage as a license for raping their wives. Some popular examples include this statement by Haribhai Chaudhary, the former Union Minister of State and Home Affairs in 2015; and the Modi Government in RIT Foundations v Union of India. The growth and movement towards a better cause cannot take place with such comments and ideologies being imposed on the masses by these influential people.

Some landmark judgements that recognize marital rape as an infringement to privacy

However, some survivors do get landmark and norm-breaking judgments on their side.

In Suchita Srivastav v Chandigarh Administration (2009), the judgment declared rape a violation of a life led with dignity, safe living conditions, and the right to make choices, employing provisions under article 21 (Protection of Life and Personal Liberty).

Additionally, in Justice K.S Puttaswamy v UOI (2017), the court held that there exists a right to make decisions about intimacy under the right to privacy, which falls within the scope of Article 21.

This was also invoked in the State of Karnataka v Krishnappa (2000), adding that sexual and physical violence would constitute non-consented sexual intercourse.

To lengthen the string of support, the UN Committee on CEDAW, in 2013, strongly suggested that this horrendous act be criminalized.

Recognize that rape is about power, and strip it off unscrupulous men

In the 21st century, where the world is progressing and evolving, we seem to be stagnant and glued to our pernicious societal norms and legal provisions, that are proving to be detrimental.

It is imperative to recognize and move in the direction of change to ensure the safety of our married women, who have fewer avenues to seek justice. They do not deserve to be at the receiving end of this menacing crime, solely because there exists an oppressive system that judges who can be a victim, based on marital status.

It is indeed not about the act itself, but about the power that has been snatched from women and handed to unscrupulous and insensitive men. It is therefore time to divest and strip such men of that very power.

Image source: HotStar series / YouTube

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About the Author

Aanvi Agarwal

An aspiring lawyer, I study at OP Jindal Global University. Being propelled into the ever-changing maze of unlearning and development led me to discover my inclination towards women's rights and issues. I am read more...

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