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Why Are So Many Indian Men Outraged About Criminalising Marital Rape?

That a man somehow has a right to the body of a woman whenever he wants just because he is the 'husband' is a heinous idea that should have been discarded long ago!

Currently, the rape law in India carves out an exception with respect to married women. “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 16 (*age differs in various states) years of age, is not rape,” says the law. So in effect, a man cannot rape his wife as the law stands now. Even forced sex is deemed to be consensual.

Now, the Supreme Court is examining the concept of marital rape and predictably, there is an outpouring of angst from a large and vocal segment of social media.

Marital Rape – a law that needs to evolve

(image source)

When I was in law college years ago, our professor explained the supposed reasoning behind the exception. With my (then) unformed ideas of women’s or even basic human rights, I did not give it much thought. The understanding is, that by marrying a man, a woman is consenting to sexual intercourse with him in perpetuity. Express consent is therefore not required each time intercourse occurs in a marriage, and a man can choose to have sex with his spouse even against her will, as the law stands.

This is no longer an acceptable proposition.

A three-judge bench led by CJI D Y Chandrachud will be hearing the matter in March. The Union of India has opposed the recognition of marital rape on the grounds that there will be widespread legal as well as social impacts of this.

Why are so many men (and some women) angry?

https://twitter.com/somkritya/status/902511979033632768

On social media, a lot of very aggrieved men were seen to be fulminating over what they see as an attack on family values and on them personally. While presenting themselves as potential victims, they completely missed the irony of demanding the right to force themselves on unwilling women. This has been the case over the years; each time marital rape is discussed on social media.

The arguments are many as the video above states: that this is a conspiracy to destroy the Indian family structure. That this is an attempt made by leftists who are against family values or are themselves in bad /broken relationships, and want to spread disharmony and dissatisfaction in society. That this is going to “sour loving marital relationships”. Apparently, these are the “malign forces who mislead women into ending their relationships.”

In this view, if marital rape is criminalised, this will lead to many families breaking up (expecting women to stay in marriages against their own wishes is evidently immaterial here).

Then of course there is the old “log kya kahenge” problem – god forbid that the police turn up at a home at the instance of a woman who files a complaint! Another reason for the outrage is the “possible misuse of such law if marital rape is recognized as such: hapless husbands accused falsely”… oh the horror!

The point is really simple

Let us be clear. This isn’t about family values or the institution of marriage, or even about women’s rights. It is about basic human rights. It is about bodily autonomy of a person and about that person deciding who has the right to touch them, if and when. It is about the basic understanding of consent, which has to be express and ongoing, it cannot be inferred by virtue of marriage.  This is about women being equal citizens under the Indian constitution, with sovereign rights over their own bodies.

As for the possible misuse of the law, every law is subject to misuse, that cannot be a reason for not having a law. Case in point, the defamation law in India is more misused than used but it remains on the statute books. It may be noted that more men than women misuse laws so it is a little rich that so many men are now so deeply concerned about their misuse now in this one instance. As it stands, “the law places institution of marriage over individuals” which is what SC lawyer Karuna Nundy has argued in court.

(image source)

Lamentably, the screenshot above is a tweet by a woman. She speaks about “expecting sex”, blissfully unaware of the incel vibes the term evokes. No one has the right to ‘expect’ sex. To think that a man somehow has a right to the body of a woman whenever he wants is a heinous idea that militates against human rights andThat a man somehow has a right to the body of a woman whenever he wants just because he is the ‘husband’ is a heinous idea that should have been discarded long ago!

To all the aggrieved men (and women conditioned by the patriarchy) outraging against the recognition of marital rape in India, pause a moment. Reflect on this:  If a sex worker (rightly) has right to say no to sex, why should a wife be less empowered, as the High Court has observed.

Image source: a still from the film Lipstick Under My Burkha

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