Atrocities against women have been on a tremendous rise in India over the past few years. Eve teasing, harassment, molestation and rapes are being reported all over the nation on a daily basis. Every day, news is flooded with reports on such atrocities. Faced with lack of strict rules and a prompt mechanism to contain the situation, many history-sheeters still roam free on the streets. However there is one particular section of offence , that has been grossly overlooked and left free from any sort of prosecution of the offenders, the issue of ‘marital rape’.
What is marital rape? It occurs when a man imposes his wife into sexual intercourse, either by force or threat of force or without the consent of wife. Just as domestic violence is punishable by the law, so should be domestic sexual abuse. Rape is rape, it’s no different whether done by husband or a stranger. By the end of 20th century most of the developed nations had criminalized marital rape, but however India still hasn’t.
On the question being raised in the parliament, whether marital rape should be criminalized, The Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi repeated the government’s stand in a written reply in Parliament. She said, “The concept of marital rape as understood internationally cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs [and the] mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament.” The excuse of poverty and an array of outdated social and religious customs have always been used to stall legal reforms in India. Is poverty or lack of education a justification for a husband to sexually abuse his wife? Even sati was once an acceptable and prevalent social and religious practice in India. But that doesn’t justify or empower a husband to abuse his wife.
The opposition to criminalizing marital rapes voices the opinion that it would ruin the sanctity of the institution of marriage. In India, over the decades marriage has been used as a sexual contract which gives man an implied consent for sex. It is being used as an ownership right over a woman’s body, her sexuality and her reproductive functioning. The myth of “wifely duties” must be put to an end, marital sex and any other sex has to be based on mutual consent and pleasure and not forced out of coercion.
The fact that our society is vastly shrouded in superstitions and myths, it is furthermore important to establish proper rules to ensure the safety of women. Every year hospitals across the country receive married women, who have been repeatedly abused, but the cases go unreported as marital rape, as per the Indian penal code, is still not an offence.
Our society that openly condemns sex outside of marriage, and treats it as a great offence has lead many men to get married for the sole pleasure of enjoying sex at their disposal. This puts a great number of women in the face of grave danger, as they are forced into sex and violence and that too without any voice to complaint or legal resource to seek refuge.
Saying that such a rule would be threat to marriage is equivalent to saying that sex is the only factor that holds together a marriage. It undermines the love and caring and advertises marriage as a mere means to have a physical relation with a woman, without being labeled taboo by the society.Or is it because the practice of abuse is so relevant in our country, that men are afraid to criminalize it?
Even when the political parties and ministers boasting about the GDP growth and India growing to become a superpower, vast sections of our population still lives in the dark ages. Majority of the society is still swayed by religious superstitions and outdated and even in some cases, inhumane practices such as witch hunt and human sacrifices. In such a situation it is imperative for the law makers to step in and at least ensure that the voice of the oppressed are heard out loud.
The refusal to criminalize marital rape, is a public acceptance that sexual advances and abuse against a women, as long as blanketed by marriage, will not only remain scot-free but also be accepted by the society and government. If women are to gain control of their lives, then they should have the right to say ‘NO’ to their husbands without being socially rejected for standing up to protect themselves.