By Shilpika Srivastava
In the light of continuously rising crime graph against women, government’s remark – ‘concept of marital rape cannot be applied in India as marriage is treated as a sacrament or sacred as per mindset of the Indian society’ – is not shocking.
Yes, it is not shocking! In India, where women are victimized at every step by local goons, eve teasers and even by family members, Minister of State for Home Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary’s comment does not come out as news to many Indian women.
His statement, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament,” reveals the insensitivity of Indian government towards the mental and physical trauma that women go through by getting raped by their own husbands.
In January 2013, RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat, agitated women by saying, “A husband and a wife are bound by a contract which says – you (woman) look after the household chores and satisfy me, I (man) will take care of your needs and will protect you.”
In May 2014, a man accused of raping his wife flew free because a court of the national capital did not find the act to be within the ‘conforms of rape’. While acquitting the husband, additional sessions Judge Virender Bhat said, “The parties being husband and wife, the sexual intercourse between the two does not come within the ambit of the offence of rape, even if the same was against the will and consent of the victim.”
If such kinds of remarks come from the judiciary and government of India, is there a chance that women will find anything shocking?
Numbers don’t lie
Just a few months back, a research done by National Family Health Survey (NFHS) revealed that sexual violence is grossly under-reported in India. It revealed that husbands commit a majority of acts of sexual violence in India, and just 1% of marital rapes and 6% of rapes by men other than husbands are reported to the police.
A study, conducted by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) and United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA), threw some insight on the violence against women. The survey showed men admitting to having forced a sexual act upon their wives/ partners at some point in their lives.
In the present day, studies indicate that between 10% and 14% of married women are raped by their husbands. The incidents of marital rape ascend to 1/3rd to 1/2 among clinical samples of battered women. Sexual assault by one’s spouse account for approximately 25% of rapes committed.
Need for criminalization?
Indian cinema that beautifully encapsulates the idea of the ‘sacrosanct’ institution of marriage, seems to be nonexistent and even contrary to the reality of Indian women’s experiences.
Being one of the most common and obnoxious forms of masochism in Indian society, marital rape harbors behind the rigid valance of marriage.
The irony is that despite innumerable amendments and law commissions, the most disgusting and humiliating act of marital rape is not considered as a crime in India. And, if somehow a woman is able to firmly stand against the injustice, the issue of penalty remains adrift in the darkness of legal skepticism. What she is left with, in the end, is to protect herself from her own partner and believe that the legislations are either unreal or vague.
Section 375, the provision of rape in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), gets life from age-old disbeliefs. It mentions, “Sexual intercourse by man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.” However, Section 376 of IPC does provide punishment for rape. But, the section mocks at the trauma of marital rape victims. It states, “The rapist should be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than 7 years but which may extend to life or for a term extending up to 10 years and shall also be liable to fine unless the woman raped is his own wife, and is not under 12 years of age, in which case, he shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 2 years with fine or with both.”
The social stigma
The first year of her marriage, was a dream-come-true for Arti (name changed). Yes, her husband had issues with controlling his anger, however, nothing seemed overtly outside the norm.
In the second year of marriage, Arti went through the worst violence she could ever imagine in her life. When she was not able to stand her husband’s continuous aggressive demands, the “wrapping up” was way more horrifying.
“Aarti was my younger sister. Her husband would thrash her, beat her and would ask her to ‘serve’ him every night. She told our parents that she wanted a divorce, but fearing societal humiliation, the parents forced her to stay in the marriage,” said Arti’s sister while speaking to NewsGram.
“I remember one day when she called me and cried her heart out. She said that her husband banged her down from the edge of the bed where they were sitting. He took her down to the floor, and forcefully had sex with her, even though she was yelling to get off and stop,” the sister shared.
“For her, it was easy to take her own life than to go through the horror every night,” her voice trembled as she spoke.
No doubt, there are so many Artis in India who are still living the horror, all thanks to the social dogma.
The biggest point is that it is the society that fails to understand that rape, in any form, is an act of complete humiliation, ignominy and disobedience rather than an archaic theory of penile/vaginal penetration.
An incomplete definition of rape asserts the notion that rapists consider rape as pure sex and not an act of violence.
The law abroad
Marital rape comes under the purview of offence and is completely illegal in the entire 50 states of the US. The criminalization of marital rape in the United States began in the mid-1970s. By 1993, marital rape became a crime in the entire country, under at least one section of the sexual offense codes.
In New Zealand, Section 128 to the Crimes Act, 1961, Sub-section (4) states, “A person can be convicted of sexual violence in respect of sexual connection with another person notwithstanding the marital status at the time of the sexual assault. Further, the fact that the parties are married or have been in a continuing relationship will not warrant a reduction in sentence.”
Countries like Canada, France, Sweden, Israel, Norway, Soviet Union, Denmark, Poland and Czech Republic also see marital rape as an illegal act.
The answer is still unheard
Marriage does not function solely on sex. Our MPs need to understand that the sanctity of marriage is preserved by mutual understanding and respect. India not only needs a broader perception when it comes to women rights, but also needs a judicial awakening.
As the United Nations says, “Educating boys and men to view women as valuable partners in life, in the development of society and the attainment of peace are just as important as taking legal steps to protect women’s human rights,” men hold the social, economical and moral responsibilities to combat each form of gender discrimination.
For a country which thrives on deeply ingrained traditional and religious pigeonholes and witnesses repugnant forms of machismo, it is high time that the letter of law alters as soon as possible.