By Nikita Bishnoi:
Even though so much has been done for stricter rape laws, rape is considered appalling only because the dignity of women is thought to have been undermined and she is ‘slut shamed’ for no fault of her own. Women’s ‘denial of consent’, pain and trauma of harassment do not form the basis to claim rape to be inhuman by the society. Rather, the insecurity of losing the dignity of the women and that of their families is what makes society push the limits to avoid it.
In the case of rape inside a marriage, dignity of marriage is privileged over the dignity of women. This is the reason why it is hard to consider marital rape a heinous crime in our society. A bond considered to be sacred by our society is to be maintained at any cost. The level of its dignity ascends as women indulge more and more in marital stereotypes and keep their humiliation to be an extremely private affair.
In a statement given by Maneka Gandhi, reasons like poverty, illiteracy and culture were given as excuses for not criminalising marital rape. A rapist is a sociopath. Should a sociopath be defended on the grounds of poverty, illiteracy or culture? Are we trying to say rape is our culture? The mindset of the society to treat marriage as a sacrament should be all the more reason to criminalise marital rape since the defaulter needs to be punished.
Marital rape is often referred under domestic violence. Forcible intercourse or penetration by force or threat of force is not just an act of ‘violence’ but ‘rape’. Being a husband of the victim should not be an excuse to decrease the punishment of a rapist to imprisonment for one year and Rs. 20,000/- fine under section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code.
A divorce can be filed on the grounds of domestic violence which includes “Insisting on perverse sexual conduct”, which clearly undermines the seriousness of the crime. Moreover, only excessive and unreasonable demands for sex or demands for unnatural sex have been considered forms of cruelty and may entitle a woman to a divorce. Since India does not have a law on marital rape, even if a woman’s husband has sexual intercourse with her without her consent, he cannot be prosecuted for rape.
Divorce is not only a rescue path for the victim but, it is also a rescue for the culprit. As many would argue, “If the shoe pinches, discard it.” To them, it is to be made clear that the trauma of rape is incomparable to the pain of a pinching shoe.
There are arguments for the misuse of the marital rape law. It is argued whether it should come into being given the prevailing the misuse of the anti-dowry law. Every law in India has the potential to be misused. But this does not mean that the law should be done away with! Instead, clauses should be added in the law which protect the rights of men and punishment for the women who file false cases. An amendment of such a kind in the law should be considered.
Dowry law being misused does not mean women are no more the victims of murder or driven to suicide by continuous harassment and torture by husbands and in-laws in an effort to extort dowry. In fact, true cases come up all the time and men are held guilty in the court after legitimate legal proceedings. We still have women who face ‘dowry deaths’, domestic violence and of course, marital rape which can still not be reported as a ‘rape’!
Many also argue that women not letting their husbands have sex with them entitles their husbands to use force which may or may not take a form of rape. What kind of society do we live in where a woman’s denial is not accepted? Does she not have a right to her own body? There is a legitimate way of moving out of an unsatisfactory relationship – by filing for a ‘divorce’! Sexual humiliation and torture by force is inhuman, cruel and certainly not a solution.
The grounds for considering rape a crime should be sex against consent, injuries, pain, trauma and harassment a person has to go through. Diminished dignity or ‘izzat’ as we call it is just a stereotype the society has thrust upon the survivor in order to prove that ‘it’s her fault’ for bringing such misfortune upon herself. Only if the correct reasons for punishment against rape are understood, the immediate need of marital rape law can be understood. The misconceptions regarding marital rape should be discussed and debated so as to ensure a safer household for married women.