This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Shreya Mohapatra. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘If Marriage Is Indeed So Sacred, Can Rape And Violence Be A Part Of It?’

More from Shreya Mohapatra

By Shreya Mohapatra:

Last year, the government shocked the nation when in response to a question posed by DMK Minister, Kanimozhi, the Minister of State for Home Affairs had said, “the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context.” The government has effectively subscribed to the archaic ideology that a woman is a man’s property by making a repugnant argument when Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said, “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 the level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, and mindset of the society to treat marriage as a sacrament.”

It’s still an issue which is discussed regularly and it is necessary to understand its nuances.

The current law on marital rape is severely problematic. Marital rape is an offence under Section 376B of the Indian Penal Code when the husband and the wife are living separately, even though married to each other. A man can be accused of rape for having sexual intercourse with his wife if she is below 15 years of age. This contradicts the law that sets both the age of consent for having sex and the legal age for marriage at 18.

As far as the stand of the government is concerned, it believes that lack of education, poverty, myriad social customs and values and religious beliefs exonerate rape. This is certainly out of the ordinary. Is the government trying to suggest that rape is not prevalent in rich, educated and middle-class homes? If yes, a reality check is certainly required. As Colin Gonsalves (2015), puts it, in tiny little Nepal which is so similar to India in terms of poverty, illiteracy, culture, etc, marital rape is a criminal offence. Bhutan, which is even tinier, also criminalises marital rape. The Indian society may consider marriage to be sacrosanct. But if marriage is indeed so sacred, can rape and violence be a part of this institution?

Violence within a matrimonial relationship may include verbal, physical, emotional and mental abuse. But in India, where rape is accompanied by a culture of shame, dishonour and silence, women are conditioned to put up with such torment. They often do not disclose the abuse being perpetrated upon them by their husbands.

Destruction of the fabric of family life and misuse of the law are the unsubstantiated reasons which a criminal lawyer has given for opposing criminalisation of marital rape. The government had expressed fears in relation to Section 498A which was introduced into the Indian Penal Code in 1983 and criminalised violence against married women. Aside from the insensitivity and distaste in these remarks, there is also a lack of common logic. A large number of acquittals do not necessarily point towards registration of false cases. It could also be a case of a poor investigation and pressure on women to withdraw cases. As far as proof is concerned, sexual abuse is seldom carried out in separation. It is almost always accompanied by other forms of physical and verbal abuse which may include forced abortions or forcing the spouse to form an intimate relationship with other men. Evidential complications may arise and therefore, a comprehensive understanding of the law is imperative. However, not having a law at all based on unfounded arguments seems illogical. As Vrinda Grover (2015) puts it, ”Whenever there is a movement to increase a woman’s access to justice, people who are afraid of women being empowered start talking about the misuse of law.”

Those who argue that the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is sufficient, miss the fact that although forced sex is a form of domestic violence covered under the Domestic Violence Act; it only provides civil remedy to rape and hence, is not suitable for women who want to press criminal charges against their husbands. Flavia Agnes highlights yet another bitter truth. She says, “Even Supreme Court judges make callous and unsubstantiated comments such as S498A is a ‘terrorist law’ through which women hold their husbands to ransom.”

Rape is one of the means to maintain the social hierarchy of power relationships. It is a weapon wielded to terrorise women in class, caste and communal conflicts. It is also used in custodial and state-sponsored violence. Therefore, rape is not an act of passion, but of power. Can one be entitled to the use of such a ‘weapon’ in a partnership of equals?

The government fails to understand that a law against marital rape is the key to sexual equality. The wife cannot be a submissive chattel to the husband.  “The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to men and women. But by taking away a woman’s right to say no to forced sexual activity within a marriage you are denying her the most fundamental right of self-determination over her own body,” says Vrinda Grover.

In 2013, post the horrific sexual assault in Delhi, the Justice Verma Committee consisting of Justice J.S. Verma, Justice Leila Sheth and Gopal Subramaniam was set up to recommend laws related to trafficking, sexual assault, police, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, medical examination of survivors and electoral and educational reforms. The set of rational recommendations backed by nuanced analysis recognised that rape was driven by the need to exert power and not passion. It dissociated rape from the ideas of shame and dishonour and instead viewed it as the violation of a woman’s bodily integrity and dignity. The Committee also redefined the meaning of consent. “Unless a woman gives her consent either by word or gesture, no one must assume that she consented as is commonly assumed when the woman is married to the accused, does not have injury marks on her body or is between 16-18 years of age.” Around 80,000  recommendations poured in from different parts of the country to the Justice Verma Committee including the appeal to criminalise marital rape. The Justice Verma Committee expanded the definition of rape which was simply penile-vaginal to include other penetrative acts such as penile-anus, penile-oral, insertion of objects into the woman’s vagina and fingering a woman.

The Commission made another noteworthy recommendation in relation to the law on marital rape. The Verma Committee had explicitly said that “marriage in modern times is a partnership of equals” and therefore, this exemption should be removed. However, the UPA government, then in power, refused to accept this recommendation stating that it would weaken traditional values. The debates that ensued in the Lok Sabha were marked by sexism, misogyny and misinterpretation of information. As a result, the Parliamentary Standing Committee chose to exclude marital rape from the Criminal Amendment Bill, 2013.

Two years down the line, nothing seems to have changed. Even with the change in the government at the centre. The country is still being led by a conservative and rigid government. Women’s rights activists, human rights activists, eminent lawyers and people from various sections of civil society have strongly criticised the government’s stance.

For most married women, being subjected to abuse by their husbands is no less than a nightmare. But the stigma of a broken marriage appears to override all other concerns. A classic tactic used by abusive husbands is to make their wives totally reliant on them. Separating from their husbands does not seem a valid choice for most women as they are gripped with the fear of becoming destitute and losing the means to provide for their children. The normative acceptance of violence in a marital relationship and their complete dependence on their marital homes for shelter and financial security further leads women to not report the violence.

Time and again, the debate over whether marital rape should be criminalised or not has been characterised by misogynistic thoughts. Even though there have also been progressive and thoughtful opinions formulated by informed sections of civil society.

The government must allot more money to rape crisis centres, more judges, more courts,  safe houses for women being violated in their homes and forensic facilities.

Successive governments have made an absolute mockery of democracy by taking a regressive stand on matrimonial relationships. Does a woman’s right to bodily integrity tarnish traditional Indian values? With the UN Population Fund indicating that 75% of women in India are subjected to marital rape, it is high time that our politicians engage in a discourse with women’s rights activists and organisations to frame a progressive law.

Lastly, in the words of Kavita Krishnan, “Let’s get talking India: Marriage cannot be a license to rape!”


Image Source: Your DOST/ Flickr
You must be to comment.

More from Shreya Mohapatra

Similar Posts

By Shabeena Anjum

By Martha Farrell Foundation

By Samaira Guleria

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below