India surely has a checkered reputation when it comes to treating its women fairly, and even less when it comes to the issue of marital rape. A crime in many parts of the world, in India we aren’t even willing to acknowledge it as a problem. The Union Minister of Woman and Child Development Maneka Gandhi, even went as far to say that it is not possible to criminalise marital rape in India because of things like “illiteracy, poverty, social customs, religious beliefs and the sanctity of marriage”.
It is, therefore, a relief to hear Katrina Kaif, one of India’s leading actresses talk about the issue at the WeUnite conference. In the conference, she urged women in India to draw on their strength and speak up against the issue. “It’s not okay to feel inferior or weak because we’re not the weaker sex by any definition,” she said.
She went on to point out that in patriarchal societies, women are often forced to remain quiet rather than speak up about the issue, a practice that needs to be done away with. This, despite the fact that India has had female heads of state (both a female Prime Minister and a female President), “a feat United states of America has not managed to achieve as of yet… it is surprising to hear about gender inequality in India.” she said.
The definition of rape, under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, explicitly adds marital rape to the exception, stating that, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.”
Kaif also pointed out that according to NCRB data, violent crimes against women had risen by nearly 100% between 2001 and 2005, a rise she attributed to a greater degree of reporting of crime rather than an actual increase in the crime rate. While the increased numbers of women reporting crimes against them is a hopeful sign, she went on to add, “Yet, I can only imagine how many other crimes against women in India go unreported.”
Rape is still one the least reported crimes in the world. The numbers may be bleak, but it is heartening to see a celebrity of Katrina Kaif’s stature coming out and talking about the issue. No man or woman has a right to demand sex without consent from their spouse and marriage definitely does not make the right to give consent magically go away. Saying that it’s difficult to criminalise marital rape because of “social customs” (looking at you, Maneka Gandhi!) is saying that forcing your spouse to have sexual intercourse with you, without their consent, is part of India’s ‘social customs’. It most definitely is not. And we’re glad that someone like Katrina Kaif spoke up about it.