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What Will It Take For India To Acknowledge Marital Rape As A Crime?

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We shudder when we hear the word ‘rape.’ Images of violence and sexual abuse, especially against women, flash in our minds at the mention of it.

A much-known fear of insecurity creeps in. As a woman living in India (which ranks 133rd in the world index of “Women Peace and Security” among 193 nations in the world), I know how real the fear is every time I am alone on the streets, at unknown places, or return home late. We fear strangers, we are taught self-defence, we are aware of the slightest wrong move or touch in a public place, and the list goes on.

India Is One Of The 36 Countries Where Marital Rape Is Still Legal

Rape in the general definition of the term is “a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent.” As soon as you read that out, the image that flashes in your head is of a stranger attacking or abusing another, or a stepfather, brother, cousin, or friend harming someone. Isn’t it?

Representational Image. These women who learn to live under such unimaginable torture later suppress the opinion of those who feel otherwise.

Now, imagine it to be someone’s partner. A boyfriend? Girlfriend? Fiance? Fiancee? Possible. Isn’t it? That is why we are all overly alert if a date invites us over to their place or can spike our drinks.

We are taught safe words and sending SOS or informing one trusted person in our circle about a date before meeting them. Then, what about married partners? Husbands? Wives?

India is one of the 36 countries left in the world where marital rape is not a crime. A person can force their legally married partner into sexual activities and get away with it. I am sure most of us have heard of or known one such perpetrator.

The NCRB in 2019 established that nearly 70% of crimes against women involve domestic violence. Ironically beating up your married partner may land you in jail but raping them will not. Another report by the NFHS in 2015-16 suggested that the average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to face sexual abuse from her husband than anyone else.

Alarming, isn’t it? Yet somehow, it is not surprising. When such statistics are reported in leading newspapers around the country, it is talked of by welfare groups. Facebook and Twitter erupt into opinions and debates, public opinion polls are made, and change.org pages are formed.

Representational Image. After marriage, most women are made to believe their husbands are entitled to treat them as they want to, even if it involves non-consensual intercourse.

I visited change.org in search of such pages. Pleas of making Marital Rape a crime in India is made in thousands, but there are a thousand others opposing the notion. Why? Because even today in our society, be it urban or rural, women are often treated as inferior and property of men.

Petitions Filed In The SC Have Yielded No Legal Protection From Marital Rape

The Hindu ritual of Kanyadaan from a father or father figure to the husband itself signifies such ‘giving away and taking’ of women.

After marriage, most women are made to believe their husbands are entitled to treat them as they want to, even if it involves non-consensual intercourse. Petitions had been filed in the Supreme Court of India since 2011 by various people and organisations in this regard. None of them were accepted to pass a bill against Marital Rape.

Maybe the statistics of our society is such that a majority of marriages in India fall under the “demanded to be criminalized” category and can disrupt the image of the nation.

Or perhaps the governing parties, whoever they might be, fear losing votes of men over it. Whatever the internal reasons might be, we are all aware of living in a society where women may have to face rape from someone she should trust the most, her husband.

A major role of the society in the indirect promotion of marital rape is the average Indian household. Most women facing the issue are not aware of it being wrong. They are made to believe by their families that it is quite normal for a husband to treat them the way they do.

And it is the duty of a “good” wife to not protest and let it happen. These women who learn to live under such unimaginable torture later suppress the opinion of those who feel otherwise. Men feel entitled to treat the women they marry the way they want.

They had seen their fathers do so, and their mothers accept such treatment. Their mothers teach them that such behaviour is normal. In the urban scenario, many claims that stress and anxiety often lead to their partner’s violent behaviour.

Either way, they are defending an act as a “personal matter” when it is at par with being raped out on the streets by a stranger, perhaps even worse; for we don’t trust a stranger with our lives, but we should be able to trust our partners.

India is a country where 90% of the marriages are arranged, whereas the world stats stand at 55% majority. In most cases, the bride and the groom are forbidden to mingle freely before the legal and social functions.

So, when you are legally bound to a stranger with a bagful of expectations, ready to change your entire life in a day, there has to be some amount of trust, which really can’t be practically shown until you know the person. Also, the taboo of divorce and remaining single and expectations from social circles in this country is far too toxic.

Why Does The Society Normalise A Crime And Not Criminalise It?

Many parents, even aware of their daughters’ plights, do very little in the name of society and its standards of a good life. If she wants to take legal action, which is probably the only way out of a bad marriage, again, marital rape, even if proven, is often judged as “consensual” because you married the man.

Here, let me give you a scenario. A successful career woman balancing both home and office comes home tired. She is probably feeling unwell or even menstruating. She decides to sleep off the feeling. Her husband comes home late, stressed from the day, frustrated with how his boss puts him down or perhaps thinking about the next project at hand.

He wants to relax. So he wakes up his wife. His wife says, “No.” Loud and clear. He doesn’t listen. Yes, his legally married partner refusing him the pleasure he is “entitled to” hurts his ego. Go back to the definition of rape above. Does it fit him? Yes.

Because nowhere in your marriage, legally or socially, is someone bound to consent to your sexual needs whenever you want. That is not marriage. That is never consent. It is and always will be rape.

And it is happening every day around you. Perhaps next door, perhaps to that cousin who is “happily married” or to that #couplegoal on Instagram. Nobody talks of it because that leads to more judgment and humiliation to the shattered public image of a “good” wife than the “good” husband. People who do talk of it are pushed to the point of making them criminals. Some are brave enough to move away. Most aren’t that lucky.

Why should we live in a society that accepts such a crime as “normal” than criminalize it? Why should we not ask the right questions and demand social reforms in favour of the victims than the perpetrators? Why should we not talk about the things that are uncomfortable?

I have no answers. The flickering hope that someday some real criminals will be caught under an act meant for “Marital Rape in India” still lives in some of us. Until then, we are silenced.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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