I’ve been warned innumerable times. I’ve been warned not to go to deserted alleyways because they are not safe; to not go to excessively crowded locations alone because one can’t trust what happens. I’ve been told to stay away from alien men because of who they could potentially be. But men in alleyways and buses, I realised, are not alien. They are the ones we go with on dinners, the ones we sit with on a casual evening laughing without a worry, the ones we love and trust. The men, whom they warn us of, are all around us.
In India, the country I come from, almost 90% of all criminalised rapes are carried out by someone known to the survivor. Coming out with your stories can be hard enough in itself because of the associated fear and shame. The emotional overload after a traumatic experience is coupled with the pressure to not move to court due to mutual connections with the perpetrator.
But despite the inefficiency and difficulty in securing justice through the judicial system, justice is an option. No matter how temporary the remedy in the absence of a systemic shift is, remedy is still a possibility. However, what happens when laws do not allow you to fight against the wrong? What about when the State itself sanctions rape?
In a survey conducted across nine states of India, one in three of 9,000 men openly admitted to having raped their wives. In most occurrences, women have to continue staying with their rapist-partners due to their lack of economic independence stemming from patriarchy and inadequate access to the judiciary.
Sex after marriage is also considered a matter of right, with little regard to the woman’s autonomy. In other words, India, apart from 35 other countries, treats marriage as a license to rape, an end to the idea of consent if it practically ever existed in the first place.
India claims to stand by the UN Declaration on Elimination of Violence against women, which identifies marital rape as a form of violence, affirmed by the Beijing Declaration and Action. Performative international actions strike as stark hypocrisy when there is no approach to heed to what one supported in the first place.
In response to a petition, the Central Government, through an affidavit, mentioned that criminalising marital rape “may destabilise the institution of marriage.” But if mutual respect, the right to choose and the mere idea of not being a rapist are not a part of it, how broken and unstable the institution is in the first place?
It’s unfortunate and frustrating that we still have to say this, but here we are: marital rape is rape.