Talking openly about marital rape in India
"Marriage is predicated on your family's consent rather than hers. In most arranged marriages you marry a stranger and he has rights over you, you hope he will be kind and sensitive but there's no guarantee. So when you say sex within a marriage requires a woman's consent, people in India can't get their heads around it.” - Nilanjana Roy, Novelist and women’s rights activist
The urgent need to openly discuss sexual violence and women’s rights increases every time an innocent woman is subjected to emotional, physical, and sexual violence; however, it is difficult to do so due to the double standards of society in context with women’s rights, empowerment, and a general preference for remaining silent on burning issues in fear of it causing moral outrage. Marital rape therefore, is one of many burning issues, which is under-discussed and under reported.
One of the factors, which prevent open discussions on the issue of marital rape, lies in the general Indian attitude towards men, women, and gender roles. A woman, when married, is taught to consider her husband or “pati” as a God, or “parameshwar”. The very basis of a marriage is often a socio-economic contract between two families, and love and the woman’s own feelings are not considered. She is there as an outlet for the man, her body exists for the purpose of providing pleasure and producing children, ideally male. Here too lays an additional excuse provided by men who were asked about why they raped their wives. “She did not provide a son, so I will make her do so by hook or by crook”. Many, unfortunately, share the attitude; the men propagate it as their birthright, while the women bow their heads silently.
Non-consensual sex is equal to rape. Rape by definition occurs when one of the parties involved in a sexual act does not provide consent and does not wish to participate in the act, and is forced or coerced to do so against their will. Rape according to the Indian Penal Code or IPC, comes under Section 375, but does not recognize rape within a marriage, as is made clear by the following line, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape”.
One would like to maintain an objective perspective while writing about issues and attitudes towards rights, but it is certainly very challenging to do so when, in a time of great progress and achievement for womankind, it is still considered “normal” for a woman to be raped and violated. It is also difficult to retain feelings of sheer disgust upon hearing from lawmakers and government officials as to why India has not outlawed marital rape; they feel that doing so would threaten the foundation of marriage and would “weaken family values”.
India has a lot to learn from the 104 countries [including its neighbors, Bhutan and Nepal], which have made marital rape, or spousal rape, illegal, and crimes, which are punishable by law. A lot of work needs to be done to develop the mentalities of those who pass or refuse to pass laws in India, and it is hoped that once a forward-thinking perspective is developed, the country can actually beginning protecting the rights of its women and make actual progress.