Rape, including within a marriage, is a crime. It must be treated as such
The recent submission by the government of India in the Delhi High Court arguing that marital rape should not be made a criminal offence is a regressive stand, and one that has the potential to be extremely harmful to victims of sexual abuse in the country. The government has argued that criminalising rape within a marriage “may destabilise the institution of marriage” and could become a tool of harassment of husbands. Adding insult to injury was the Twitter statement of Swaraj Kaushal, Mizoram Governor and husband of the minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj that if marital rape were to be criminalised, “there will be more husbands in the jail, than in the house”
Rape is an act of sexual assault inflicted upon a person against their will. Whether the perpetrator of such an act is married to the victim or not, the nature of the act, the violence inflicted on the victim, and the emotional trauma faced by the victim does not change. If anything, the trauma is worse because the victim must continue to live with the perpetrator even after the assault. To inflict upon a person the sort of brutal emotional and physical violence that takes away even the sanctity of their own body in the way that rape does is to deny them their basic humanity. It is not simply a question of social sanction for sexual relations that marriage in conservative societies provides; it is a far more basic question of a person’s right to their own body. Sexual relations with even one’s own spouse without their consent cannot be considered anything other than rape.
By suggesting that such a law will be misused to persecute men, Mr. Kaushal and the government are attempting to perpetuate a patriarchal mindset that makes men afraid that “disgruntled” women would seek revenge upon their husbands by the use of this law. It is an argument that diminishes the struggle and emotional abuse that thousands of women, stuck in marriages that they have been forced into and cannot leave for fear of social ostracism, face every single day. It diminishes also the courage and the perseverance that victims of sexual abuse – irrespective of gender – show when they admit to having been raped in a society that continues to blame and shame the victims of such abuse. As for misuse, that is a possibility with almost every law. It stands to reason that convictions and punishments will be meted out only after appropriate investigations.
India is a land of glaring inequalities of class, caste, religion, and gender. Arguments against the criminalisation of marital rape will only add to these inequalities. What we need instead is to establish mechanisms that will allow victims to not only come forward to report such incidents, but also to help them cope with the trauma that they endure.