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Dear minister, would that make marital rape sacred too?

The government told Rajya Sabha on Wednesday the concept of marital rape cannot be applied in the country since marriage was treated as a sacrament or sacred in the Indian society. Does that make rape in marriage sacred too?

ht view Updated: May 01, 2015 13:41 IST
Jyoti Sharma Bawa
Jyoti Sharma Bawa
Hindustan Times
Marital Rape,#MaritalRape,govt on marital rape

If switched on at the right psychological moment, Rajya Sabha TV can be very enlightening. For instance, how we -- lesser mortals -- would have known that rules which are applicable to most civilised societies are not relevant here in India.

As the minister of state for home, HP Chaudhary explained, "It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament." Note the stress on sanctity of marriage.

Pardon me Mr Minister, but a clarification is in order. Do you mean marital rapes never, ever, ever take place in sacred Indian marriages or should a battered wife consider being raped by her husband her conjugal duty?

Now sir, by bringing up the spectre of sacred marriage in these unholy times, you have opened up Pandora's box. Does sacred duty start and end up at being raped or being beaten is also a part of it? What about emotional abuse - should it also be considered a part of rough and tumble of marriage? And if any of the partners decides enough is enough, are they allowed to divorce or will that weaken the sacrament of marriage thereby bringing down the entire fabric of our society?

Because, we hate to break it to you sir, but sacrament or no sacrament -- marital rapes do happen. In fact, according to a study by the International Centre for Women (ICRW) and United Nations Population Fund's (UNPFA), one-third of men out of a sample size of 9,205 admitted to have forced a sexual act on their wife or girlfriend. The study was conducted in eight states in India including Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.

DMK MP Kanimozhi, while raising the issue in RS, had also cited UNPFA statistics - 75% of married women in India were subjected to marital rape.

Sir, if we go by what was said in the upper house then it lands us in the august company of countries like China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia that have not criminalised rape in marriage. We have nothing against the countries, only their record of women's emancipation - to use a crude American colloquialism - sucks.

It has been a few decades since those breast-beating feminists pointed out that coerced sex in marriage was a man's way to control the woman, to treat her like his property, to ensure that equality doesn't quietly creep up on him. They said marriage doesn't mean he has the license to force himself sexually on his wife. In the politics of gender, marital rape ensures a woman has no right on her own body, her sexuality or reproductive rights. It strips her of a life of dignity.

But what is dignity when faced with all the weight of traditions and sacraments? Not that the honourable minister said anything new on the issue.

In 2013, after the horrific Delhi gang-rape case, the Verma Committee had also suggested criminalizing marital rape. A panel of lawmakers opposed the suggestion as they said, "If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress". As opposed to when it is strengthening the institution?

Having said that, there is a real and tangible need to ensure that these laws are not misused, case in point being 498A (anti-dowry law) and Domestic Violence Act. In fact, cases of marital rape have been tried under the DV Act but as sexual violence moves from the fringes of public discourse on to the national consciousness. However, hiding behind the screen of traditions and culture will take us nowhere.

The truth is: A rape is a rape. Only, in case of marital rape, a woman has to live with the rapist every day.

First Published: Apr 30, 2015 15:29 IST