Marital rape is the debate of the hour, and the argument is to criminalise it or leave it the way it has always been. I am taken aback by the fact that many people out there believe criminalising it is a wrong step to take.
In India, the idea of submissive women is so deep-rooted that it’s hard for people to accept anything contrary to this idea. People are arguing that families will be destroyed. But this argument in itself is the reason we need a law criminialising marital rape. A women’s right to her body and self-respect is not worth sacrificing for the greater good. Even though it’s more than prevalent, it needs to change. And there is no better place to start than with the Constitution.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi tweeted in support of criminalisation. The tweet was not well received by a lot of people. The bewildering bit was finding women tweeting against this step. Most of the tweets discussed how this would make men vulnerable to harassment and how it could be weaponised like the dowry law to ruin the lives of men. But all these tweets are missing the same point—what about women?
What will really help women?
It is surprising to see how every time a debate regarding women’s rights starts it’s overshadowed by the fact that some women have wrongfully accused men of crimes they did not commit. It is exhaustively discussed how men have suffered at the hands of women all because of laws like these. There are tweets about how men are the real victims, while completely disregarding women’s experiences and making them feel like it is their collective fault. A woman is likely to be told to keep quiet by the very people who love her the most. But being discouraged by people who don’t even know you or your story can take a toll.
TIME magazine recently reported that it would take an average of 135.6 years to achieve gender equality. People unaware of this fact believe that this law is giving all the power to women, which is not consistent with gender equality. A law that provides women with a right to defend themselves after suffering a violent crime is being thought of as a weapon. But the thing is that there is no power here, it’s a mere tool to defend oneself. Everything was fine when all authority belonged to the husband or his family. It is almost shameful to see people fight to stop a law that shares the word ‘rape’.
During the pandemic, multiple reports of increased abuse have surfaced. Reports showed that one in every three women worldwide experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. There was no thread of tweets for this. Nobody was fighting for better laws then. It was just a headline that was replaced by another the next day.
Consent is a word that has been added to everyone’s dictionary recently. Asking for consent is more than necessary. But like any other thing, it has become a topic for memes. Vile comments circulate, diminishing the value of consent. Many talk of it as an ‘agenda’ to ruin the marriage system in India and target men.
We will have to wait and see if marital rape is criminalised. But there is a desperate need for gender-neutral rape laws. Targeting and violating men should also be fought. Author Audre Lorde wrote, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”A gender-neutral society needs better laws. Women and men should have an equal right to defend their bodies or property. We as a society still have a long way to go. Uplifting women and creating an equal society with equal opportunities and respect sounds like a dream, it can be achieved if we work together towards it.
The author is a student at Amity University, Noida. Views are personal.