The definition of rape in India is still looked at through the lens of a woman’s marital status. If you oppose criminalising marital rape, you are a rape apologist.
At an airport recently, I overheard a conversation among a group of middle-aged men and women: “Women are asking for it and sending the wrong message to rapists with their behaviour and then crying foul when taxi drivers rape them,” said one man.
Then he added: “I don’t quite understand the furore around marital rape. If a wife doesn’t have sex with her husband, then who else will she sleep with?”
The man was obviously conditioned into believing that a woman unconditionally owes her husband sex by virtue of being married, her consent be damned. A woman in the group said: “This is true, how can a husband rape his wife?” And there it was, women themselves being victims of patriarchy, and to paraphrase Kathleen Hanna, women being complicit in their own de-humanisation.
We live in a country where the definition of rape has a critical exception:
Section 375 of the IPC that lists down the legally recognised definition of rape says, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape”.
The Supreme Court in Oct 2017 ruled that child marital rape is illegal. So, we live in a country where the definition of rape is looked through the lens of a woman’s marital status. We also justify crimes committed within one’s homes. Over 95 per cent of rapes perpetrated by individuals known to the victim.
We aren’t just looking for the ideal victims, we are also looking for the ideal perpetrators. We are outraged when the sexual assault perpetrators are bus drivers, watchmen, or strangers in dark alleys, but lest the perp be the victim’s husband, the crime is viewed through a different lens: that of “ghar ki baat ghar me rakho” or “sex is a part of marriage, how can you say your husband is raping you”.
To those who will troll me with nonsense like: “If wife doesn’t have sex with husband and brothels are banned in India, where is a man to go” and “are you suggesting adultery as a recourse”, or “when wife wants money, husband is supposed to give money, but when husband wants sex, wife says no- this is your feminism”—move aside, all of you.
No one is challenging your right and desire to have consensual sex with your wife. No one is encouraging wives to actively deny sex to their husbands either. That is not what my feminism dictates. If your wife is not willing to have sex with you, feel free to seek counselling, divorce or separate. But to feel entitled to your wife’s body, to have forceful sex, to not seek consent —that is where the problem lies.
And yes, the same principle applies to women. But let’s be honest, wives pinning down their husbands and engaging in forceful sex is not a problem plaguing India.
Male rights activists’ demand to make criminalisation of marital rape gender-neutral rings hollow. They only seem to find the energy to demand gender-neutral laws in retaliation to women asking for stronger laws to protect them.
And to those who insist we already have laws and provisions that criminalise marital rape and there is no need to arm women with more tools to ‘harass their husbands’, let’s look at those existing laws and dissect them:
The Domestic Violence Act
It provides civil remedies only, not criminal.
Section 498A of the IPC
The punishment for a husband subjecting his wife to cruelty is for a term which may extend to three years and a fine. As opposed to minimum seven years for rape under Sec 376 of IPC.
Section 376 B
Forceful sexual intercourse by the husband upon his wife during separation, whether under a decree of separation or otherwise, is a bailable offence that warranties between two to seven years imprisonment and fine. As though a husband raping his wife is somehow a lesser offence.
Then there are the standard questions:
How will you prove whether the sex between husband and wife was consensual or not? What is to stop a woman from filing a false case? Should a husband install cameras in his bedroom? Should we sign consent forms with our wife every-time we have sex?
The low conviction rate on rapes does not amount to false rape cases. Let’s not even cite the Delhi Commission for Women Report of 2014 that states 53 per cent of rapes reported in the previous year as ‘false’. The report is far from conclusive as it classifies as ‘false’ all reports of rape that were dropped before they reached court, without analysing the reasons why.
To those who claim that NGOs and social activists will thrive off criminalising marital rape, the data simply doesn’t back you.
If you are still unconvinced, then let us bring safeguards against the misuse of law. Also remember we have laws against malicious prosecution, whereby a woman can be charged with filing a false rape case.
A brave survivor recently reached out to me saying that her husband is physically, emotionally and sexually abusive, and her own mother tells her to “adjust”.
Mothers telling their daughters, “You don’t know because I have never spoken about it, but you think your father hasn’t forced himself on me, this is part of married life, adjust kar lo,” is a reaction that is far more prevalent than we would like to accept.
The law of the land is supposed to recognise crimes for what they are and not forgive certain crimes because it is being perpetrated by someone known to the victim. Law is an instrument of social change. Our leaders who have failed the rights of married women must know that we elect them not for appeasing popular sentiment.
So, pick a side. Will you be a rape apologist and defend a husband raping his wife with impunity? Or will you stand up for the rights and dignity of women?
Trisha Shetty is Founder & CEO of http://www.shesays.in/, which works towards achieving gender equality through youth and civil society engagement. Her Twitter handle is @trishabshetty
Graphics by Siddhant Gupta