Earlier this week, an Indian parliament member Kanimozhi from DMK party asked the home ministry whether marital rape will be included in the definition of rape. To this, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, minister of state for home replied, “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.”
Despite recommendations from the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, India does not ban marital rape. We do not think it is an offense if a man rapes his wife because according to our customs and beliefs, a wife’s primal duty is to make sure she meets all the demands of her husband. This includes allowing her husband to have sex with her whenever he wishes. In fact, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 explicitly states a wife is duty-bound to have sex with her husband.
Here is Indian law on marital rape:
Section 375 of IPC which deals with rapes states: “Sexual intercourse by man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.”
Section 376 of IPC which provides punishment for rape states the rapist should be punished with imprisonment and fine “unless the woman raped is his own wife.”
Unless the woman raped is his own wife.
In such a case, a married woman has no legal recourse, no rights and absolutely no right of consent. Most countries in the world recognize marital rape as a legitimate form of rape but by excluding this from the law; India joins the esteemed company of a handful of countries – China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan – all with questionable human rights records.
We have sent missions to the moon; boast of achieving higher growth rates and showing excellence in all areas except the condition of women in our society.
After the December 2012 gang rape in Delhi, the Justice Verma Commission was set up to amend laws and suggest ways to strengthen India’s sexual assault legislation. One of the recommendations by the committee was to legalize and punish marital rape but the government conveniently rejected this proposal and left it out. Their reason was, “If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress.”
And it is absolutely okay to take consent away from a woman, violate her and let her suffer unimaginable amounts of stress and grief. Right, that comes with the territory. After all, what did she think being married entailed?
The concept of ‘Bhartiya Nari’ is front and center here. With changing times, unfortunately, our outlook has not changed. We have sent missions to the moon; boast of achieving higher growth rates and showing excellence in all areas except the condition of women in our society.
So exactly what kind of prosperity does the government hope to achieve while ignoring the basic rights of half of the population?
‘One in five Indian men admitted to forcing their wives to have sex with them.’
According to statistics from the International Center for Research on Women in 2011, one in five Indian men admitted to forcing their wives to have sex with them. And the UN Population Fund reported in early 2000, that more than two-thirds of married women in India, aged 15-49, have been beaten or forced to provide sex to their husbands.
Such abysmal records show where we are absolutely lacking and how protecting women, before they are married, from rapes and other crimes is an incomplete attempt to ensure their safety. The concept that the husband is king and ‘his wish is my command’ needs to absolve and be replaced by equality and consent in all areas; not just sex.
When consent is not given and a sexual act is committed it is defined as rape. Existing relationships between parties, at that time, do not matter and should not be considered to grant immunity to their actions. We all have a right to give consent and when we say no, we have the right to see that it is respected. This does not mean that we have become too modernized or have started to ignore our culture and traditions. And for those out there who interpret it that way, it is about time to ignore such culture that teaches us that our wives are our property and can be pierced and prodded any time we wish.