Forty nine year old Sudha* from Thiruvananthapuram got married at the age of 24. Five years later, she secured a government job. In the initial years, her husband would get upset if she spoke to any of her friends. Things got worse when a colleague once visited her house. Angered by this visit, her husband asked her to come up to the room on top and forced her into having sex without her consent. This soon became a pattern and every time any of Sudha's colleagues and friends visited her, she would be subjected to marital rape.
Today, Sudha has separated from her husband and lives on the top floor of the house which was in her husband’s name but bought with a loan on her name. The couple have not legally separated due to the question around who gets the house.
This account of marital rape, as reported by Nileena Athol in Mathrubhumi news as part of a series, is one among many horrific cases that Kerala witnesses every year. Between 2015 and 2019, at least 3265 women in the state have reported that they faced some kind of sexual violence from their husbands. And this figure is just scratching the surface.
The data provided by the Kerala State Social Welfare Board collates cases from the 14 Domestic Violence Counselling and Service Centres, set up as part of the Domestic Violence Act 2015 and located in every district of the state. Only the cases reported in these centres make up the numbers in the survey. In 2015-16 alone, out of the 6051 domestic violence cases reported in Kerala, 716 cases were sexual violence by husbands.
Among the 6022 divorce cases in the state filed in 2016 -17, 4500 odd women reported to have experience physical violence from their husbands. Among these, 854 women were sexually abused.
In 2017-18, there were 912 women who complained of sexual violence by their husbands out of the 6305 domestic violence cases, according to the report.
In 2018-19, this number scaled down. Out of the 5025 domestic violence cases, 700 plus were sexual violence. However, the data compilation has not been completed by the Social Welfare Board and hence is probably an underestimation.
In many cases, the victim remains in the marriage without realising she is being sexually abused. What's even more shocking is that the present available data is a gross underestimation, with thousands going unreported, privately reported and unrecorded cases of sexual violence and marital rape happening in the state.
Even in shelter homes and service centres where sexual violence is reported by victims, care is not taken to dedicatedly record the data and compile them.
"There is no motivation to report cases of marital rape or sexual violence by husbands as they are not considered a crime in India. There is no punishment for the perpetrator husband. So unlike a legal crime, marital rape and incidents of sexual violence by husbands is reported only when the victims comes forward," says Nileena Athol, author of the Mathrubhumi report.
The Kerala State Social Welfare Board categorises domestic abuse into four parts - Physical abuse, sexual violence, emotional and verbal abuse. These are further categorised into abuse under the influence of drugs and alcohol and other criteria, which make up a significant chunk of marital sexual abuses cases. Toxic masculinity too is an obvious factor in these cases.
Interestingly, according to the social welfare board data, Thiruvananthapuram holds the distinction of being the district with most number of sexual violence cases against married women by their husbands - over 1300. The lowest was recorded in districts such as Alappuzha, Malappuram and Kasaragod where the numbers reported were all in single digits.
"I do not believe that this is because there are few incidents of marital rape and violence happening in these districts. It is because women have not mustered the courage to report cases of violence by their husbands. There cannot be such a mismatch between one district and the other," Nileena says.
Officials from the State Social Welfare Board also believe that if all cases of sexual violence by husbands and marital rape (from relief centres, service centres and family courts), as well are unreported cases are diligently recorded, then the total could even be double the present numbers.