Voices Thursday, April 30, 2015 - 05:30
In October 2013, Youth Ki Awaaz published a piece headlined “Stay away from boys until we force you to sleep with one: The fate of a 20 something Indian girl” The headline of the story underscores the anxiety many women feel towards marriage, and is in stark contrast with the government’s rationale that marital rape could not be made an offence because the “Indian mindset treated marriage as a sacrament”. Replying to DMK MP Kanimozhi’s question, Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said that the concept of marriage as understood internationally did not apply to India for various reasons including “level of education/literacy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of society to treat marriage as a sacrament etc.” The Indian government’s position is inconsistent with international jurisprudence, which recognizes marital rape as a crime. Many countries such as England, Australia, South Africa, Canada, have laws which recognise rape without exception to marriage. According to a study done by the Mumbai-based International institute of Population Sciences, 26 percent of women in Pune, 23 percent woman in Bhubhaneshwar and 16 percent in Jaipur often have sex with their husbands against their will. Legal scholars identify three patterns of sexual assault within marriage: battering rape (involving both sexual and physical violence), force-only rape (where force is used after woman refuses sex, and obsessive rape (sexual acts, often perverse accompanied by torture). Even though Domestic Violence Act recognizes sexual violence as a part of domestic violence, it considers sexual violence as a civil offence, not a criminal one, while rape is otherwise considered a criminal offence. Despite news reports of women and girls of all ages, castes, social strata, geographical location being reported by the media (as opposed to the quantum of attention they may later receive), the image that a stranger commits rape persists in the collective imagination. The reality, however, is the exact opposite. National Crime Records Bureau data shows that in over 90 percent of sexual assault, the accused is known to the woman: neighbours, uncles, cousins, friends. The stranger just makes a cameo appearance in this film. Missing from the list of “known” rape accused, are the husbands. Despite a consistent demand from the women’s movement, backed by studies in India and abroad indicating the prevalence of marital rape, the government has always maintained that criminalizing marital rape would “amount to excessive interference with the marital relationship”. The only thing sacred in all of this, it appears, is the Indian government’s apparent desire to ensure that the law upholds the right of some men to behave like brutes. The only exception to an otherwise consistent attitude is the recommendation of the Justice Verma committee, which urged that the exception for marital rape be removed. As Kanimozhi rightly pointed out, despite the so called sanctity of marriage, the Indian government has enacted laws that recognized domestic violence, and dowry-related violence as crimes a violation of a woman’s right to life, liberty and dignity. Why then, should sexual relations be treated differently? When the spirit of Indian law recognizes rape as a crime, why should married men be treated a cut above other rape accused? This was Kanimozhi's real question to the government of India, and one that needs to be answered by a law that specifies in letter, that the well-being of married women too, shall be protected.

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