On May 17, the Ministry of Women and Child Development released the draft National Women’s Policy for public consultation. But there was however, a discrepancy on the question of marital rape.
The Ministry issued a media release while placing the draft policy in the public domain for consultation. Under the priority areas sub-head, the ministry mentioned a “review of marital rape within the framework of women’s human rights etc.” however, the draft policy itself had no mention of it. That the draft itself left plenty to be desired, is a different matter.
Whether the mention of marital rape in the media release was an error or whether its exclusion from the draft policy was a last minute decision is anyone’s guess.
Devika J of Center of Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram says that it was more likely be an unwitting slip because the government in power seems to be in no mood to take any real steps.
“We have a Hindu right-wing government in power,” she reminds, “what do you expect?” she asks. “Patriarchal families are at the core of our communities,” she adds.
Director of Center for Social Research, Ranjana Kumari, says that the whole idea of marital rape being criminal is not acceptable to the society given the deeply ingrained patriarchal cultural practices we have.
“Take the kanyadaan for instance,” says Ranjana. “When you are giving away the girl as property, the men will treat her as property right?”
The Justice Verma Commission, constituted after the massive furore following Jyoti Singh’s gangrape in 2012, recommended criminalization of marital rape, arguing that marriage could not be a defense for rape. Later, the Pam Rajput committee reiterated the same position. However, the suggestion was dropped from legislation each time.
Ranjana also explains that a concrete legislation on marital rape would be difficult to enact because even men in the government stand to benefit from this exemption. “They want to protect their male privilege and entitlement,” she explains.
An argument often given against criminalizing marital rape is that marriage is a sacrosanct Indian institution and people wouldn’t want police in their bedroom. However, Ranjana says that this is problematic. “If you don’t want the police in your bedroom then don’t inflict indignities on women in the bedroom too,” she says.