Why isn’t marital rape a criminal offence in India?

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Jaanki is physically and psychologically distraught. She was raped by her husband, not once but several times. She confides in her mother. To her utter shock, her mother confesses that she has been subjected to a similar fate in her married life. In disbelief, Jaanki snaps, “But dad loves you so much!” The mother justifies, “In the bedroom, he doesn’t ask for opinions.” And now it’s been so long that she has surrendered herself to the unpleasant feeling.

This is a scene from Saitan Theatre’s upcoming play ‘Pinjra’. In the play, Jaanki is married to a man who derives lust from the pain, who bypasses the innocent consent that she thinks of being prevalent in their relationship. Her relationship with her husband is subjected to more of physicality and the bodily pleasures than being touched with the eternal bliss and bloom of the vows she took as the very steps of her life with him. Sadly, this may indeed be the reality for a considerable number of Indian marriages.

This brings us to the question if marriage in India is a contract for legal sex, among other things – where a man doesn’t need to ask for permission and is free to impose himself on the wife?

While most of the developed world has penalized marital rape, surprisingly, there is no law to protect married women against marital rape in India – Home Affairs minister Haribhai Chaudhary had said that marital rape can’t be made a criminal offence in India because of high illiteracy rate, poverty, extreme religious beliefs and the very ‘sanctity’ of marriage.

The best way that the law protects women subjected to marital rape is by charging the husband with a minor offence of cruelty, the punishment of which goes up to three years in jail or a fine. In worse cases, she can seek restraining order and protection under domestic violence legislation.

Rajneesh Gautam, Founder and Director, Saitan theatre group says, “We chose this subject because it is happening around us and we are still showing ignorance. Few days ago, center government gave guidelines to high court that sexual intercourse between spouses cannot be accounted as rape. We are against this kind of approach and that is why we have conceptualized this play. We have a lot of wolves in the street but sometimes they live inside our house under sheep’s skin.

Anuja Shah, online senior family therapist at ePsyClinic explains, “I once got a very disturbing case where the woman was so traumatized that the child born out of wedlock reminded her of the brutality of her bedroom.” She adds, “Once married, men think that any sort of sex he indulges in with the wife is normal. He believes that even if he forces his wife to have sex, it cannot be called rape. And most often I have observed that in such cases, there is some sort of existing torture or physical abuse in the marriage.” Marital rape simply means that husband doesn’t have sensitivity towards the wife.

Priya Nanda, group director of social and economic development at the ICRW (International Centre for Research on Women) had told a leading portal, “The reason men don’t want to criminalise marital rape is because they don’t want to give the woman the power to say no.”
But can there be two yardsticks to define rape – rape of an unmarried woman and that of a married woman? Is it acceptable to discriminate a woman just because she is married to the man who raped her?


Source: Times of India

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