A Draft Bill That Seeks To End Violence Against Women Is Defeaningly Silent On Marital Rape

18/05/2016 6:12 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 10: Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi at Parliament House, on May 10, 2016 in New Delhi, India. The Lok Sabha, where the BJP has a majority has cleared it, but not in Rajya Sabha, where the party has weak strength. The NDA-government has already missed the April 1 deadline set for GST and with no progress in the budget session too, the country will have to wait more for this to happen. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The Women and Child Development Ministry unveiled the draft of the National Policy for Women, 2016 today. The draft, which was prepared by the Vajpayee government in 2001, had been lying in the cold storage since then. Consequently, it didn't make for a consummate plan to battle the economic discrimination, physical violence and social prejudices that women face on this day and time. It was also drafted at a time when internet and social media wasn't entrenched in socio-political narratives.

Thus, the old bill was updated and now the government believes that it has been able to successfully 'articulate' a 'vision for women's empowerment' which will also help in the 'elimination of all forms of violence against women'.

News articles and social media rang with jubilation since the bill decided to take into account the abuse women face on social media platforms and treat it as a form of violence punishable by law.

Dripping with confidence, the bill uses the word 'eliminate' to describe its approach to various forms of violence and discrimination against women. Now, elimination is a powerful word, one that indicates that the government is resolutely going to weed out biases and prejudices that encourage, nurture and endorse violence and discrimination against women.

So, after reading what the bill promises right at the beginning, I searched for the word 'marital rape' in the document. And it yielded zero results.

After reading what the bill promises right at the beginning, I searched for the word 'marital rape' in the document. And it yielded zero results.

Perhaps, the bill has addressed the issue somewhere later in the various sections in it? After all, it lists 'violence' under 'priority areas' that needs focus and work. So, I jump to the section that explains the measures that the government intends to take to 'eliminate' violence against women.

Yet again, I run into a bunch of re-assuring catch-words - 'holistic perspective', 'combat' and the promise of battling violence and abuse through 'a combination of laws, programs of services with the support of various stakeholders'.

maneka gandhi

And just to heighten the irony, the same paragraph also valiantly declares that the government looks forward to help battle 'violence faced by women in the private sphere of home, public spaces and at workplace'. Yet, no mention of marital rape.

The bill then proceeds to promise initiatives to curb trafficking, increase participation of women in the judiciary, enable sensitisation by holding dialogues with boys and girls, empower various government agencies to work together to solve gender-related issues, fast track courts... and still, NO MENTION OF MARITAL RAPE.

It's as if, it doesn't exist. Oh wait... it indeed doesn't. In this government, and many other governments' understanding of the duties and privileges that come with being a part of the great Indian family, marital rape exists only in a prickly feminist's imagination. In fact, many, including some in the government, believe 'marital rape' is what feminists and women's right activists like to call legitimate conjugal rights of a man. And that marriage means irrevocable and perpetual consent.

In fact, many, including some in the government, believe 'marital rape' is what feminists and women's right activists like to call legitimate conjugal rights of a man. And that marriage means irrevocable and perpetual consent.

We stumbled upon this video of women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi explaining... sorry, rationalising, the fact that the government has not made an effort to criminalise marital rape.

During an interview conducted by NDTV, a young girl, during the Q&A session asks Gandhi how is it fair that a man forces himself on his wife and he is not punished for it?

So Gandhi quips, "Let me ask you a question. You're married. Your husband comes home drunk one day. Or he comes home in bad temper. He has been dismissed... somebody... or a woman in his office, a superior has ticked him off, and he wants to take revenge against somebody. And the only person he can find is you, so he forces himself on you. What would you do? Would you go to the police the next morning?"

marital rape

By this time, you may be looking at the computer screen and screaming. "Hell, yes!", Gandhi answers the question for you. She says, with a hint of a smile, "You would not."

She comes tantalisingly close to rationalising rape--almost saying that a man's ego bruised, god forbid by a woman, usually recuperates by inflicting violence on his wife.

She uses the word 'marital rape'--thereby acknowledging that it exists--and also admits that it occurs more often that we would like to believe, but says the government can do nothing about it. She adds that there has been no complaints of marital rape and says that 'it is included' in the law against sexual violence (it isn't, as a matter of fact) and women don't complain as long as they are married. Is that why there should be no law?

She uses the word 'marital rape'--thereby acknowledging that it exists--and also admits that it occurs more often that we would like to believe, but says the government can do nothing about it.

In fact, this article points out that the Domestic Violence Act 2005 comes close to offering a remedy but falls short. "It condones sexual abuse in a domestic relationship of marriage or a live-in, only if it is life threatening or grievously hurtful. It is not about the freedom of decision of a woman’s wants," the article points out.

And Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code IPC, which deals with rape, says, "Sexual intercourse by man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.”

The Indian Law Journal article points out: "This section in dealing with sexual assault, in a very narrow purview lays down that, an offence of rape within marital bonds stands only if the wife be less than 12 years of age, if she be between 12 to 16 years, an offence is committed, however, less serious, attracting milder punishment. Once, the age crosses 16, there is no legal protection accorded to the wife, in direct contravention of human rights regulations."

Maneka Gandhi seems to believe that since marital rape is something the country is not ready to discuss, the government should also turn a blind eye to it.

She seems to believe that since marital rape is something the country is not ready to discuss, the government should also turn a blind eye to it. Somehow, she makes framing a law sound like opening a restaurant--unprofitable if no one ever uses it. She further argues that countries in the West which have laws against marital rape, hardly get complaints. So perhaps, in her opinion, it's no use having the bureaucracy and legislature funded by our taxes, come up with a law that she suspects will be sparingly used.

The irony here is, she gets what marital rape is, unlike many others who don't. She talks about 'bruises in places you don't want to show anyone', she talks about 'crying all night, she talks about 'screaming'. In fact, she verbally reconstructs an incident of marital rape in the most chaffing, compelling language. And then she throws her hands up and declares, the government has no help to offer. None.

That's not 'eliminating' violence against women, Ms Gandhi. Not even anything close to that. Women need the confidence of gender sensitive laws, not the pompous ring of clever words.

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