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Maneka Gandhi's Baseless Marital Rape Theory Gives India And Its Culture A Bad Name

14/03/2016 1:23 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - MARCH 1: Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development Maneka Gandhi at Parliament during the ongoing Budget Session, on March 1, 2016 in New Delhi, India. Both the Houses of Parliament saw repeated adjournments as Opposition confronted the Government on a range of issues, including MoS for Human Resource Development Ram Shankar Katheria's remark following a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader’s murder in Agra. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

For the last two months, Maneka Gandhi, the Honorable minister for Women and Child Development, has been delivering reckless statements against women in general, and Indian women in particular. First, in February, she floated a proposal regarding compulsory sex-determination tests as a way to curb female foeticide. Then in March, ironically the month in which Women's Day falls, she said that marital rapes cannot be considered a crime in India. Her defense: the culture of India, poverty, illiteracy.

As someone who teaches women's studies at the university level, and uses interdisciplinary mediums to interpret sex-ratio imbalance in India, for me Gandhi's statement is baseless and uninformed by facts.

Gandhi's argument that is based upon India being a largely illiterate country is false.

The latest population Census of India (2011) records that in overall literacy in India rose to 74.04% in a decade in individuals 7 and up; 82.14 % of total males are literate. The decline in the illiterate population reached in Census 2011 is considered a significant milestone. Moreover, according to the report released by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commission, India, "...Ten States and Union Territories viz., Kerala, Lakshadweep, 47 Mizoram, Tripura, Goa, Daman & Diu, Puducherry, Chandigarh, NCT of Delhi and Andaman & Nicobar Islands have achieved literacy rate of above 85 per cent, the target set by the Planning Commission to be achieved by 2011- 2012."

In light of the above, this is what the effective literacy map of India in 2001 and 2011 looks like:

2016-03-14-1457939568-5326964-manisha.png

The red areas have the lowest literacy rate, between 65-70%, and the dark green areas have the highest, 85-90%

Thus, Gandhi's argument that is based upon India being a largely illiterate country is false.

I'm not sure which citizen would like their country portrayed as backward, full of illiterates, and with a society and culture that support marital rape.

Even if I weren't an Indian woman, Gandhi's argument would come across as offensive. I'm not sure which citizen would like their country portrayed as backward, full of illiterates, and with a society and culture that in theory support marital rape. Indians dominate the global map when it comes to science and technology. Indians shine as some of the best writers to have mastered a foreign language. Indians excel at the art and music scene. Indians have given the world the gift of yoga. How, then, is our country dominated by illiteracy, lack of education, and social customs that make it impossible to declare that marital rape is a crime?

Gandhi's argument makes bad words out of society, culture and tradition. Going by the Rigveda, ours is a culture where women had the same right to education as men. Shouldn't it be the responsibility of those who swear to serve the nation to brainstorm before making public statements? If we go by the outrageously offensive statements that have been made by Honorable Madam Maneka Gandhi in the month of February and March, we might as well raise our voices against the reforms and laws pertaining to widow remarriage, dowry and many other practices.

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