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India Needs to Talk About Sex

12/12/2014 8:04 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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Women in India. Photo credit: KittyKaht on Flickr

A lot has changed in India since the Delhi gang rape and murder of a student in December 2012. Political parties fell over themselves to prioritise women's rights in the elections, policing has become tougher and stricter laws and rape sentences have been enforced.

But what does any of that mean in a country where marital rape isn't even recognised?

In May, an Indian woman claimed to be raped by her husband. But the judge ruled:

"The prosecutrix (the wife) and the accused (Vikash) being legally wedded husband and wife, and the prosecutrix being major, the sexual intercourse between the two, even if forcible, is not rape and no culpability can be fastened upon the accused."

And in a report submitted to Parliament last year, the reasons given for maintaining this law, which are apparently based on ancient Hindu principles that are difficult to shift, show a total disregard for women's rights:

"If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress."

Worryingly, there have also been a number of instances where those in authority display attitudes of chauvinism. For example, commenting on rapists, the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, said earlier this year: "Boys will be boys."

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Photo credit: nandadevieast on Flickr

Sex talk

These demeaning attitudes towards women can be attributed to the fact that India does not talk enough about sex. Forget what you've heard about the Kama Sutra, sex is a taboo subject -- along with rape, which is often seen as bringing shame upon the victim.

Recorded cases of rape rose sharply from under 2,500 in 1971, to almost 25,000 in 2012. And activists believe only 10% of cases are actually reported to the police.

But if a man needs to talk about his sexual frustrations, are there enough professional places that he can turn to? And more importantly, does he feel that, as a man, it's okay to seek sexual help?

The fact that there are 912 girls for every 1,000 boys, due to the country's longstanding sex selection process, makes this a very real problem.

Dr Mahinder Watsa, a 90-year-old sex therapist in India who has an unusual 10-year-old column - Ask the Sexpert - on the subject in the Mumbai Mirror, says that although times have changed, too many issues are still swept under the carpet.

Even the new Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, said he wants to see "so-called 'sex education' to be banned" from Delhi schools. He has since added that he supports it in theory, but without "crudity and graphic representation".

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Photo credit: R. Mitra on Flickr

What it means to be a man

Another issue is that although rape and violence against women can occur in all sections of society, whether rich or poor, a large number of those guilty of gang rapes come from impoverished backgrounds. As a result, many of these marginalised men may turn to violence in order to enforce their sense of identity.

Again, if these men are frustrated, economically, emotionally, or sexually, what support network can they rely on? And if the legal system, as well its representatives, says it's okay for them to sexually dominate their wives, what example is being set to them, especially during their impressionable childhoods?

Following the mass protests after the incidents of rape, Indian society should not just be displaying intolerance to sexual violence. When people in power make sexist comments that suggest misogyny is acceptable, they should not be endured or forgotten. When policies and laws display an attitude that goes against a transformative tide, they must be revoked.

These may be simple in theory, but the changes that were brought about by India's outcry on rape show the people really do have power.

If advances in society are not reflected in the way that it is governed, what, if anything, has really changed? The entire country, its leaders included, needs to have better-informed discussions about sex.

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