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Yup, Indian Marriages Are Still Sacred - Rape And All

12/03/2016 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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In this Saturday, March 21, 2015, photo, a bride adjusts her veil during a mass marriage ceremony in Ahmadabad, India. 112 Muslim couples from impoverished families tied the knot in a single ceremony organized by a social organization. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)

The answer given by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi in Rajya Sabha on 10 March on the question of whether the government has plans to criminalize marital rape, is a word-to-word copy of the answer given by Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary in Rajya Sabha in April 2015.

"Why is it OK to rape a wife?" The government's implicit answer is, "Because we are poor, illiterate and have a regressive mindset that treats women like shit."

This is the second time the central government has clarified its position on criminalisation of marital rape using the exact same words:

"It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament etc."

Since it is the official position of the government and not a passing remark by a minister or MP it becomes important to understand what is marital rape in the international context and why the same cannot be applied to India.

The international position on marital rape

The legislature of every democratic nation makes laws according to its sociocultural make-up, but also keeping in tune with the international standards of human rights and justice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is recognized as the source of international standards of human rights. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is recognized as the source of international laws related to women's equality. India is committed to follow the standards laid out in both these documents.

Saner voices ask, what about India's commitment to follow CEDAW standards? "Err, the government is first committed to safeguard sacred Indian marriages."

CEDAW is an inclusive document. It does not specifically define each and every act of violence and discrimination but broadly defines what constitutes 'discrimination against women' and urges member states to follow its standards. From time to time there sits a CEDAW Committee which prepares reports on the performance of every member state, and reminds them of failures and urges them to follow CEDAW standards.

In July 2014 the CEDAW committee in its concluding observations on the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of India expressed concerns over India's failure to eliminate all discriminations. The committee urged India to:

  1. Implement the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee regarding violence against women.
  2. To amend the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, ensuring that marital rape is defined as a criminal offence, as requested by the Committee in its previous concluding observations.

The Justice Verma Committee in December 2012 recommended that the exception to Section 375 of IPC that allows marital rape should be removed. Marriage should not be considered as an irrevocable consent to sexual acts.

In basic terms, 'marital rape' is forced or non-consensual sex with one's wife. In spite of several reminders and recommendations by CEDAW the Indian government has failed to call it a crime. So essentially, the government is saying, "You are not allowed to rape strangers, but if you really need sex, go home and rape your wife."

Marriage should not be considered as an irrevocable consent to sexual acts.

The feminists throw their hands in air in frustration, asking, "Why on earth is it OK to rape a wife?" The government's implicit answer is, "Because we are poor, illiterate and have a regressive mindset that treats women like shit."

Saner voices ask, what about India's commitment to follow CEDAW standards? "Err, the government is first committed to safeguard sacred Indian marriages."

What is a sacred Indian marriage?

  • A sacred Indian marriage is one where a young girl who has always been kept segregated from men and taught "good girls don't talk to boys," is suddenly pushed inside a room with a stranger who is allowed to rape her because he married her.
  • A sacred Indian marriage is one where the wife is treated as nothing but a prostitute who must offer sex in exchange of home, clothing and shelter. It may be safely assumed that sex workers have more dignity and better sexual agency than a wife in a sacred marriage where she has no right to say no to sex.
  • A sacred Indian marriage is one where a woman has no right over her own body. She has only two choices: either get raped or get beaten, because statistics say both men and women believe that it is fine for men to beat a wife if she refuses to sex among other things.
  • A sacred Indian marriage is one where a woman has no right over her own body. She has only two choices: either get raped or get beaten...

  • A sacred Indian marriage is one where society thinks that the woman's womb belongs to the Hindu Rashtra and may be used as a factory to produce 10 male children. The female children being born in the process may simply be discarded as by products.

Whenever women ask for equal rights and respect, society says 'NO', we must save the Indian family structure and the sanctity of marriage. The valuable pillars on which the Indian family structure stands are: dowry, domestic violence, marital rape, female foeticide, murder of women's dreams and desire and a complete denial of her rights to break away from such a marriage. Divorce, particularly if it's sought by women, is a taboo which is the reason why most Indian women suffer domestic violence and marital rape in silence.

The day all women understand and assert their rights, dignity and equality, and have equal access to justice and resources, the so-called sacred family structure‬ will crumble like a cookie. Because essentially it is built upon the unfair sexual division of labour, and gender and age hierarchy. There is nothing sacred about such a marriage or family system.

Difficulty in proving marital rape

A common defence of allowing husbands to violate their wives is that it is difficult to prove marital rape. The fact is, all rapes are difficult to prove. Marital rape is not so much more difficult. How are rapes investigated and proved? Facts are gathered, circumstances are examined, medical tests are done where the doctors look for signs of struggle, bruises around private parts, proof of penetration, vaginal swab, DNA tests etc.

The fact is, all rapes are difficult to prove. Marital rape is not so much more difficult.

It is well established that if a woman stopped struggling due to fear of being killed or assaulted it is still a rape even though marks cannot be found. If a woman is drugged or sleeping or in a coma that too is rape even though no bruises may be present. All these cases are difficult to prove and that's why so many rapists go scot free. Why should marital rape be treated differently on the ground that it is difficult to prove?

Who made the government the custodian of a regressive mindset?

The government talks of India being an international destination, it invites foreign investments and collaborations, it talks of Digital India, Make in India, scientific development, space programs and nuclear power. Yet, when it comes to protecting a woman from being violated against her will, the government steer clears from its responsibility on grounds of education/ illiteracy, poverty, social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of society.

Are these not the very root cause of discrimination against women which we have been trying to challenge, change and/or eradicate since the time of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Vidyasagar? The regressive social mindset that used to throw a widow into her husband's pyre; the religious beliefs that women must worship their husband as god without question; social customs that treated widows as inauspicious and barred them from celebrations--when did the government become the custodian of these awful, regressive, sexist values?

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