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How Maneka Gandhi Spelled Out The Reasons Why We SHOULD Criminalize Marital Rape

17/03/2016 8:23 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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INDIA - MARCH 15: Indian women and girls dressed as wedding guests walking to the wedding in village of Rohet in Rajasthan, Northern India (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Just as the confetti from Women's Day was being swept away, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi came out with a statement that threw me for a loop.

"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."

Now, outrageous as this statement is, here I want to summon logic over all else. Every single one of the reasons cited above are actually good arguments for the government to go ahead and criminalize marital rape instead of trying to excuse it.

Illiteracy, regressive social customs and poverty have been time and again proven to be the core reasons for the suppression of women.

Illiteracy, regressive social customs and poverty have been time and again proven to be the core reasons for the suppression of women. Women who haven't received an education cannot be expected to speak out about the atrocious nature of sexual violation within a marriage. Therefore, it is essential to criminalize marital rape, spread awareness about this and give women the vocabulary to seek justice.

Rape is rape. Forcing yourself on your wife is no different than forcing yourself on anyone else. Nothing in the Marriage Act permits total physical control of the other party. There is conditional consent and if one doesn't abide by the condition then there is no consent. People need to understand what consent means. It is not same as expectations. It is as simple as tea.

Rape is unwilling or forced sex. It is used for power and control over the victim. The perpetrator could be anybody, including the husband. It is like subjecting women to forced labour. Does marriage mean giving up human rights, or being a lesser person? I don't think so. Marriage is a persistent tradition that has been existing for thousands of years and it is (or should be) based on equality. You don't give up your rights as an individual when you get married. Just as there can be murder within a marriage, there can be rape. The government needs to understand this and take steps to curb the vile sense of entitlement which many husbands hold.

The government should seriously rethink its stance on marital rape because right now it is inadvertently sending the signal that women matter less than men in our society.

I would venture to say that marital rape is probably the most widespread form of sexual violence. Earlier women were unable to speak out because of the social stigma but now they are coming out to report it. According to the National Crime Record Bureau (2014), about once every five minutes an incident of domestic violence is reported in India, under its legal definition of "cruelty by husband or his relatives. In a 2015 paper on domestic violence in India, Claire Snell-Rood, a medical anthropologist at the Department of Behavioural Science with the University of Kentucky, noted that 75-86% of women do not disclose that they are victims of abuse by their families.

Some might say that the women can opt for divorce if she is forced to have sex against her will by her husband, but why should the man, the perpetrator, get off so easily? A divorce, ultimately, is based on mutual understanding. So, if the sex wasn't mutual, why should divorce be cited as a solution? That is just plain wrong. It is a grave injustice to women as it does not hold men accountable for his actions.

The government should seriously rethink its stance on marital rape because right now it is inadvertently sending the signal that women matter less than men in our society.

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