Before she became a Union Minister, Maneka Gandhi said that "being vegetarian is the only way to save the world". One may dispute whether there is only one way or more to save the world but we can take Maneka Gandhi's statement with a dollop of salt. In the same interview, she admires the "way of life which involves least harm to a living being."
So, it is entirely self-contradictory when Maneka Gandhi informed Parliament on Thursday (10 March 2016) that 'marital rape' cannot be criminalized in India. Perhaps, she doesn't think that sexual violence within marriage involves harm or that wives come under the definition of "living being".
Wasn't the mindset of society to treat the marriage as a sacrament also the justification for another practice called 'Sati'?
On a show aired on NDTV on 3 May 2015, a rape survivor had this to say: "My husband raped me daily. He forced himself on me, every single day, even on the days I bled. He forced a torch inside my private parts." Does this not seem like involving "least harm to a living being," Madam Minister?
Now, let us look further in to the statement made by the Minister in response to a question on marital rape to understand the Government's thinking on this issue:
Firstly, she says that "the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context."
So, the Minister believes that 'marital rape' is an international concept. Perhaps, she is referring to The UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination of Women which had recommended that India should remove the exception of marital rape from the definition of rape. But, let me remind her that the very Indian Justice JS Verma Committee had recommended that a marital relationship between the perpetrator and the victim should not be considered as a valid defence against the crime of rape and sexual assault.
Secondly, the Minister lists a number of factors why marital rape cannot be applied, such as illiteracy, poverty, social customs and values, religious beliefs, treatment of marriage as a sacrament, etc.
By placing the blame on society, the Minister has smartly deflected any responsibility on her behalf.
This list of factors is the most novel part of her fictitious argument. In essence, what she is saying is that marital rape cannot be applied to a country which is poor, illiterate and holds religious beliefs. On the one hand, white collar corporate crimes and large-scale bank frauds can be counted as financial crimes in this third-world nation; but, marital rape fails the test of criminality that the Minister seems to have conjured up.
Finally, the Minister identifies the real culprit: "the mindset of society to treat the marriage as a sacrament".
By placing the blame on society, the Minister has smartly deflected any responsibility on her behalf. One may wonder how the Government has assessed the 'mindset of society' but you will not find the answer to that here.
Yes, marriage may be an important ceremony for many people but does that mean one must silently tolerate violence within that relationship framework? Wasn't the mindset of society to treat the marriage as a sacrament also the justification for another practice called 'Sati'?
It is beyond belief that the Minister has failed to appreciate universally accepted and nationally practiced humanitarian principles in dealing with this issue. Even within the Parliament, two Private Members Bills--introduced by Avinash Pande of Indian National Congress and Kanimozhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam--have been admitted on the subject of criminalizing marital rape. The bill by Avinash Pande was also discussed and found support from large sections of the House. Yet, the Minister is taking refuge behind the mindset of society. So, tell me Madam Minister, before you save the world from meat-eaters, will you protect women from all sexual violence?
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