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Marital Rape – The Dark Side of Holy Matrimony

Marital Rape

एक सिंदूर जो था कभी उसके चेहरे का नूर,
कैसे दे गया आज इजाज़त करने उसके आत्मसम्मान को चूर?
वही मंगलसूत्र, वही सात फेरे; 
वही बंधन, वही कलीरें
मान जिनको बैठी थी वो पावन
देख ऐ दुनिया, आज उन्ही के बलबूतों पर
कैसे बन बैठा है उसका पति दुशासन

As kids, we all are taught that marriage is a sacred institution, that it is a collaboration between two souls that requires a bond of respect, trust, and love. And these sayings have beautifully described the essence of this devout union called marriage. But recent times have posed a question in front of us – is the holiness of marriage still alive? Or has it become a license to rape? 

Well, it is never easy to talk about rape. When we talk about rape, we talk about the abuse to the body, trust, emotions, loyalty of one human being by another, and not to forget their ‘sanity. It seems unlikely when you hear that, no? Unfortunately, marital rape exists and is common in most cultures. 

A lot of people don’t think of marital rape as rape. Why? Because it is not actually happening in a dark alley and doesn’t include danger from a stranger? Ironically, it is the husband, the woman’s own spouse, who is the culprit in situations like these. Many think that marital rape is an inconvenient aspect of a woman’s marital duties, while others classify marital rape as affection and attention on the part of the husband for his wife, luckily not his mistress. This needs to end! How can rape within the confines of marriage be any form of love? It is a form of domestic violence and sexual harassment.

Of course, consensual sex exists, but the minute he/she says no and is still compelled to do so, it becomes rape. The consent from both partners to have intercourse tends to uphold the sacred essence of marriage with integrity and reverence. 

People say that the argument over what’s going on inside the bedroom should stay there; having eyes and ears bungled by the cries of silence emanating from these bedrooms is certainly a sordid tale of marital rape. One, by simply exchanging vows, garlands and rings cannot claim the other person’s right to say ‘no’. To impose anything in the name of a religious ritual or patriarchy is not acceptable by any standards. NO means NO. 

What is Marital Rape?

Domestic violence in India is a severe issue and has only been aggravated in recent years. National Crime Record Bureau conducted a survey on ‘crime in India’ and according to it, around 70% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. One such form of domestic violence is marital rape. 

Marital Rape

Marital rape can be defined as any unwanted sexual conduct by a spouse or ex-spouse without the consent or against the will of a person, by pressure, the threat of force, intimidation, or when a person disagrees to give their consent. There are different forms of rape, including battering rape and compulsive rape. Not to mention, marital rape lives in the underdeveloped, emerging, and developed world. It cannot be about the strata of society or the qualifications of a woman and her employability.

Marital rape has been criminalized in more than 100 countries. In India, rape by a stranger is a criminal offense under sections 375 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code. Shockingly, it explicitly avoids marital rape mostly on grounds of conviction. While several legal changes have been introduced to the criminal law that protects women, the non-criminalization of marital rape in India still compromises the dignity and human rights of women.

Is a woman purely and simply body parts?

What forces a woman to simply survive with her spouse, who is a sex-maniac? What kind of man performs such atrocious acts on his wife, almost every day? How can he treat the mother of his own kids in such a cruel way? How can he get away with this brutality? Is it because marital rape is not an offense in India and not committed by a stranger? Is marriage a license for such debauched men because of the ‘implied consent’ that comes with wedlock?

Status of Marital Rape in India

In an analysis of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16, results showed that an estimated 99.1% of incidents of sexual harassment are unreported and that the average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by her husband than others. Despite recent changes in criminal law, various regulations intended to shield women from domestic abuse and sexual harassment have remained overwhelmingly unsuccessful. So, what happens when the law covers the guilty and endangers the victims?

The above-mentioned paradox isn’t merely a fantasy, but a fact that still exists in the Indian Penal Code. The paradox described above is not a simple fiction but is a fact in the Indian Criminal Code. One of the most disturbing and repressive problems with the Indian justice system is that marital rape is entirely legal. Marital rape, the act of pressuring your partner to have sex without proper permission, is an unfair and rare way to degrade and disempower women. It was recommended by the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the year 2013 that the Indian Government should criminalize Marital Rape. 

In spite of this, the rape laws in our country persist with the patriarchal mindset that women are the property of men after marriage, with little control or authority over their bodies. They deprive married women of fair protection under the laws provided by the constitution of India. Lawmakers refuse to recognize that marriage cannot be used as a warrant for a husband to rape his wife forcibly. Every woman has the right to control her own body, irrespective of whether she is married or not.

The definition of rape laid down in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) refers to all forms of sexual assault involving non-consensual intercourse with a woman. One of the exceptions to this crime is ‘Sexual intercourse or sexual activity by a man with his own wife, a woman who is not under 15 years of age, is not rape’. That being said, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women describes violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is probable to result in bodily, sexual or mental harm or distress to women, including threats to such acts, coercion or deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life.

In India, the definition of marital rape is the embodiment of what we call ‘implied consent.’ Marriage between a man and a woman here means that both have consented to sexual intercourse, and it cannot be otherwise. According to existing laws, a woman is presumed to give her perpetual permission to have sexual intercourse after marriage.  Most nations around the world acknowledge rape as rape, and that is a criminal offense. So, what’s holding back India, the burgeoning ‘superpower’?

The most stubborn hurdle in India’s way of criminalizing marital rape is nothing but the Government of the Union itself. Despite the fact that, at any given time, there are a variety of written pleas before the Supreme Court and the numerous High Courts filed by persons and civil society groups challenging the immunity from marital rape in Section 375—the government has continued to defend men who rape their wives by consistently invoking the same grounds. One critical look is what it takes to break down the motives behind their basic system: the misogyny and the myths.

Criminalizing Marital Rape is against our Culture?

In August 2019, former Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, said that ‘marital rape should not be a crime in India because it would establish utter chaos in families and that our country retains itself on the basis of a family framework that embraces family values’.

The premise of this argument is that marital rape cannot work in India as it works in the West because of the strong cultural and socio-economic disparities between the two regions. The point is that social traditions and religious values, together with stunning illiteracy, establish an atmosphere in which marital rape cannot be criminalized, apparently because people are not ready for it. The government believes that, because the majority of people in India are illiterate, uneducated, weak, traditional, and religious, unlike in America, they believe that a husband cannot rape his wife because a good Indian wife must commit forever to her husband.

This, the government argues, is a unique obstacle that India faces in criminalizing marital rape, acknowledging that hundreds of men are violating their wives’ consent for sex daily on the basis of this mentality and that what they are doing is, in fact, rape.

The government then argues that if under such situations, they criminalize marital rape, the majority of relationships are liable to collapse and women will stand up to their rapist husbands (who will then become offenders in the eyes of the law) and have access to justice and defense. At this point, it becomes important to ask that by putting too much emphasis on marriages and to strive for the status quo, whose rights is the government is trying to protect? The husbands who are hell-bent on raping their wives or the wives that are being raped? 

A woman’s consent is assumed once she gets married

The belief that if a woman is married, she owes her husband a never-ending, continuous sexual consent is profoundly rooted in our culture. Yet, the rules are intended to be ahead of, and beyond, assumptions of people, the moderator of personal core emotions.

Indian rules, on the other hand, date back to the 1700s, when Matthew Hale of England claimed that “the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by him to his lawful wife, for by their mutual consent and contract the wife had given herself to her husband in this manner, which she could not escape from.

Women might take undue advantage of Law against Marital Rape

In an affidavit submitted to the Delhi High Court, the union government argued that a law criminalizing marital rape would become an “easy tool for harassing husbands,” ridiculously claiming that “If all sexual relations between a man and his own wife count as marital rape, so a decision about whether or not it is marital rape will remain with the wife.

But the cultural claim that criminalizing marital rape is not going to succeed in India because women are illiterate, uneducated, and weak clearly contradicts the argument that criminalizing marital rape will lead to misuse. If women are not educated enough to make good use of the law, how can they be capable of misusing the law? If Indian lawmakers require help figuring out how to codify marital rape as an offense in our laws, here’s a pro tip from the bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and C Hari Shankar of the Delhi High Court. “Marriage doesn’t really mean that a woman is always ready, excited, and determined to have a physical relationship. The guy needs to prove that she was a consenting partner”. It’s just that easy.

Causes of Marital Rape

  • Dominance
    When asked by a psychiatrist about the precipitating factors of marital rape, it was observed that when the dispute between the partners increases, the husband frequently attempts to assert dominance by imposing himself on the wife. In an attempt to get his wife up, he would use the ultimate tool in his arsenal to demean and undermine her. This way, not only does he show his dominance over her and destroy her privacy, but he also insults what she finds most sacred. All in all, the man simply wants to communicate that he is more powerful than the woman and that she will forever be at his mercy. 
  • Sexual Discordance
    According to Dr. John, “Sometimes, a woman may not be involved in intimacy for motives that are apparent only to her and may refuse her husband. Men are typically more over-sexual than women. So, when a man is refused sex, he takes it as an insult to his virility”. This often leads to conflict between the couple and the man, in an attempt to overcome the shame of sexual rejection, forces himself on the woman.

Why cases of Marital Rapes go unreported?

What happens is that many women often tend to feel more responsible and less affected by coercive sex when the offender is either their husband or a long-term partner than a stranger. They blame themselves for the assault, believing that in some way, they might have provoked their husband. 

Here’s a more detailed list of ways in which women don’t report marital rape or even understand what happened to them as rape:

  • Misunderstandings
    Many women feel that it is their duty as a wife to have intercourse with their husbands any time they want. They claim that their marital vows are obliged to consent to all sexual acts, and therefore, these acts are not rape. Some women think they’re wrong or frigid because they don’t really want sex.
  • Sexual ineptness and confusion
    In India, a woman is always expected to be the ‘one guy woman’ and that once married, she has to serve her partner forever. Lack of knowledge about what is forced and what is normal about sex is what keeps them from reporting marital rape. It is often taught to women in India that men are always at the upper hand in any equation, that only they can have the power and control in any relationship. This results in women believing that coercive sex is their partner’s way of having control over her and not rape.
  • Influence of Religion and Societal Norms
    Religion, culture, and social norms always tend to have a profound influence on women. It is the religious values that lead to the failure of women in avoiding any form of domestic violence. 

Women, once married, are assigned the roles of a ‘mother’ and a ‘wife’. It then becomes socially inappropriate to be divorced, marry more than once, or to have children before marriage. Because of these reasons, it takes time for a woman to consider leaving her husband who has sexually abused her.  Sometimes, it is the bonded bride and the bride whose family failed to woo the groom’s family by paying the desired price who becomes the victim of marital rape.

Scars of Marital Rape

Unfortunately, there is little to no punishment for marital rape as compared to a rape by a stranger. Simply because it is believed that since the wife and husband already share an intimate relationship, coercive sex is less disturbing for the woman. 

However, marital rape can be as dangerous as that of a stranger. Marital rape entails substantial physical abuse, threats, and at times even the use of weapons. Men who beat and rape are especially violent men who are more likely to badly hurt their wives and possibly also intensify abuse into murder than people who do not rape their wives.

Not only is there no proof that victims of marital rape are less likely to suffer the same effects as victims of rape by a stranger, but there is substantial evidence that the social consequences for victims of marital rape are more severe. Studies have found that suicide attempts and mental breakdown rates are higher in victims of marital rape. Women who have been subjected to marital rape or let alone rape from a stranger experience clinical depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and deep self-hatred. And thus, we can see that for a multitude of reasons, marital rape can potentially be more, not less, dangerous to the victim than stranger rape.

Sacred Institution – An Irony

Is it right to call an abusive marriage sacred? What is so sacrosanct about a husband beating and forcing his own wife for sex? Marriage, for a woman, is the most common way of living and sadly the amount of unwanted sex experienced by women is probably greater than that in prostitution. 

Do we really still need to argue in order to prove that marital rape is not a myth? Clearly, the truth lies in front of us. 

This is the moment that the Indian judicial system has to bring about change. Not only for development but also for the advancement of humanity, by enacting laws that adequately cover marital rape and consequences and punish the accused. The fractured bones, the mental break-up, the excruciating cries, the bleeding – does it sound sacred to you?

Is Marriage a license to Rape?

If one’s concept of marriage involves sexual slavery, then one either doesn’t understand the meaning of marriage or consent. Consent basically means authorizing things to happen. Marriage is not an authorization for a husband to have sex with his wife whenever he wishes to. If the woman has not consented, implied, or expressed that she does not wish to have a physical relationship, then if the husband continues to pressurize her and forces himself on her that becomes marital rape. 

The government insists on the interests of the partner over the sexuality of the other spouse, which derails the whole debate on consent. It ties sexual harassment to honor and separates it from what it truly is – a brutal breach of consent.

Conclusion

Girl

Today, marital rape has been criminalized in more than 100 countries. And unfortunately, India is among the 36 countries where it is still legal for husbands to rape their wives. Marital rape is a heinous crime that is still untouched by the lawmakers of our country. 

Rape is rape, regardless of the identity of the offender and the age of the survivor. A woman raped by a stranger lives in the memory of a brutal event; a woman raped by her husband lives with her offender. Our criminal laws, handed down by the British, have remained largely unaffected even after 73 years of independence. English laws have been revised and marital rape was criminalized back in 1991. However, so far, the Indian government has shown little to no interest in addressing this issue. 

It’s not just about the woman; it’s about the future generation of our country too. Has anyone ever wondered what kind of children a woman in misery would give birth to or nourish? What kind of environment are these children going to grow up in? Most notably, what kind of fathers are these men going to make?

The question that should haunt all of us is how can a mother who has been a victim welcome a girl child who might grow up to suffer the way she has? The need of the times is to considerably transform our humankind, their values, and education – this is real long-term prevention and correction. It begins with every home, every school.

It is deeply regrettable that we are still arguing whether or not a married woman has rights to her own body. Some developed nations and emerging countries around the world have criminalized marital rape. While skeptics will continue to protect and invoke the sanctity of the institution of marriage, it is high time that India replaces an outdated perception of conjugal relations with one that solidifies the relationship in mutual love and agreement.

Rape is rape, and the inability to criminalize rape is complicity. 73 years after Indian independence, it’s time to liberate married women from state-sanctioned marital rape.


Editor’s Note
Crimes against women are one of the gravest issues in our country. Marital rape, being one of them, is something that we still don’t have a solution for. This article, in-depth, explains Marital Rape and its impact on a woman’s mind and body. Marital rape has a major impact on a woman’s life, culture, and society. The author takes into account various surveys that prove that marital rape is not a small problem, but rather a major one that needs an immediate end. 

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