As the definition goes, marriage is the formally or legally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship, historically, and in some jurisdictions specifically, a union between a man and a woman, though other forms of marriages are taking place in the world and are slowly being accepted by the society. A marriage in pure sociological sense is a legal sanction to intercourse between two people with the consent of the both. However, the consent part in the definition is often ignored. Consent is essential not just for marriage, but also to have sexual intercourse. The incidents where the first part is ignored are decreasing as India has laws preventing the same. However, the latter is conveniently ignored and the judicial enforcements do nothing about it as there are no laws against marital rape.
Marriage is often seen as an unspoken consent of a woman to her spouse to do what he pleases to do to her. This is not a sanction by marriage; it is marital rape. It is surprising how marital rape is socially accepted and is in fact a social norm. The rape laws in India make distinctions between rapes by a stranger, estranged husband and husband. In cases of rape by a stranger, Section 375 and Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code are invoked. The crime is bailable and punishment of up to seven years is only given if a woman accuses an estranged husband of rape. If a woman accuses her husband of raping her, the case cannot be pursued under these sections. A married woman can file a case under Section 377 which deals with unnatural sex or the Domestic Violence Act. The latter provides civil remedies for sexual abuse at home.
“The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual consent and contract, the wife hath given herself in kind unto the husband, whom she cannot retract.” This statement by Justice Mathew Hale of England (1600) reflects the general mentality regarding marital rape. Marriage is seen as lifelong consent. The breach of a woman’s right to privacy and autonomy is ignored. The Fundamental Rights of our constitution guarantee freedom, equality and dignity of all its citizens irrespective of their sex or gender. Marital rape is a clear case of violation of equality in terms of sex, gender and a woman’s autonomy over her own body.
Marital rape is still a taboo in India. Most of the cases are left unspoken and unreported. Often, the survivor is marginalized in the society and is seen as someone who speaks against the divinity and purity of marriage. The society not only refuses to help survivors, but also looks down on them. A study conducted by the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics reveals that one in every ten women in India faced sexual violence by their husband, and women in India are forty times more likely to be raped by their husbands. Given the gravity of the situation, it is rather shocking that a survivor of marital rape is not entitled to state aids or benefits — Provisions like free medical treatment and protocol for medical examination, protection of identity, compensation and legal assistance are not given to marital rape victims.
The case of marital rape cannot be dealt with under the shadow of domestic violence. Civil remedies are not enough for such a grave issue. Criminalization of marital rape is a dire necessity. Due importance must be given to this menace. It is a less spoken of, but rampant social evil. The taboos attached to speaking up against marital rape must end. Social sensitization and educating the public will go a long way. We need to work towards making women feel safe in their own homes.
-Contributed by Sanjana Krishnan
Picture Credits: thenewsminute.com
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