Bring the law to the bedroom
In our country the idea of marriage is based on the principle that the woman’s body and mind belong to her husband. The Justice Verma Committee, set up in the wake of the brutal Delhi gang-rape incident, has brought in a fundamental shift in perspective.
The panel has asserted that a woman has the right over her body and sexuality. Violation of a woman’s bodily integrity, through coercion or without her consent, is an assault against her, whether it happens on the street or within a marriage. However, this fundamental principle is not understood or accepted in our society.
That is why many people question the idea and even refuse to believe that there can be rape within marriage. When we ask for legislation on marital rape, there are many who exclaim, “Why do you want to bring the law into the bedroom?” The point, however, is that if violation happens in the bed, then the law has to be brought to the bed.
The central debate here is who controls the wife and her sexuality. The irony of our existing laws is such that a wife cannot charge her husband with adultery while the husband can. This notion prevalent within our social system derives from the principle of “kanyadan” (the gifting away of a girl).
In other words, women are gifted or donated to their husbands. If you are donated, you lose your identity and you become somebody else’s property. If there is a charge of adultery brought against a woman, it is considered as the most serious invasion of a man’s property. Basically, the woman is an object, the property of a man.
Nevertheless, our civil rights cannot be taken away.
The writer is member, National Mission for Empowerment of Women
It will lead to false counselling
The projection by the media is that women’s groups have unanimously demanded that marital rape be included within the definition of rape under Section 375 IPC. But this is not so. There is a lot of ambiguity within women’s groups and individual activists on this matter. I, for one, do not subscribe to the view that marital rape should be included under Section 375 IPC on account of the specific nature of a marriage contract and matrimonial relationship.
It is not my argument that husbands do not force sex on their wives against their will. They do. Further, within marriage, sexual violence is not confined to only penetrative sex or insertion of objects into body orifices as the latest Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance projects. It is inclusive of a range of other acts — excessive sexual demands, particularly on such occasions as during menstrual periods or immediately after child birth; having extramarital relationships and refusal to have sex with the wife, etc.
In addition, these may be part of other types of violence within marriage, such as denying money for household expenses, forcing the wife to undergo sex selective abortion in pursuit of a male child, threatening to bring another wife because she is accused of being childless, etc. So, selectively placing penetrative sexual assault on a higher pedestal may actually prove counter-productive, and serve to reinforce patriarchal values of sanctity given to penetrative sexual violation.
If this is the fate of a provision which sanctions only three years of punishment, what will be the fate of a provision of marital rape which, if proved, will have a mandatory sentence of seven years?
The writer is a women’s rights lawyer