Marital Rape, and Why it is a Crime?

‘He will take care of you, sweety. He is a good man,’ she recalled her father saying. And he does take care of her, every night, in bed. In his own drunken ways. Marriage, in her case, was a barter. An exchange of promises. And sex is one of them. Cause after all, if he’s your husband, it’s not rape.
My housemaid comes to work once a month with a black eye or scars on her face and arms. When my mother tried explaining to her that this is wrong and she should report against her husband, she grimly replied that husbands hitting their wives is pretty common and no one can change this. ‘Aisa hi toh hota araha hai…’
The institution of marriage is believed to be a ‘sacrament’ in our patriarchal society. But years of transgression, and our ability to finally see things for what they are, have finally blown the lid over the ugliness of Indian marriages: forced abortions, extortions, mental and physical abuse are all common forms of indiscretion that our women have faced since ages. Marital rape is the gravest of them.
Firstly, what is marital rape? It occurs when a man imposes intercourse on his wife, using force or otherwise, without the wife’s consent. However personal or supposedly ‘holy’ be the bond between a husband and a wife, a rape is a rape, regardless of whether it is committed by husband, father-in-law, uncle or a stranger. In a society so blinded by culture and tradition, the home itself could be a dangerous place for so many women. When husbands can turn from being protectors to perpetrators, there is a solemn need to criminalize marital rape, to spread the general awareness that consent to marriage does not imply consent to sex and that men are not entitled to their wives’ bodies without their consent.
Maneka Gandhi, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, said that marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be applied in India because of factors like illiteracy, poverty, social customs, religious beliefs, and the sanctity of marriage. What exactly did she mean? That it is okay for a man to sexually abuse his wife because they are poor? Because they are illiterate? Or because their marriage is solemnized by a religious ritual?
Then comes the question about reverse victimization of an innocent husband because of such laws. This is a baseless argument because an unscrupulous woman can accuse any man she had consensual sex with of rape. Then should we remove the current rape laws as well ?
If there is a law, there will be loopholes and people will use them ruthlessly. That does not stop us from making laws against other heinous crimes. When society makes theft/murder a punishable offence, it does so not because everyone is a potential thief/murderer, but to protect everyone from the few thieves and murderers. Are these laws misused? Of course they are, all of them, and with sickening frequency. People get wrongly accused in such cases as well. But nobody is asking for these laws to be thrown out, are they? Then why the rape laws? Why take away the meager shield of protection that the legal system can offer to our women against the most sickening form of domestic violence?
Out of around 200 countries in the world, 104 of them accept marital rape as a punishable offense (2006 data). Soviet Union criminalized it in 1922. If 104 countries can figure a way out to implement it, then why cant we? What is the problem? Men? Marriage? Or patriarchy?
Or maybe, all of them?

By Sutapa Bakshi,
Writer – DU Times