Last week the country celebrated International Women’s Day, along with the rest of the world but the celebrations also served as a reminder of how Indian women are being denied their rights as well as their rightful place in the country.
As a woman, there are certain societal issues that, I feel, need to be addressed urgently and corrected immediately, keeping aside which side of the political spectrum one belongs to. I feel as strongly about the Women’s Reservation Bill as I do about India acknowledging that marital rape is a crime.
Can the government shirk away from its responsibility by putting the onus on the mindset and the culture that prevails in our country rather than being the change makers in society? Isn’t the onus on the government to empower those who are being subjugated because of such mindsets, those who are the victims of such atrocities?
It was, indeed, infuriating to read Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi’s written reply in Parliament to a question on whether the government is planning on criminalising marital rape:
“It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty”.
The reply is verbatim to what India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Chaudhary had said in Parliament in 2015. However, what she missed out from MoS Home’s reply to make a case against criminalising rape was “social customs and values, religious beliefs and the fact that Indian society treats marriage as a sacrament.”
This reply, read out in Parliament, came as a surprise because it was a complete U-turn from her stance on this issue in 2015 in which she said: “Marital rape is condemnable as is violence against women in any form. My opinion is that violence against women shouldn’t be limited to violence by strangers. Very often a marital rape is not always about a man’s need for sex; it is only about his need for power and subjugation. In such case, it should be treated with seriousness.”
The Justice Verma Committee, that was constituted after the 2012 Delhi gangrape in the national capital, had recommended criminalising marital rape, but at that time the parliamentary standing committee headed by Venkaiah Naidu, who is now a Union Minister in the Modi government, dismissed the recommendation, stating thus “If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress and the committee may perhaps be doing more injustice.”
According to United Nations Population Fund, 75 per cent of married women in India were subjected to marital rape. The UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women had recommended to India that marital rape be criminalised. Another 2014 report, by researcher Aashish Gupta of the Rice Institute, found that women are 40 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by their husband than a stranger. Gupta concluded that fewer than one per cent of sexual assaults within marriage are reported to police. A 2014 study by the United Nations Population Fund and the International Center for Research on Women found that 60 per cent of men admitted to using violence—kicking, beating, slapping, choking, burning—to establish dominance.
The NCRB, in its 2014 report, revealed that 90 per cent of the total rape incidents that happened in 2014 were committed by people who knew the victims such as relatives, neighbors and employers. It does not factor in rapes by husband in a marriage. As per the report, cases of domestic violence reported were 122,877 and reflected an increase of nine per cent vis-à-vis 2013, in violence against women such as rape, molestation, abduction and cruelty by husbands.
Many countries have made it a crime for a husband to force his wife to have sex. Malaysia changed its laws to that effect in 2007; Turkey in 2005; and Bolivia in 2013. The United States began criminalising marital rape in 1970s and most European countries in the 1990s. India shares the hall of shame on this issue along with China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that do not criminalise marital rape.
In India, marital rape can come under cruelty clauses of section 498A of Indian Penal Code. Cruelty, though not specifically defined, covers physical and mental harassment. Punishment is a maximum of three years imprisonment with fine. Another section of law, 375 IPC defines rape, but says it is not rape if it is intercourse between a husband and wife. Under the Domestic Violence Act of 2005, sexual violence is a non-criminal violation.
It is a crying shame that the pressing issue continues to be overlooked by the ruling dispensation in the country. We have the Home Ministry and even WCD ministry agreeing on it, so expecting changes in law to make marital rape a punishable crime is near impossible.
What is more saddening is when women representatives in Parliament let the struggles of their own, down. It indeed makes one question how serious our political representatives are when it comes to empowering women in the truest sense through action and deeds and not just by mere lip service?