When No Is Not An Option

Women empowerment is the ever-trending topic around the globe and in India, too. We see politicians talk about it. We see videos becoming viral. We see hashtags trending in social media. And there are articles, like these, about women empowerment floating around in the web in huge numbers. But, are they actually helping the cause in any way? Does a country whose laws do not provide a married woman with the right over her body stand a chance in this mission to empower its women?

Marital rape is not a crime in India. For those who are wondering how rape can happen in a marriage, rape is defined as a sexual assault perpetrated against a person without that person’s consent. And to think that a mere thaali gives the “husband” the right over her body is plain male chauvinism and the idea does not deserve a place in today’s society.

A society which sees marriage as a union of two equals remains utopian to us. We live in a country where the female sex enjoys a better representation in temples than in the parliament. We name our gods, life supporting rivers and earth after women and yet continue to allow such inhumane crimes against them. Ah! How ironic?!

Recently, Mr.Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, the minister of state for home said, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context”, citing that marriages are treated as “sacrament” in the country. This only makes one wonder if we are losing too much in an effort to uphold the so called Indian tradition and culture. If, for argument sake, we do consider marriages to be sacramental, how does it make Marital Rape any more legal than in other countries?

Let us see the state of marital rape in other countries. The United States criminalized marital rape in mid 1970s and most of the European nations did so in the 1990s. Australia made it a crime in 1992. The United Nations’ recommendation to India to criminalize the same was turned down by the government. Justice Verma Committee’s Report of 2013 on sexual violence laws said that the exemption for marital rape “stems from a long out-dated notion of marriage which regarded wives as no more than the property of their husbands” and recommended its removal. However, the Criminal Law Amendment passed by the UPA following the report avoided the marital rape question!

What might be the reason for India not doing something which seems so obvious to a rationally thinking individual? Is it the practical difficulty involved in the implementation of the law? Is it the fear that this law, if made, will be exploited by women just like the Anti-Dowry Law? Or is it because of the sad fact that the government is run by a bunch of ultra conservative people who are giving religion more importance than it deserves and are so adamant in upholding its sanctity that they tend to oversee the adverse effect it is having on the society?

Well, it’s a combination of all the above reasons. In India, marriage has a “holy” characteristic associated with it. And a woman is expected to uphold the sanctity of the marriage and to hold intact the fabric of family, even though the man and woman both constitute the institution of marriage. Woman is seen as the bearer of a family’s dignity and esteem. All these so called “duties” of a woman weigh her down and makes it all the more difficult to come out and report a case of domestic violence. Exempting marital rape from legal punishment is only making things worse for her.

Refraining from passing a bill because of the associated implementational difficulties is not a good sign for a developing country like ours. Challenges are everywhere. We cannot dream of becoming a superpower if we resent challenges. There are countries where laws are in place to check these crimes and a study of them will definitely give us a starting point.

With all this said, it will be too optimistic to think that the law will eradicate our society of these heinous acts. A major perceptional change is required to fix this problem. A broadminded, well informed society backed by well structured laws is required to fix this problem. And, we make the society.

Words can only initiate thoughts. Thoughts lead to actions and only actions can bring changes!

Let’s act, for a better India!


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