by Sania Ambardekar
The criminalisation of marital rape in India and around the globe has been a controversial but also an important topic to be talked about and dealt with. It is also essential to break down the stigma and prejudices surrounding marital rape and encourage conversations and introspection. The sheer atrocities of marital rape are experienced worldwide with husbands sexually exploiting their wives to assert dominance and strength. In India, one in every 25 women is subjected to sexual abuse and violence from her husband according to a survey conducted by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) from 2019 to 2021. This goes against the basic and fundamental human rights of women. Over 100 countries around the world have criminalised marital rape so why hasn’t India?
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code considers rape as an offence but at the same time condones non-consensual sexual intercourse between a married couple if the wife is over 15 years of age. This law brings about questions, not only regarding law and order, but also humanity. Disturbing as it sounds, not considering marital rape as a punishable offence greatly affects the self-respect and dignity of a woman. Rape can’t be normalised on the basis of the relationship that the perpetrator and the victim share. The deep rooted patriarchy embedded in our culture and religious beliefs makes it impossible for women to stand up for themselves. Pooja, a mother of three daughters from Karnataka, has suffered in silence for 14 years before she stood up for herself and separated from her husband. She refuses to divorce him because that would give him a chance to remarry and “ruin another woman’s life.” Pooja, like countless other women, has been subjected to the horrific act that is marital rape. Additionally, marital rape has several mental impacts, leading to severe mental and physical trauma which is merely unthinkable.
Recently, a batch of petitions seeking the criminalisation of marital rape flooded the Delhi High Court. This drew people’s attention to this rather sensitive topic. A hashtag called “marriage strike” has appeared on social media in light of these events. It has caused quite a stir on Twitter and has sparked the “feminist” vs “save men” debate once again.
Men who are encouraging the #MarriageStrike are unwilling to marry if more power is given to women in marital relationships. This is due to the prime fear of women misusing their fundamental rights that they deserved to have in the first place. This is ironic because men have benefited from patriarchy in our societies for several generations. The hashtag continues to trend as men fear being falsely accused more than empathizing with women who are abused. Furthermore, over the past 20 years, there have been only 2-10% of false rape accusations which is a very small fraction of the domestic violence and sexual abuse women face every single day. According to the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), there were 3582 domestic violence cases in the second wave of Covid-19 which was still reduced in comparison to the cases during the first wave. Regardless, opposers of the movement focus on the 2% rather than bringing justice to the victims of said abuse. For the betterment of our society and the health of the victims, such matters should not be kept inside 4 walls and a rapist, nonetheless, must be subjected to punishment.