The Breakthrough Voice 3rd June, 2022

On Believing Women.

Trigger Warning: The article below contains mentions of rape and assault, although they are not graphic. Please do not read further if these subjects may be triggering for you. 

Indian men don’t understand consent. 

On first reading, this may seem like a blanket statement, but it is far from, if the real-life experiences of countless women are taken into account. The recent split verdict delivered by the Delhi High Court that seeks to decriminalise the act of marital rape is the latest development in the growing trend of lawmakers around the world working to curtail the sexual freedom of women, on the heels of a recent leak that stated that the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn Roe V. Wade, or the right to abortion.

Indian men don’t understand consent. 

Writing in opposition to a PIL, the Centre cited a “lack of mechanism to verify when consent stands withdrawn”. It is, however, hard to look at consent when even a mention of, forget entire conversations about sex are left out of households. When generations of men are raised by books, films, and television shows that celebrate jilted male characters that just don’t take no for an answer, they inevitably begin to view this behaviour as ideal. Naturally, they begin to emulate it. I once knew a boy who bragged about asking his then girlfriend out three times before she gave in and agreed. Widely acclaimed romance film The Notebook opens with a scene in which the main character hangs off of a Ferris Wheel. The object of his affection sits in one of the carriages. If she does not agree to go out with him, he will jump. Her laugh, when it comes, is nervous and stilted. What choice does she have? 

I recently read a Twitter thread someone wrote about their aunt, when discussions around marital rape were still ongoing, but the situation hadn’t come to its current urgency. When her husband came home drunk. (Did he drink often?) He would force himself upon her. She would plead. It took years to break the silence, and even more to break the cycle. 

Abuse is hard to recognise, and even harder to escape, especially within the confines of the traditional patriarchal Indian family set-up. Conflicts between a man and his wife are seen as “internal affairs” and brushed off as family issues that non-family members would be better off not interfering in. Legal assistance is, then, one of the only options that a victim can resort to when facing resistance and pressure from relatives, which is so often the case. So what happens when the state itself proliferates ideas that endanger the security and agency of Indian women, even in their own homes? 

Abuse is hard to recognise, and even harder to escape, especially within the confines of the traditional patriarchal Indian family set-up.

 Section 375 of the Penal Code mentions that forced sex within a marriage is not considered a crime unless the wife is below the age of fifteen. After following the exhausting coverage of the issue since late last year, it becomes apparent to any observer that the Centre seems more concerned about the potential ways in which the law can be misused in the future, if instated. Never mind the fact that only about a tiny minority are false. In January, the Delhi High Court further evinced this by stating that “apprehensions of [the] gross misuse of the offence of marital rape cannot be ruled out.”

In another obvious attempt at deflection, the Centre provided another statement which stated that “the issue of marital rape involves ‘family issues’ as well as the dignity of a woman and cannot be looked at from a microscopic angle.” The Centre also stated that various other countries, mostly Western had criminalised marital rape. They felt that a country such as India should not “blindly follow” the West, and instead consider and “solve its own pre-existing problems such as poverty and illiteracy.” The fact that even a body as impactful and central as the legislature does not view the bodily rights of women as an issue impacting the country is abysmal.

Further, why does the Centre fail to grasp that it is women who are affected by factors such as poverty and illiteracy who are at a further risk of marital rape? It’s clear then that the Indian government is more focused on the preserving of sacred family values that were never a part of Indian culture to begin with than drafting laws that will help married women seek justice.

Conflicts between a man and his wife are seen as “internal affairs”…

The split verdict was delivered by Justices Rajiv Shakdher and C Hari Shankar. While Shankar voted against a provision for the criminalisation of marital rape, Shakdher voted in favour of criminalisation. Shankar also stated that criminalising the act would tarnish the institution of marriage. The case remains in limbo, but with the filing of an appeal by a citizen and the potential appointment of Justice JB Pardiwala (who has publicly taken a stance against marital rape in the past) to the post of Chief Justice, perhaps bodily justice isn’t too far ahead. 

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