Illustration: Deepak Harichandan
[h=2]By appropriating female consent in sexual matters, misogyny denies women the right to stand up to sexual abuse from violent husbands.[/h]
In April, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said marriage in India is a sacrosanct institution. The concept of marital rape is not suitable in the Indian context, he said, due to illiteracy, poverty, social customs, values, religious beliefs, and other factors.
Many years ago, when I was travelling in rural north India on a research trip, I encountered some women in a village, who asked me if I was married. I said I was not. After giving me warnings about finding a “good boy” before it was too late, the women started joking about their men. And in an uncharacteristic move, they began to discuss their very first sexual encounters. I was shocked, not by the unexpectedly liberated manner of these women, but by the acts that they described on their wedding night, where their husbands had pounced on them in hormone and alcohol-fuelled frenzies. Their initiation into conjugal life was through an act that can only be described as rape.
They did not know the word for rape, but from what they described, they hated the encounter, which turned into a lifelong abhorrence for their husbands. At least one woman said that she had tried to lock the door the next night. You may be compelled to dismiss the argument saying, “but they were married” — much like some of our current politicians.
As mentioned before, part of the allure of misogyny is to take consent by force when it is denied. If we can safely assume (and we can) that a majority of men are misogynist in India, then how can we possibly logically conclude either that marital rape does not occur, or if it does it is not quite so serious. If the housewife suicide rate between the ages of 18-35 and the number of cases of cruelty to wives are any indicators, then Indians are foolish to think either that marital rape doesn't happen, or, that it can be left out of policymaking.
Policymakers have a responsibility to protect their citizens from violence by putting in place preventive laws and generating consequences for perpetrators. A man who commits a violent crime against his wife should be tagged as a criminal for he has violated another rights-bearing individual. When we do not take marital rape seriously, we allow husband-rapists to get away with crimes that they would be prosecuted for had they not been married to the victim. We take away from women the right to choose when to give consent to an act of intercourse and we allow men to maintain a hateful entitlement to the body of the wife.