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Consent In Indian Marriages

By Juhi Gautam

Rape culture, a culture which sexually views women as objects and ‘trophies’ to be “won” by men. Rape culture encourages and justifies men trying to ‘obtain’ women through dubiously moral methods with little regard for the wishes and feelings of the women involved.

Maximum people in India believe that our country has some unbendable laws against any kind of sexual activity carried out without the consent of any individual involved. But what if I say that India’s legal system and The Indian penal code which is considered so highly and righteous has encouraged and played a role in nourishing the rape culture that is so prevalent in every corner of the country?

Yes, in a country which ‘claims’ to have a fool-proof justice system for rape victims, there is one kind of rape that is completely and unapologetically ‘legalised’. Marital rape, a forceful intrusion into the sexual privacy of a person you happen to live with.

According to an ‘exception’ mentioned in the section 375 of the Indian ‘penal’ code, a man would not be ‘penalised’ for raping a woman unless she is your wife, the wife not being under eighteen years of age. This not only discriminates between a married and

an unmarried rape victim, but also conveys that marital rape of a seventeen year old girl is heinous while that of an eighteen year old girl is completely normal. It also conveys that if you want to rape a woman, you marry her and then rape her, the good news for you is that you won’t even be viewed as a criminal in the eyes of law.

In ancient times, a man could be sentenced to death for forcing sex upon someone’s wife or daughter on grounds of vandalising someone’s property. Since women were considered their husband’s property, it was deemed natural for a man to do anything to his wife, with or without consent. Our Indian legal system firmly stands to support

the idea that marriage involves the process of a woman handing the reins of her life and body to her husband. This did not surprise me. What surprised me was a video I came across a few days back which shows a vox populi conducted by scoop whoop

asking views of India’s men on marital rape. It was saddening to know that men in India did not even know that marital rape existed. For them, marriage was a license to indulge in sexual activity at any time of the day irrespective of their wife’s disagreement. One of the men argued to an extent that he even suggested women to not marry if they could not satisfy their husbands’ “needs”. Well, these happen to be the same men who question the moral values of a woman if she isn’t married by the age of thirty.

The Aziz Ansari’s public shaming incident highlighted that even in consensual sexual

relationships, there can be moments of coercion. It is extremely important for Indian men to know that a feeble YES can be a strong NO. And it is equally important for women in India to realise that it’s only them who have an agency over their own bodies.

Whenever the topic of criminalisation of marital rapes comes into picture, a lot of so called educated people with progressive mindsets completely rubbish this idea by saying that it would lead to “destabilisation of marriages” and cause “a state of anarchy in families”. We live in a country where physical violence in domestic settings is criminalised but the case is completely opposite in case of sexual violence in the same setting. We live in a society where an unmarried girl is barred from talking about sex but a married woman of the same age is expected to keep her husband sexually satisfied in order for her to gain the tag of a ‘proficient wife’. As for this country, a stranger can be penalised for spoiling the ‘purity’ of a girl but the girl’s own husband cannot be questioned. Afterall, how can a husband spoil his wife’s purity?

How can we forget our very own Bollywood movies? Scenes of arranged marriages in Bollywood movies strengthen the pre-established notion that women are their husband’s (sad but true) objects. The way how grooms are depicted initiating the process of lifting the veil from over the bride’s face further establishes male dominance and female subjugation.

Dominance over women and their sexual exploitation under the name of marriage which happens to be a ‘pious’ institution is extremely prevalent in India. More than 80% of women who are victims of sexual assault are said to have their husbands as their perpetrators. Rape is rape, there are no exceptions. A married woman sexually abused would undoubtedly suffer the same trauma as any other unmarried girl. Sadly, India is still amongst the remaining 36 countries which have still not criminalised marital rape. As a matter of fact, Britain, who planted this seed in India in the first place had long back uprooted this idea back in 1991.

We as enlightened citizens of India, not only demand to change the law on paper with no ‘exceptions’ but also want to eradicate this age-old mindset that belittles women and does not recognise a woman as an individual with agency over her own body. We fight for every woman, married or unmarried who is raped in every 16 minutes of the day. The fact that there are a lot of aware people fighting for consent in marriages, I can proudly say that we have won the battle but at the same time we are yet to win the war.

I am sure that a day will come in future, when every woman on the street or in her house feels completely safe, untouched by the preconceived notions that invigorated men to exercise their rights over women.

By Juhi Gautam

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