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Indian Government States Marital Rape Is Not A Crime, Here Is Why They Are Wrong

3 min read

by Karishma Desai 

This post is a response to the Wall Street Journal’s story: Modi Government’s Reasons Why Marital Rape Is Not a Crime.

Dear Indian Parliament,

The Research Institute for Compassionate Economics reports that in India, “the number of women sexually assaulted by their husbands is 40 times the number of women who suffer such violence from others.”

Rape is a crime. Marital rape is rape. Therefore, marital rape is a crime.

Unfortunately, according to you politicians, Indian culture seems to be above logical reasoning. Apparently, India is an exception to the almost universal idea that sex between married partners requires mutual consent, just like sex between unmarried partners. Aligning India as an exception means that the country is no different than China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan regarding the legal protection of married women. I do not think that is a comparison of which to be proud of. When a typically conservative country like Malaysia seems to agree with most of the world that marital rape is a crime, I do not understand what is holding back India from the same realization.

As a first-generation Indian-American, I have been raised with traditional Indian values and have visited India more times than I can count on both hands. At no point in time was I taught by my elders that a man was entitled to sex from his wife, whenever he desires, regardless of her wishes.

Sex, to those who participate in the act, should be an act of mutual pleasure. If a man forces himself on his wife when she clearly does not consent to it, how is that pleasurable? If a marriage is so sacrilegious, then shouldn’t a husband respect his wife’s wishes and choose to have sex with her when consent is mutual? How can someone who claims to love and respect his wife, rape her?

I may be overthinking here, but I thought marital rape disgraces the sanctity of marriage. The claim that criminalizing marital rape would “put stress on the family structure,” is an utter insult. I thought a woman putting up with her sexually abusive husband would put stress on the family structure, but I guess logic does not factor into nonsensical rhetoric.

It also seems lazy to me to list various factors that enable marital rape, but not pass any legislation to improve such social conditions. Instead of blaming societal mindset, poverty, and illiteracy, what legislation have you passed to really curtail these factors? While these may be legitimate factors, I also think it is insulting to blame Indian culture solely on the perpetuity of marital rape. Rapists can be blue-collar workers or CEOs; they can come from strict Hindu backgrounds or be modern-thinking atheists.

The point is, there needs to be a law that criminalizes marital rape. The Indian parliament needs to stand up and state that a married woman has sexual rights over her own body, not her husband. Not only has the UN strongly recommended criminalizing marital rape under India’s penal code, but so has the Verma Committee, which was appointed to review sexual assault laws after the 2012 Delhi gang rape.

When the then Congress-led parliament rejected the criminalization of marital rape, I thought changes would come under the new majority party, Bharatiya Janata, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But where is the change that Indian citizens were promised? Or does that not include married women?

India outlawed dowry and sati, but did not criminalize marital rape. I thought India realized that a marriage was supposed to be an equal partnership. I gave India the benefit of the doubt that it would soon realize women are not shiny objects meant only for Bollywood item numbers or unwanted sex.

At the very least, I thought Modi, who is progressive and politically savvy, would jump on an opportunity to progress further than the past governments. After all, there is already a growing prejudice tying India with rape culture. I would think the government wants to clarify India’s long history of female empowerment and protect today’s women with stronger legislation.

But I guess India will still be known as the society with a national language where husbands are called pati-dev (rough translation: husband-God), yet wives are just patni – but not devi.

The wheel on the flag is stuck in a rut and it’s not moving anytime soon, thanks to the stagnant parliament’s “protection of marital sanctity…” I mean, the lack of legislation against marital rape.

Karishma, a smart, hip, beautiful brown girl who will only marry on equal terms

Tl;dr: Rape is rape; so criminalize marital rape.

Karishma Desai Recently accepted into Boston University’s MS Journalism program, Karishma B. Desai freelances for the award-winning IndyWeek and was a former intern for UNC-TV (North Carolina’s PBS Affiliate). When she’s not writing articles at Starbucks, you can find her videotaping a new adventure for YouTube or interviewing inspirational people for a documentary. She is a city girl who is working towards her dreams of becoming a TV reporter focusing on health policy.


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