India’s law on marital rape: Do we get the problem?

An Indian bride arrives at her marital home. Photo credit: Shounak Ray on Flickr

An Indian bride arrives at her marital home. Photo credit: Shounak Ray on Flickr

My most recent story for CNN on why marital rape is legal in India has to be the most debated piece I’ve written so far. While many men and women have supported it, sadly, a significant backlash has mainly come from Indian men.

But one thing that has struck me is how many of their arguments skirt around the real issue. The story’s focus is The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 in India, which states:

“Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”

It’s quite a simple and clear message that gives husbands undue precedence over their wives. But the most common bone of contention is why I haven’t addressed the number of false rape claims. Many have said that amending the above penal code will make it easier for women to make these wrongful accusations.

That’s false

Firstly, false rape claims are (obviously) not what this story is about. Secondly, where is the sympathy for the far bigger problem: that, according to a study by the established Rice Institute mentioned in the intro, the number of Indian women sexually assaulted by their husbands is 40 times the number of women attacked by men they don’t know?

One aggravated reader cited an article about the increase of parents going to the police in Delhi and reporting their daughters being raped, when in reality their unmarried offspring were having sex. What does this have to do with genuine victims of marital rape across the country who are explicitly unrecognised in Indian law?

Another claim is that wives can use other sections of the law to penalise their husbands. But why should the penal code have even the remotest clause that says there can’t be cases of rape if the wife is over 15 years old?

And then, there were the people who clearly hadn’t read the piece – the headline was enough to arouse their fury about a media conspiracy to demean India and its men.

But not a single antagonist has addressed the specific wording, and subsequent attitude, of the clearly cited law. Is the problem misunderstood? Or is it being avoided? Or is it not being seen in the first place? What does that say about patriarchy in India that the evolution of its society is up against? In fact, the comments received are patriarchal by their very nature.

One apparently married woman commented on my Facebook page, saying I should be careful about joining the tide of news reports out to defame India, and that she has the utmost respect for her fellow fathers, husbands and brothers. Again, what has this got to do with the discrepancy in Indian law that ultimately belittles people like her? I put this question to her and am yet to receive a response.

What about them?

A frequent debate is why there is so much focus on India when rape is a big, and sometimes bigger, issue in other countries, including the US and the UK. Firstly, the laws of other nations are mentioned in the story. But, is that reason enough to avoid focusing on India? Doesn’t patriarchy exist in a unique way in each culture, that can only be addressed individually? If we’re able to tackle it on this land, isn’t it setting an example for others?

But we seem to be forgetting something important: the reason why rape in India is garnering so much attention is because the country itself cried out for help. The mass protests after the gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi in 2012 were impassioned pleas to deal with the ongoing problem once and for all. Surely, we should listen and respond instead of deafening this outcry?

 

Frankly, I think the attempt to divert attention away from India is childish and standing in the way of much-needed change. It’s about time we grew up, accepted our flaws, made amends and shouldered responsibility. That’s not just a part of behaving like adults, it’s the essence of becoming a better human that contributes to a more compassionate humankind.

Overall, I think most people get the problem. But I am glad there is debate; the only way that change happens is when people start talking about it.

Sign a petition, organised by Ritica Ramesh, to criminalise marital and male rape in India: https://www.change.org/p/criminalize-marital-and-male-rape

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