What is consent? Simply put, consent is a matter of perspective. And nowhere does this hold more true, than when you talk about marriage and the issue of marital rape.
In most cultures around the world when a woman marries a man, it is believed that she gives away complete control on her life and her body. Ruled by age-old patriarchal norms, a marriage, according to these dogmatic norms, gives a man every right over the woman. The belief is that lifelong right over a woman’s body is a bit like filling a consent form, which would read something like this: “by signing this form you hereby agree to the terms and conditions of marriage, the most basic one of which is your husband’s unequivocal and absolute right over your body”.
So ingrained is this idea in society that most women do not challenge it, and any sign of trouble is seen as a personal ‘family matter’ between husband and wife. But what happens when the man then takes his so-called ‘authority’ for granted and abuses his ‘rights’ as a husband to ghastly consequences?
Indian law is quite unclear about the fate of women after marriage. While on one hand Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012, terms all physical acts with a minor as rape and a criminal offense, Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which define the offence of rape, states that intercourse or sexual act by a man with his wife, not below 15 years, is not rape! These overlapping rules and laws have made it impossible to pin down the culprits who continue to plague our society. Different judges over the years have upheld the right of a woman to say ‘No’, whether it is a woman who is ‘mentally ill’ or ‘a woman of east virtue’. But the law, unfortunately, stays undecided.
So where does the problem lie? Whether it is marital rape, or violence against women in general, the patriarchal norms of the society have given men the licence to violate women’s right to consent. Hence, gender violence is often mixed up with the idea of ‘family honor’ (again a much abused word) and is hurriedly hushed up (the aggressor is not ashamed but the victim must hide her face). While the law enforcers will continue to debate over the issue, it is up to us to cleanse the society of these ancient mind-sets. Here are some myths that we need to break in order to create a better world –
- Today’s women are more intolerant: If women of the last generation were silent it’s because they had no means to support them – financially and emotionally. To ensure their daughters do not suffer similar fate, they insist on educating their daughters and making them independent and the power to choose.
- It’s a personal family matter – This patriarchal society has often used the garb of ‘family honour’ to suppress all incidents of injustice and violence against women within the confines of a household. Women need to come forth and name their perpetrators, even if those happen to be their own husbands, brothers, uncles, sons or even fathers. Yes, this is easier said than done and I realize that it’s easy to preach, but this is one of the reasons why assaults on women continue – because the perpetrators get away.
- Happens in poor families or in smaller towns – We couldn’t be more wrong if we believe that educated women in well to-do urban families are free from all violence. A closer look at the very fabric of our societies will reveal some shocking truths about what women go through irrespective of their status in the society. But they choose to stay mum as it is far more humiliating for them to accept that something like this could be happening to them. It is time they realise that the humiliation is not theirs but that of the offenders.
- Children need to be kept away from these issues – it is true that children should be allowed to grow up in innocence, but there are basic values that we can ingrain in them that will help them grow up to be responsible adults – like the right to consent. In dealing with our kids we must give them the right to choose and teach them to respect the wishes of those around them. Only then will they understand the real meaning of the word ‘Consent’.
We have been a victim of laws and rules made by others for too long. As women and responsible citizens it is in our hands to take part in the decision making. It is our responsibility to participate and enable the formulation of a society where law and cultural norms empower each one of us.
Marital rape is rape, the word marital is not a prefix that absolves the offender of culpability. Our courts need to recognize that.
By Priyadarshani Agarwal
Priyadarshani is gypsy who likes to drift through life on a whim. A corporate PR consultant, a budding blogger, wannabe wanderlust, an amateur chef, she is all of that and much more. Catch her snuggled in your corner bookstore with the latest suspense thriller, but don’t go quietly, she can get spooked easily!