We Indians have a very strange attitude towards sex. We tend to duck questions or doubts, and prefer to go hush-hush if the term “sex” ever arises in our public discourse. Union minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi, recently irked gender equalists and feminists when she said in the Parliament that laws against marital rape can’t be formed in India due to its typical social, religious and economic condition.
While independent studies point that a vast majority of women suffer at the hands of their husbands, who use sex as a tool to humiliate, subjugate, and quite often, “teach a lesson”, the Centre prefers to play it safe by drawing the “traditional India” card. This trend of sweeping all issues, big and small, under the ‘traditional’, or rather “Bhartiya Sankskriti” carpet is becoming an alarming trend.
Governments in the past and present have refused to touch the issue of marital rape even with the proverbial “bargepole”. The Congress in the past didn’t think the issue was relevant, and now the BJP shies away, fearing backlash from conservative vote pockets across India.
In 2013, home affairs minister, Venkaiah Naidu, had said that an aggrieved woman has “other means of approaching the court” and that “if marital rape is brought under the law, the family system will be under stress.
Maneka Gandhi, who has been known for voicing social issues bravely in the past, is now toeing the line of the party in a very docile manner. Feminists are scoffing at the minister with disdain for her flip-flop take on the matter. Only last year, Gandhi had said that marital rape issue needs attention.
It’s interesting to note that some strong women ministers with the current government are getting into the habit of seeing everything from the nationalist or the cultural prism. Last month, HRD minister Smriti Irani made an emotional speech on nationalism, her statements riddle with factual inaccuracy.
In stark contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making sure women get a fair share in all aspects, starting from the male bastions of the army. He has made sure that women are chosen as the face of otherwise male-dominated regimes.
Coming back to the marital rape issue, India, notwithstanding the cultural and religious differences, tend to view women as the second-class gender. The society gives great importance to marriage, and when a young bride leaves her home, the women folk advise her that from now on, her “dharma” is to obey, oblige and carry the commands of her husband.
In all possibilities, sexual assault by a husband would generally mean the woman was “asking for it.” If we go around asking people, the most common answer (by both men and women in rural or urban India) would be, “May be the wife didn’t do her chores well.” Yes, it can be as simple a reason as that, which is why most Indians wouldn’t understand what the fuss is all about.
I have observed that, every news portal carried an analytical piece on the issue, and around 99% of the time, it was written by a woman. That’s because the “coercive sex” bit is so romaticised by popular cinema that a “no” by the wife is usually considered playful, and may be needs more coercion.
We need a law against marital rape exactly for the reasons that Maneka Gandhi has mentioned. Unless we have a preventive law, people would not know where they stood wrong, and how their marriages became hollow due to a misconstrued notion about power play in bedroom.