The Big Story: Home and the state
A case being heard in the Delhi High Court reiterates a disheartening reality: on marital rape, the political establishment is sadly regressive. The written submissions made by the Centre in the case continue to privilege social institutions and traditions over the individual rights and autonomy, besides betraying the conviction that a law against marital rape would be used as a tool to harass husbands rather than a means of protection against sexual violence. If the arguments in court were cautiously worded, responses by those close to government were not. On Tuesday evening, Swaraj Kaushal, former Mizoram governor and husband of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, breezily declared there was no such thing as marital rape, that homes should not become “police station”.
Exception 2 under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code says that sexual acts by a man with his own wife, provided she is over 15 years old, cannot be called rape. It is a blind spot in the law that our elected representatives have done little to correct. In its written submission, the Centre argued that it could not criminalise marital rape just because the West had: “This country has its own unique problems due to various factors like literacy, lack of financial empowerment of the majority of females, mindset of the society, vast diversity, poverty, etc.” It closely echoes the statement made by Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, minister of state for home, two years ago. Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi also parroted the same line in 2016, though Gandhi has executed several u-turns on the matter. The Centre’s arguments now also contradict a government-appointed panel’s observations earlier this year, where it pointed to the legislative failure to criminalise or even recognise marital rape. Not that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government left a better track record. In 2013, it kept marital rape out of the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, in spite of the recommendations of the JS Verma committee, set up to consider the parameters of a new anti-rape law.
The Centre’s arguments now are a dismaying insight into government. First, they speak of the same socially conservative attitudes that would preserve “marriage as a sacrament” rather than protect a woman’s right over her body. Second, they defy logic by pointing out that women are disenfranchised in India but then militating against a legal provision that would help empower many married women currently forced to suffer in silence. Finally, the anxieties about “destabilizing the institution of marriage” also seem to flow from previous arguments about “marital privacy” and whether the state had the right to enter the conjugal home. But it is at home that many of the entrenched social inequalities begin. By staying out of Indian homes, the state would silently acquiesce to the structures of power and domination that currently prevail.
The Big Scroll
Aarefa Johari points out Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi’s inconsistencies on the issue of marital rape.
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Arvind Das on how the Hindi press tiptoed around the Ram Rahim judgment, even omitting to use the word “rape”:
Though Hindi newspapers have been giving space to news and analysis related to women since the 1980s, sparking a new discourse around women’s rights, there is still a patriarchal bias in reporting rape. In my research, I have found that the choice of language in Hindi newspapers more often than not seems to almost celebrate rape by using phrases like “pushti ho gayi” (rape is confirmed),” “balatkar ke record toot gaye (new record in the rape case)“ and using words like “pidita”for victim and “dabang” for the culprit.