Monday, May 4, 2015

Kiran Bedi - The Sordid Reality of Marital Rape

Hearing this was most painful..

"My husband raped me daily. He forced himself on me, every single day, even on the days I bled. He did not spare me all through the pregnancy and even till the last day of delivery of my child ... I want no woman to lose time to speak up against such an atrocity. Speak out early, so that you do not continue to suffer as I did. I was scared of him all along."....Now I am strong to reject such a man." (A woman on a TV program)

"Is a wife merely body parts?" I ask.

What compels a wife to continue living with her husband who is a sex-maniac? What kind of man commits such atrocious acts on his wife, almost daily? Why does he treat the mother of his own children in such an inhuman way? How does he get away with this brutality? Is it because marital rape is not a criminal offence, compared to one committed on an outsider? Is he abusing this distinction? Is marriage for such depraved men a license to rape because of the 'implied consent' which comes with wedlock?We had a rather insensitive statement from Minister of State for Home Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary in the Rajya Sabha on April 29, 2015. I quote:

"It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs, and values, religious beliefs, mind-set of the society, to treat marriage as sacrosanct."

It is this statement which has stirred the latest debate on marital rape. And legal luminaries and social activists are expressing strong arguments for a change. Wonder on basic tenets of common sense, how does a cruel marriage remain sacred? What is sacrosanct about it?

Unreported marital rape is a sordid reality of millions of women in our country as surveys conducted by the UN and other agencies reveal. Men themselves too are confirming the results. It's as high as 75% women subjected to marital rape at some point or the other. Not to forget millions of girls in our country are married off at a young age.

Victims continue to suffer for several reasons, dependent on their socio-economic-psychological situation. Bertrand Russell in his book Marriage and Morals wrote "Marriage for a woman is the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater than in prostitution."

In December 1993, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and declared marital rape as a human rights violation.

Similarly, the Council of Europe Convention, in force since 2014 August, declared non-consensual sexual acts committed against a spouse or partner as illegal. This convention is legally binding in Europe. Other countries where marital rape is illegal include the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Sweden, Russia, Poland and many more.

In India, marital rape can come under cruelty clauses of section 498A of Indian Penal Code. Cruelty, though not specifically defined, covers physical and mental harassment. Punishment is maximum three years with fine. Another section of law, 375 IPC defines rape, but says it is not rape if it is intercourse between husband and wife, and when such wife is not younger than 15. Very few women include sexual assaults/cruelty in their complaints to police, courts or family counselling centres. Information about this is deficient in the public domain.

Under the Domestic Violence Act of 2005, sexual violence is a non-criminal violation. On a complaint received from an aggrieved wife, the Court can call the husband to hear him. Once heard, (lawyers not mandatory), the case is usually referred to a mediator for resolution, if possible. If the complaint is found correct, and mediation fails, the Court can pass a Protection Order directing the man to correct his conduct. The direction of the Court is legally binding. On violation of the direction, the wife can go back to the Court to complain. Violation of the Protection Order can call for short imprisonment. Police help can be taken. However, the process remains a protracted civil matter between the victim, the accused and the Court.

This is functional to an extent. But not effective in practice, as has been seen and reported - in part because of long queues and infrastructure inadequacies. Also, if mediation does not work, the victim has to fall back on herself or family support.

In Washington State laws on marital rape, there are heavy financial penalties imposed in cases where marital rape is established. One of my Foundations has been running family counselling centres for the last 25 years. Its records show that once the woman acquires the courage to complain, she does not go back to endure cruelty.

But she wants to see her husband punished, and finds no avenue for that. Instead it is she who struggles and suffers most if she has children, no financial resources and is without family support. The IPC sections of cruelty take years in trial. In view of this, victims remain victims. They either give in, or give up.

One thing is evident - that in cases of sexual violence in marriage, the woman is a victim. If a marriage is still continuing, it is because she is submitting to it, she is weak, poor, and afraid, has children, is dependent, roofless, and reconciled to fate. She is also often ignorant of the legal help available.

One wonders what kind of children does such a woman in distress give birth to and nurture. What kind of home environment will these children grow up in? What kind of fathers do such men make? And will the victimised mother welcome a girl child who may grow up to suffer the way she has? Can such a mind-set be ruled out? I have seen this prevailing with its serious social implications, contributing to the imbalance in gender.

The need of the times is to considerably transform our humankind, their values and education - this is real long-term prevention and correction. It begins with every home, every school. We need to educate our boys and girls differently and equally at the same time. The criminal justice system can effectively serve as a deterrent only if the law breakers are a small percentage, but not if the crime is an un-reported 75%. This is an epidemic.

Hence, Indian society needs comprehensive socio-cultural-legal solutions to this prevailing unstated cruelty if it wants healthy children from happy parents in caring homes. In the West such changes came post the 1970s. When will we introduce them? Till then, political leaders must realise that there is nothing sacred in an exploitative marriage. They must stop making regressive statements.