Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dominique Mosbergen - India's Marital Rape Crisis Reaches 'Tragic Proportions'

One-third of men in India, where spousal rape is legal, admit to having forced a sexual act on their wives.
It was a daily terror, a nightmarish ritual that tormented her each night. That's how a 27-year-old Indian woman describes the repeated rapes by her husband. “I used to get jitters before going into my room. I would dread the thought of what was awaiting me,” she told journalist Priyali Sur for a May article published by the nonprofit Women's Media Center. “What happened in our bedroom was not what normally happens between a husband and wife; I felt like he had bought me. I was treated like a sex slave, like a sex toy. He would insert things inside me, slap me, and bite me. He was like an animal. Even during my menstruation, he wouldn’t spare me.”

On Feb. 14 last year, her husband’s birthday, the woman said he beat her multiple times before raping her with a flashlight, forcefully inserting the object into her vagina.
“I started bleeding but instead of taking me to the hospital he took me to my in-laws’ house and locked me up,” the woman said. “When the bleeding didn’t stop, my in-laws took me to the hospital. I was in a semi-conscious state … My legs and my entire body had swollen up. I was bleeding profusely. I bled for 60 long days.” Her husband was never prosecuted for assaulting her.

The woman petitioned India’s Supreme Court in February with a plea to declare marital rape a criminal offense. The court said that it couldn’t change the law for just one person and dismissed her petition. “I don’t understand the law. I’m a layman,” she told Sur after the court’s decision. “All I want to know is: Don’t married women have any right to approach the legal system? Are they only meant to suffer, commit suicide or die?

In December 2012, a 23-year-old student was gang raped by six men on a moving New Delhi bus on her way home. She died from her injuries 13 days later. Her murder sparked an unprecedented reaction in India; thousands of outraged people flocked to the streets to demand justice and change. The international response was also swift and widespread, according to Karuna Nundy, a prominent Supreme Court lawyer who specializes in human rights and commercial litigation. “Men and women, young and old, there were so many people,” Nundy told The Huffington Post. “Delhi was the epicenter for the movement, but it was happening everywhere. People were saying ‘enough is enough; this is not OK for us as a society.’ It was incredibly moving.”

As anger continued to simmer in the months following the student’s death, there were calls for stricter sexual assault and rape laws in the country. By 2013, new legislation was passed that strengthened punishments for sex crimes. Violations such as stalking and voyeurism were added to the penal code, and police officers were made criminally accountable for failing to record sexual offenses. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pledged “zero tolerance” for violence against women and vowed to strengthen the criminal justice system to crack down on these crimes. 

But despite these promises, and though some laws pertaining to sexual assault by strangers have indeed been beefed up, the archaic law that permits a husband to rape his wife still exists.  “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape,” states a 2013 amendment to the Indian Penal Code of 1860. With such a law in place, registering a case of sexual assault against a husband in India can be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

This has resulted in a marital rape crisis of “tragic proportions” in the country, with men assaulting their wives with impunity and women enduring the abuse under a shroud of silence, according to activists including Mihira Sood, a Delhi-based attorney who specializes in women’s rights. “Marital rape is an extremely widespread problem,” Sood told HuffPost. “[It’s] compounded by the fact that it is not recognized as an offense, either by the law as well as by much of society that is conditioned to see it as an inevitable part of marriage.”

Since marital rape is not a crime, exact statistics are hard to come by. The limited data that is available, however, provides a horrifying glimpse into the enormity of the problem. 
Last year, the United Nations Population Fund and the International Center for Research on Women surveyed more than 9,200 men across seven Indian states. One-third of them admitted to having forced a sexual act on their wives, while 60 percent said they’d used some form of violence to assert dominance over their partners. 

Another 2014 report, by researcher Aashish Gupta of the Rice Institute, found that women are 40 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by their husband than a stranger. Gupta concluded that fewer than 1 percent of sexual assaults within marriage are reported to police. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told HuffPost that marital rape is one of the most under-reported crimes, "often because women will regard this as an unpleasant part of their marital duties."

Other barriers to disclosure include widespread social stigma, lack of state support structure and a police force that has not been trained to deal with cases of marital sexual assault, Ganguly said.  In May, an Indian woman told journalist Namita Bhandare that when she sought the help of police after being raped and beaten on multiple occasions by her husband, they gave her a pat on the back and then sent her away. “They were very sympathetic, gave me a cup of tea and told me to go back home and ‘adjust,’” she recalled. 

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