Marital rape: Noted by SC, proved by numbers, but denied by society
The recent SC judgment on women's right to abortion has started the debate afresh, but patriarchal Indian society still largely believes marital rape is an oxymoron
Jasmine Moosa was married off three days after she turned 18. She met her husband for the first time only on the day of the wedding. On the first night, the terrified young Jasmine ran out of the bedroom and slept with her mother-in-law. The next day, her parents came over and took her home.
Soon, they realised her husband was autistic. Jasmine got a divorce but was forced into a second marriage very soon. This time, she argued with her parents that she would be ready for marriage only if she got ample time to talk to the man and to get to know him better.
Since the family had also learned a bitter lesson, they agreed to her demand. The first meeting between Jasmine and her prospective groom was very impressive. He seemed open, honest, and progressive. When Jasmine tried to tell him about the bitter experience of her first marriage, he told her that the past was past, and she should move on. Jasmine was happy and thought that she had finally met her man. But she never had an idea what was in store for her.
A new nightmare
On the first night after the wedding, Jasmine saw a totally different man. He slapped her, tied her arms and legs to the bed, and raped her. He told her that “a woman in her second marriage did not deserve better.” From then onwards, he raped Jasmine every night and subjected her to severe torture. After a year, she got pregnant, but he continued with the physical violence, which caused internal injuries. Jasmine lost the foetus at five months.
Jasmine could not take any more. She walked out of home in a village in Malappuram and boarded a train to Kochi. She got a front office job at a fitness centre. That was the beginning of her second innings in life. Jasmine developed a passion for physical training and soon made commendable progress. Later, she went to Bengaluru to attend a course to be qualified as a physical trainer. Now, she lives in Bengaluru and works as a physical trainer.
Jasmine shot into the limelight when she participated in the Malayalam TV show Bigg Boss Season 4, anchored by Mohanlal. Confronting a co-participant, Jasmine quit the show declaring that her self-respect mattered more to her than money and fame.
Not an oxymoron
Marital rape is a reality. It is not fiction. The term “marital rape” is not an oxymoron, as many people, especially men, think. A lot of people wonder how rape can happen within a conjugal relationship. “Why should someone rape his wife when she is ‘available’ at his will?”
“This notion of ‘the uninterrupted availability’ of a wife’s body for fulfilling the husband’s sexual desires is the root cause of the problem,” said Sandhya, a lawyer at the Kerala High Court.
A woman’s health, mood swings, physical conditions such as menstruation, and her desire for sex do matter. “To get sex from the wife is not the husband’s absolute right. Whether the wife wants it or not also matters. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is incapable of acknowledging this fact,” Dr Usha, a practising psychologist who often comes across women who undergo marital rape, told The Federal.
A big leap
The debate on marital rape is back again, with the Supreme Court holding that women who get pregnant as a result of marital rape have the right to abortion, and the husband’s consent is not required. According to experts and human rights defenders, this is a big leap even though the SC is yet to acknowledge marital rape as a punishable offence. At least, the court of law acknowledged that something called “marital rape” does exist in society.
Social media is awash with stories of women who are forced to have sex with their husbands. A Facebook post by Divya Geeth, the coordinator of Kerala Social Security Mission, can be an eye-opener for all those who wonder whether marital rape is fact or fiction. It is the story of a girl whom Geeth met on the train every day. Regular co-passengers had given her the nickname “Sleeping Beauty” because she slept throughout the journey. One day, she explained to Divya why she did so.
“My husband wants sex every night — even three or four times. He often turns violent. Sometimes, I cry, unable to bear the pain. My tears excite him, and he turns more violent. He does not let me sleep. He does not care about my health conditions or mood. I only get to sleep around 3 am but get up by 5 am to finish the household chores and catch the train. I hardly sleep. My greatest wish is to sleep and sleep without any interruption, as much as I want,” she said.
Geeth, who was shocked to hear her story, wrote about it on Facebook without disclosing the woman’s identity.
More horror stories
The stories that married women have shared with psychologists and doctors reveal the gory details of marital rape. The law does not yet acknowledge the cruelty and violence committed by men on their wives during sex as rape, though no woman consents to be tortured during sex.
“Burning the wife’s private parts with cigarettes, forcing the wife to perform acts seen in porn movies, forced oral sex, slapping and beating during penetration, forcefully tying her arms and legs during sex are some strange and cruel acts committed by husbands,” revealed Dr Usha.
“Often, women cannot even complain or share their pain with someone because of the shame and stigma attached with marital rape. Even her own family members do not take it seriously because sex is seen as the right of a husband and the duty of the wife,” Dr Mini, a psychiatrist in Kochi, told The Federal.
Despite the revelation of all such stories, some people still refuse to believe that marital rape is a reality. Here is some data for them. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 2019-21, “thirty-two per cent of ever-married women age(d) 18-49 have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional spousal violence. The most common type of spousal violence is physical violence (28 per cent), followed by emotional violence (14 per cent). Six per cent of ever-married women age(d) 18–49 have experienced spousal sexual violence.”
The NFHS data also shows that one-fourth of ever-married women aged 18 to 49, who have experienced spousal physical or sexual violence, report having physical injuries. These include 7 per cent who have had eye injuries, sprains, dislocations, or burns, and 6 per cent with deep wounds, broken bones, broken teeth, or other serious injuries.
Despite data on the table, why is the country hesitant to acknowledge the prevalence of marital rape? The answer is also present in the data. NFHS 2019–21 states that “of all women in India who have ever experienced any type of physical or sexual violence, only 14 per cent have sought help for the violence, and 77 per cent have never sought any help nor told anyone about the violence they experienced.”
The data shows that the deeply patriarchal Indian society would start recognising marital rape as an offence only when a large number of women follow what Jasmine did — talk about marital rape.