Marital Rape Isn’t a Crime in India. This Lawyer Is Fighting to Change That
Sadly (and disgustingly) this is an issue in the United States as well – maybe not as common place as India? – especially among Christian patriarchalists and Christian gender complementarians.
Al Mohler, and guys like him, like to keep presenting marriage (and parenthood) as being necessary to make a person godly, mature, responsible, and ethical, but as we can see in stories like the one below, marriage does not make people more godly, mature, responsible, or ethical.
March 27, 2022
…Her [Karuna Nundy, who wrote an open letter to the women of India reminding them of her rights] readers seemed to take that message to heart. [Nundy was contacted by women, married women, who were being raped by their husbands, and who asked for her assistance.]
For Nundy, the experience made one thing clear: “The institution of marriage should not include the license to rape.”
Right now, the law would disagree. Marital rape isn’t a crime in India, one of three dozen countries—including Bangladesh, Iran, Nigeria, and Libya—where it’s still legal for a man to have nonconsensual sex with his wife.
This is despite a national survey published by the government in 2018 that found that 86% of the female sexual violence survivors surveyed had been assaulted by their former or current husband.
The current laws criminalize any form of sexual assault and domestic violence but prevent the crime from being called “rape” if it’s between a husband and wife—thereby reducing both severity and sentencing.
“To me, it’s one of the problems in the law that goes to the heart of the worst patriarchy,” Nundy said in court in January. “If you’re legally not allowed to sexually assault, slap, molest, or kill your wife in the bedroom, why are you allowed to rape her?”
Nundy’s work on these issues accelerated after the Nirbhaya case, the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman on a public bus in Delhi that drew international headlines in 2012.
She calls 2012 an “inflection point,” the first time that people of all ages, genders, and sexualities came out on the streets against sexual violence and violence against women. “My city was the center of this national—and, to some extent, global—protest,” she says, describing how that period transformed her. It felt as if “this is not just a woman’s problem or a girl’s problem. This is everybody’s problem.”
…Nundy has since emerged as a leading voice for gender justice and freedom of speech, contributing to the reform of anti-rape laws and fighting cases against sexual harassment in the workplace. Now she’s leading the fight to criminalize marital rape—a fight that began years ago.
… At the age of 15, Nundy was stalked by a classmate in school and received rape threats. When her mother reported the incidents to the head teacher, their concerns were dismissed. It was a defining moment for Nundy. “Generations of women are raised by parents to believe they can do anything and then come face-to-face with sexual violence,” she says. “Things haven’t changed enough.”
…Still, the Indian judiciary remains a man’s world. Since its inception in 1950, the Supreme Court has had only 11 female judges out of 256, and the presence of female lawyers inside courts is still uncommon.
Nundy deals with this by overpreparing—with a more robust legal strategy, by studying the argument style of her (predominantly male) counterparts, and by filing long, detailed briefs—just so there’s no doubt she’s “better than the next guy.”
Ultimately, her job is to be persuasive. “I’m always toeing this line of not being seen as too aggressive, and smiling at that key moment,” she says.
… While current laws define rape and consent clearly, the exception for rape within marriage has remained, despite increased campaigning in recent years. After the Nirbhaya case in 2012, a government-appointed committee made a set of recommendations, including the criminalizing of marital rape, to reform laws to prosecute rape. The government refused to address marital rape then, saying that there wasn’t a “societal consensus” on the issue.
The exception for marital rape in India’s law exists because of the Indian Penal Code, first enacted by British colonials in 1860. Matthew Hale, the chief justice of England from 1671 to 1676, originally argued that consent to marriage itself implied consent to sex, which, once given, could not be revoked. The U.K. and other British colonies have long since overruled this, but in India, the issue has been met with fierce debate.
According to the latest research from Pew, nearly 9 in 10 Indians, including women, agree with the notion that a wife must always obey her husband. In January, Nundy’s efforts were virulently opposed by a small group of Indian men who launched a “marriage strike” on Twitter. A men’s-rights group called the Save Indian Family Foundation encouraged men to boycott marriage altogether, saying that marital–rape laws could be misused and lead to false convictions.
The Indian government seems to agree. Spokespeople did not respond to TIME’s request for comment, but when similar pleas were filed in 2017, the government argued against making marital rape a crime because it could “destabilize the institution of marriage” and “become an easy tool for harassing husbands.” The courts accepted this argument. In the latest challenge, the judicial bench has once again asked the government for its view on the matter, and questioned if parallels can be drawn between cases of rape among a married couple and nonmarried individuals.
One-third of women globally face violence at the hands of a partner, according to the World Health Organization. And even in countries where marital rape is a crime, reporting and conviction rates remain low.
But for Chitra Awasthi, founder of the RIT Foundation—which first petitioned the courts to criminalize marital rape in 2015—the goal of the petitions is not just to change the law.
It’s also to raise awareness.
“There are many girls and women who didn’t even know that marital rape was a form of abuse. They thought it was their fate,” she says. “Even now, over and above any legal relief, it’s important to make both men and women aware of the fact that there has to be consent in having sex with your partner.”
Nundy remains hopeful that the law still has the power to change what society considers the norm. “The more [marital rape] is prosecuted, the more it will be deterred,” she says.
In court, she has argued that devaluing the ability of women to give consent has ripple effects in both directions. “You’re taking away a woman’s right to say a joyful yes,” she said at the hearings.
The rest of that article is (Link): here, on TIME’s site