Yes, women are being raped by their husbands everyday.
The portrait of marriage in 21st century India is slowly unfolding—and parts of it are downright ugly.
Domestic violence has emerged as the single-largest crime against women. In 2013, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported over 118,000 domestic violence cases, which made up a third of all crimes against women, far ahead of molestation (70,739) and rape (33,707). The number of reported domestic violence cases also shot up from a mere 50,703 in 2003 before the passage of the Domestic Violence Act of 2005.In the two years since it was set up, the women’s crisis helpline 181 has received close to 500,000 distress calls relating specifically to domestic violence, says a person associated with the number. “There is an equal number of women who simply don’t report,” asserts the person who did not want to be named.
Sexual violence, including rape, falls within the larger ambit of domestic violence, but rape by husbands within marriages is a shadowy subject in India and exact numbers are hard to come by.
According to NCRB, 98% of all rapes involve perpetrators familiar to survivors. These presumably include friends, acquaintances, colleagues and relatives. But husbands?
In 2013, a United Nations survey found that nearly a quarter of 10,000 men questioned in six Asia-Pacific countries, including India, admitted to having raped a female partner. The belief that they are entitled to sex even without their partner’s consent is a common motivation, the study found. The majority of these men experienced no legal consequences.
For the average Indian man, masculinity is about “acting tough, freely exercising his privilege to lay down the rules in personal relationships, and, above all, controlling women”, found a 2014 study by the United Nations Population Fund and the International Center for Research on Women. The study found that 60% of men admitted to using violence—kicking, beating, slapping, choking, burning—to establish dominance.
These findings tie in with the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey, which found that the commonest source of violence for married women was spouses. Only one in four abused women has ever sought help, found the survey, and women are much less likely to seek help for sexual violence than for physical violence. When they do seek help, they’d rather go to family members than the police.
Despite an increase in reporting among survivors following the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, rape continues to remain under-reported. Only about six of every 100 acts of sexual violence committed by men other than husbands actually get reported, says a report by Aashish Gupta of Rice Institute, a non-profit research organization. “Most incidence of sexual violence, however, were committed by husbands of the survivors: the number of women who experienced sexual violence by husbands was 40 times the number of women who experienced sexual violence by non-intimate perpetrators,” noted the report.
Despite the evidence, minister of state for home, Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary told Parliament that marriage is a “sacrament” and that the concept of marital rape cannot be applied to India.
We have a piquant situation. Marriage is a sacrament. But it is perfectly legal to rape your wife.
“It is concerning when a government whose stated intention is to secure women’s safety inside and outside the home, starts talking about culture and tradition to justify a crime,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “When the state makes culture a reason to refuse to legislate on what is clearly a criminal matter, what message percolates down the line to the entire criminal justice system?”
For advocate Seema Misra, who works with Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, a women’s rights organization based in Uttar Pradesh, that message is pretty clear. “You are basically saying that a wife’s consent doesn’t matter, that we are still stuck with the outdated notion that women are the property of men,” she says.