On marital rape, Women’s Development Minister says ‘not everyone is a rapist’

On Wednesday, Union Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani told the Rajya Sabha that condemning every man as a rapist and every marriage as violent is undesirable. Irani was responding to a parliamentary question regarding the criminalization of marital rape in the country.

“Let me say that to condemn every marriage in this country as an abusive marriage, and to condemn every man in this country as a rapist is not advised in this august Chamber,” Irani said. The government official responsible for defending women’s rights later softened the assertion by saying, “The protection of women and children in our country is a priority for everyone”, while listing the number of lines of telephone support and drop-in centers available to women.

She could not elaborate on the subject since it is currently under court hearing; A Bench of the Delhi High Court is hearing petitions to strike down ‘Exception 2’ of the Rape Act under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. The exception is not insignificant: it stipulates that a man can have forced sexual intercourse with his wife without it qualifying as rape, as long as the woman is not younger than 15 years old.

In other words, Indian law does not fully recognize marital rape as a criminal offense at the moment. Like those of Irani, the arguments advanced by the government have been in the service of “protecting the institution of marriage” and/or preventing the “misuse” of gender laws. To quote the position of the central government: criminalizing marital rape “could open the floodgates to bogus business done with ulterior motives” and would be ill-suited in a country due to its high levels of illiteracy and cultural norms.

This begs the question: what happens when leaders dedicated to women’s well-being make statements devoid of nuance and complexity? As MP Binoy Viswam said, such statements “not only seek to trivialize the issue of marital rape and domestic violence, but are deeply insulting to the many women who have been victims of this crime”. It remains important to note that overturning the exception will mean that women will seek justice to protect themselves from domestic violence and sexual abuse – scenarios they are very often unable to combat due to stigma. emotional, financial and cultural. However, the idea that women simply use the laws intended to protect themselves is often referred to as “abuse”.

On the one hand, it distorts the debate around marital rape in this case by presenting it as a “men versus women” issue rather than a rights-based one. One of the arguments made in the Delhi High Court this week further stated: “The case before the court is about the moral right of a married woman to refuse unwanted forced sex and it is about respecting a woman’s right to say no and recognizing that marriage is no longer a universal license to ignore consent. And “such an act will continue to be tolerated until it is explicitly declared as a violation of the law”.

Irani’s statement casts marital rape as a far-left plot to criminalize all men, rather than seeing it for what it is: to protect all women, even married ones.


Related to The Swaddle:

Why it’s still legal for Indian men to rape their wives


Notably, it also misses much of the complexity that lies at the heart of marital rape cases. “It seems preposterous to suggest that marriage can involve irrevocable universal consent to sexual relations and without that marriage cannot survive,” a Supreme Court justice said in 2019, of the argument “the marriage will be destroyed if marital rape is criminalized”. The pillars of consent, integrity, bodily rights and women’s personalities are all sacrificed in the endless pursuit of protecting the holy grail of marriage. We then wonder: if the criminalization of marital rape threatens marriage, is marriage inseparable from sexual violence?

Despite eloquent figures: one in 25 women declared having been the victim of sexual violence at the hands of their husbands often or sometimes, according to data from the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), conducted in 2019-21. The number could be much higher as most cases go unreported.

Naturally, to Irani’s statement, a flood of supportive responses came along the following lines: “This marital rape propaganda raked in by left-wing feminists in the name of women’s safety is in fact a well-planned desperate attempt to tearing down the institution of marriage” or how he denounces “the misuse of ‘sexist laws’. Unfortunately, it seems to go awry for some politicians and members of civil society that the petition is against allowing husbands to rape their wives – an exception to the law. which some husbands also savagely abuse.

We also have men’s rights organizations organizing a protest against the criminalization of marital rape, hailing the position of the Indian government so far. Just last week, #MarriageStrike was trending on Twitter as some felt their rights in marriage would be oppressed if marital rape became a criminal offence. As a colleague commented on Irani’s recent statement: “It sounds like a statement posted by an uncle on WhatsApp.”

This is probably not the first time that an organization or leader in charge of women’s rights has overlooked the complexity of women’s issues. In June last year, a member of the National Commission for Women (NCW) erroneously claimed that ‘a woman should keep track of time and should not venture out late. Perhaps if the victim had not gone out in the evening or accompanied by a family member, she could have been saved” from the rape. This misogynistic rhetoric has already been highlighted by NCW. As The Swaddle reported at the time: “It’s a remarkably tone-deaf and callous statement from a representative of a supposedly feminist organization, but sadly, not entirely unexpected.”

Insensitivity exceeds women’s rights in some cases. In December last year, Smriti Irani, who is also a children’s rights officer, shared a message on social media, which read: “When I was a child, they didn’t take me to see a psychologist… My mother was able to open my chakrastabilize my karma, and cleans my aura all at once. She later had to withdraw the post following legitimate criticism of how such rhetoric rejects mental health and encourages violence against children.

Language is a terribly powerful thing. When women’s protection organizations and their leaders ignore the complexities of our deeply patriarchal realities and reject emotional abuse and coercive acts of violence, it can weaken the movement as a whole.

As Pallavi Prasad wrote in The Swaddle earlier: “Facts, logic and precedents are all there to compel the state to do good for half the people of India, but until that the mentalities of those in charge change to give importance to a different whole. established arguments, little will change.

Mara R. Wilmoth