by Sania Khalid
This post is a response to “Indian Government States Marital Rape Is Not A Crime, Here Is Why They Are Wrong.”
The criminalization of marital rape has been an ongoing debate in India, especially in light of the horrifying Delhi Gang rape of 2012. The increasing numbers of sexual assault and violence cases in the last decade have pushed many activists to aim to improve India’s sexual assault laws.
Their uphill battle has not been easy because India’s government continues to shove a laundry list of reasons stating why the idea of Indian marriage is sacred and, therefore, cannot be touched.
In April of 2015, the Indian government decided against criminalizing marital rape. Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary stated:
“Marital rape, as understood internationally couldn’t be applied to India, due to factors like illiteracy, poverty, social customs, religious beliefs and the treatment of marriage as a sacrament.”
His reasoning isn’t much different from the 2013 response the Verma Committee received after also suggesting to criminalize marital rape. After the committee’s proposal was rejected, Indian lawmakers claimed that “if marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress” and that criminalizing marital rape has “the potential of destroying the institution of marriage.”
The justification brought forth by Indian lawmakers against criminalizing marital rape is extremely controversial. While their reasons were exceedingly problematic in so many ways, what was more interesting was the public’s reaction.
Since Chaudhary’s statement was released, many have questioned India’s penal system in relation to the surrounding countries such as China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
But comparing India’s penal system to other countries takes away the importance of the cause as to why marital rape should be criminalized. You don’t challenge problematic reasoning with more problematic reasoning. When you compare one country’s faulty system to another, you contribute to the ethnocentric ideology that your country should be better than other surrounding countries. The cause becomes more about protecting and maintaining your country’s reputation rather than criticizing India’s antiquated reasoning against the criminalization of marital rape.
It is even more troublesome to compare what India’s system should look like with that of bordering Muslim countries. This type of argument utilizes the stereotypical Western feminist idea that all Muslim countries exploit women’s rights.
To justify why India should criminalize marital rape, it does not make sense to compare India’s penal system to the penal system of neighboring countries. You need to challenge the root of the problem, which is ultimately society’s age-old view of marriage and the idea of consent in marriage.
Marriage is seen as a passageway for permanent consent. The construct of marriage negates the need to regularly ask for consent on the basis of the one-time contractual agreement. The Indian government is focusing more on the institution of marriage than worrying about protecting its citizens, especially women who are disproportionately victims of marital rape. This kind of law protects the perpetrators of marital rape and offers no support for those quietly affected.
It is frustrating when individuals continue to use tactics that further divide us on an issue that is widespread throughout the South Asian Diaspora. We need to be more critical of how our media frames their arguments on such pressing issues. In doing so, we can come together as a larger South Asian community to recognize and combat the troubling cross-cultural issues such as marital rape.
Sania Khalid is junior at Barnard College of Columbia University, majoring in Psychology and Women Studies. She was born in Pakistan but grew up in Westchester, N.Y. She is currently the Vice President of CU’s organization of Pakistanis students and a new writer for Brown Girl Magazine.