NEW DELHI: In the midst of the raging debate involving the criminalisation of marital rape, the National Family Health Survey released the results of a study that hinted at a possible move towards progressiveness, even while offering some unnerving insights into the minds of married men and women in the country.
The survey has revealed that as much as 80% of women and 66% of men believed that a woman in India is justified in rejecting the amorous advances of a spouse for the following three reasons — namely, if the husband had a sexually transmitted disease (STD), if he had cheated on her, and this one actually hits the nail on the head, if the wife was tired or not in the mood.
Yes, it’s a hard conversation to have, and no, it’s not an inappropriate subject by any stretch of imagination; not in a nation that has a high prevalence of domestic violence, which often involves an element of sexual assault.
Speaking of which, in 80% of the cases of physical violence that has been perpetrated against women, the assaulter happens to be the husband.
This conversation is all the more pertinent in an era when arguably for the first time in many decades, the question of female consent is being debated furiously, and misdemeanours that might have ordinarily resulted in the perpetrators ending up with just a slap on the wrist are now being given the weightage that is due.
Of course, just because the majority of women, and a significant portion of men have acknowledged the idea of consent, does not herald a moment of victory per se.
As much as 44% of men and shockingly, 45% of women opine that men are justified in beating their wives on account of one of at least seven given circumstances.
These include denial of intimacy, infidelity, argumentative tendencies, neglecting household duties or even stepping out of home, without prior intimation.
It seems counter-intuitive that a survey which raises hopes about the giant strides being made by citizens in a nation towards comprehending matters with a universal resonance, is also offset by the presence of a regressive and decidedly mediaeval approach to marital relationships. And it boggles the mind when one considers that these are perspectives that still find a place in our collective consciousness, in spite of all the social, technological and economic advancements that our leaders claim to make.
As per 2019 figures, there are as many as 2.3 million separated and abandoned women in India, a number that has been exacerbated by the lax enforcement of family laws.
While the law has a provision for divorce, it also emboldens men to walk out of their marriages without the completion of the required formalities of divorce.
Ironically, desertion or abandonment can be cited as grounds for divorce as per India laws. But here’s the deal.
A significant chunk of the male population that comprises the post-baby boom generation has been weaned on the idea that relationships are one-way streets, and that marriages are tickets to a lifetime filled with the perks of male entitlement and hedonistic privileges.
As long as we engage with a culture that normalises the objectification of women, and plays down virtues of gender parity when it comes to marital relationships, we will be stuck on this hamster’s wheel that will throw up statistics of cyclical abuse, year after year.