Privacy valid only if women’s rights are upheld: Activists, NGOs

Despite a split verdict on the issue of marital rape, activists and advocates tell Nirupa Sampath and Manikandan M they’re hopeful that Justice Rajiv Shakdher’s judgment, which was in favour of striking down the Exception 2 (Section 375 of the Indian Penal code), would prevail in the Supreme Court.
Privacy valid only if women’s rights are upheld: Activists, NGOs
U Vasuki of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) was disappointed with the split verdict.

CHENNAI: While the case questioning the constitutionality of criminalising Marital Rape is pending in Supreme Court, women’s rights activists and NGOs welcome Justice Rajiv Shakdher’s verdict striking down the Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code.

Professor S Anandi, Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), whose research focuses on gender, said that marriage was about intimacy.

“But when the woman is subjected to violence and abuse, how can it be considered as a private matter? Intimacy and privacy are only valid until women’s anatomy, dignity, consent, and her right to speech are upheld,” she added.

Anandi pointed out that since the so-called sanctity of family and marriage was protected by privacy “it has given certain men the agency to rape their wives. Marital rape, even within matrimonial relationships, should be considered in same lines of crime against women”.

Husbands common perpetrators in spousal violence: NFHS-5 study
Husbands common perpetrators in spousal violence: NFHS-5 study

She agreed that courts have the responsibility to uphold constitutional morality, which was about equality, freedom and freedom of speech. “But marital privacy cannot be held above constitutional morality. Only then, women will enjoy equal citizenship both in domestic and public spheres,” she averred.

U Vasuki of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) was disappointed with the split verdict.

“The Domestic Violence Act speaks about sexual offences. Hence, to criminalise martial rape is well within our provisions. Also, rape accounts to one committed without the will and desire of women. Then how can women within marital relationship be exempted from this?” she lamented.

'Sex education key to increase awareness on sexual violence'

A 45-year-old homemaker in Madurai said that it's rape if the husband forces the wife to have sexual intercourse.

"Subjecting the spouse to repeated non-consensual sexual act points to the fact that her choices and desires are neglected and disrespected by her husband. It's important to have a law that protects all women from rape, including those in marital relationship," she explained.

Highlighting that some married women are unaware of their basic rights, and hence do not recognise marital rape, she stated, "Women from a young age are conditioned to satisfy their husbands, both sexually and otherwise. Hence, despite their unwillingness, there are women who indulge their husbands considering it is their duty. For this to change, sex education is the only way. Awareness is key to understand that violence of any kind is unacceptable, with or without any laws to protect its people."

Highlights from Justice Rajiv Shakdher’s verdict:

  • Sexual assault by the husband on his wife which falls within the fold of Section 375 in my opinion, needs to be called out as rape as that is one of the ways in which the society expresses its disapproval concerning the conduct of the offender.

  • Oddly, the prevailing mores in society appear to stigmatise the victim rather than the rapist. Therefore, I agree...that the sexual assault which falls within the four corners of Section 375 of the IPC needs to be labelled as rape irrespective of whether it occurs within or outside the bounds of marriage.

  • ...when the State exempts criminal acts such as forced sex within marriage, it unwittingly engages in unequal disbursement of rights conferred by the Constitution. Consequentially, those, who commit the offence i.e., the husbands do not suffer the rigour of the law and those, who are victims, i.e., the wives get no protection from the law,

  • The fact that the rapist is the husband of the victim does not make the act of sexual assault any less injurious, degrading or dehumanizing. Irrespective of who the perpetrator is, forced sex mars the woman-victim physically, psychologically and emotionally.

  • Consensual sex is at the heart of a healthy and joyful marital relationship. Non-consensual sex in marriage is an antithesis of what matrimony stands for in modern times i.e., the relationship of equals. The right to withdraw consent at any given point in time forms the core of the woman’s right to life and liberty which encompasses her right to protect her physical and mental being.

  • Married woman’s right to bring the offending husband to justice needs to be recognized. This door needs to be unlocked; the rest can follow...It would be tragic if a married woman’s call for justice is not heard even after 162 years, since the enactment of IPC. To my mind, self-assured and good men have nothing to fear if this change is sustained.

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