In a bizarre turn of events, the Gujarat High Court ruled that marital rape is not a criminal offence under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. Apparently, a man is well within his rights to engage in this sort of criminal behaviour within the sanctified and societally approved confines of marriage. However, no doubt feeling the persistent pricking of a pernickety conscience, the High Court stressed that marital rape ought to be criminalised and suggested the victim initiate proceedings against her husband under Section 377 which frowns on sexual practices that are deemed unnatural including but not limited to demands for oral sex and consensual homosexuality.
Rational citizens of this great nation may feel an uncontrollable urge to bang their heads against whatever hard object presents itself at this point, but unfortunately there is more draconian claptrap of the legal variety. Exception 2 of Section 375 states that a man may have sexual intercourse with his minor wife, provided she is not under 15 years of age and not be adjudged a cradle snatching rapist.
Never mind that the IPC also states that a man is guilty of statutory rape if he engages in sexual acts with a girl, consent notwithstanding, if she is under the age of 18. Which of course means that the law in all its wisdom, extends its protection to minors only as long as they have not been hustled to the altar or chained with a mangalsutra. Now, the aforementioned citizens may feel free to tear out their hair and give up on democracy.
The problem of course is the conundrum that is consent, complicated further by traditional beliefs, routinely enforced by society and pop culture, that it is a woman’s duty to sacrifice her own needs or calibrate it to suit her ‘better’ half’s will and his sexual desires. It is expected and deemed expedient that an ill-used woman better suck it up, since there are usually kids, extended families and finances at stake.
Much has changed in the last 50 years pertaining to what may socially and legally be considered as appropriate, acceptable sexual behaviour but if the MeToo movement and the Aziz Ansari imbroglio are anything to go by, we are a long way from anything close to a consensus or a reasonable resolution to the gender wars. The only bright spot is that we are at least talking about things that were formerly taboo and brushed under the carpet where all ‘icky’ things supposedly belong. However, sexual misbehaviour and assault within marriage are still not part of public discourse.
Nobody wants to bother with the boudoir brouhahas of friends and family though the reverse is true in the case of Bollywood stars and cricketers. As always, we’d rather be titillated or tickled pink but heaven forbid we take the trouble to get to the root of the terrors lurking within wedded bliss. Tackling unsavoury issues like safe sex, teenage pregnancy, and marital rape is not a pleasant proposition but it needs to be done to preserve Indian society and the values we all claim to give a crap about.
Author of Arjuna, Kamadeva, Shakti, and Yama’s Lieutenant