Part 1: Marriage is not a cover for abuse

Nileena Atholi

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Indian penal system does not consider married women in the case of rape as it considers the sexual workers. The family, the society and the law take the marriage contract or taali for granted as a woman’s license to lifetime suffering of her partner’s sexual perversion and fantasies. Investigative series starts

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A husband and wife from Malappuram are married for 17 years. The husband forces the woman to have sex regardless of her physical condition. He forces upon her during menstruation as well. Nonetheless she says that her husband loves her. She says there is no domestic violence. But she is not aware that her husband’s longing and enforcement of sex without considering her health is domestic violence. Unbearable of forced sex during menstruation and sickness, she has thought of committing suicide on several occasions. Yet she says her husband is affectionate to her. “Women are often slaves of the false notion of love. They think that love is what they get when their partners beg to them, cry, and forgive. They misunderstand it as love. That is what makes her say her husband is loving her despite indulging in martial control and marital rape”says writer Sharadhakutty.

British philosopher Bertrand Russell said decades ago that marriage is for women the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution. But even today marital rape is not a criminal offense in India. The state of affairs is not different in Kerala society as well where they boast high literacy rate, quality primary education, and better human development index. Neither the Kerala society nor our law have ever confronted or discussed this issue as a serious violation of human rights.

The prevailing situation in India allows men to have sex with their wives without their consent. The main reason for this is that our law book while defining rape, does categorically mention that husband raping wife is not a criminal offense. Indian penal system does not consider married women in the case of rape as it considers the sexual workers. The family, the society and the law take the marriage contract or taali for granted as a woman’s license to lifetime suffering of her partner’s sexual perversion and fantasies.

What is Marital Rape?

Marital rape is the term used to describe forcible or nonconsensual sexual acts between spouses, ex-spouses, or intimate long-term partners. These sexual acts can include: intercourse, anal or oral sex, forced sexual behavior with other individuals, and other unwanted, painful, and humiliating sexual activities. As per the international definitions including by the United Nations, it is rape if partners use force, threats, or intimidation to get each other to submit to sexual acts.

There are three types of marital rape. Forced sex, violent sexual intercourse (including domestic violence), and sadistic/obsessive rape (inciting unnatural sex). According to the United Nations Population Fund-2000’s statistics, about one-third of Indian spouses had been forced into sex by their husbands. Yet when the government amended its criminal law in 2013, marital rape was not included under rape.

NFHS Survey Result

According to the National Family Health Survey-4 of 2015-16, 33% of women in India (one-third) have experienced physical, mental, or sexual abuse from their spouses. 7% of women had nonconsensual sex with their partners when they were not interested. 6% of women have been raped by physical assault by men. 4% women were forced by husbands to have sex through threats or intimidation. About 3% were subjected to undesired sexual acts. Only 1.8% of unmarried women in India have been victims of sexual assault whereas 6.7% of married women have been sexually assaulted.

Marital Control

The 49-year-old Radha who hails from Thiruvananthapuram married while she was 24 year old. At 29 she joined the government service as an employee. Radha's husband used to get offended if she talked to her friends in the first few days of their marriage. One day, a male colleague came to visit Radha at home which made her husband angry. He raped his own wife in the bedroom while the colleague waited in the guest room. After this incident, it became the habit of her husband to rape her in the bedroom upstairs whenever any friend or colleague came to visit her at home.

She once told this painful experience to her daughter who gave her the courage to move ahead. Currently Radha is not divorced. She lives in the second floor of the house which was built with her sweat as well. The house is in the name of husband while the loan for the house construction was taken in Radha’s name. So they are separated inside the same house. She is still experiencing mental harassment from her husband in her own house as he fixes camera in her bathroom and walks on the floor naked while their daughter is away from home.

According to the NFHS, marital control which restricts women talking to other men should be considered as the first sign of aggression in marital life. If a partner shows any of the traits like getting angry or jealous if his wife talks to other men, accusing her for being unfaithful, restricting her from meeting even her female friends, limiting her relationship with her family, always trying to find out where she is or showing lack of trust to hand over money, it can be considered as Marital Control. 19% of women in India have experienced at least three of the above-mentioned behaviors from their husbands. Marital control is more prevalent in rural areas. Rural and urban areas account for 21% and 15 % respectively. 73% of husbands who indulge in marital controlling behavior have shown some form of violence (physical, mental, or sexual) to their wives.

Indian Women’s Response, According to NFHS survey

27%: Husbands get angry if they talk to other men
24%: Husbands won’t hand over money to them with trust
22%: Husbands bar them from meeting even their female friends
20%: Husbands always keep a watch and enquire where they were
17%: Husbands try to restrict their relationship and contact with their own family

Marital Rape and Kerala

According to the latest NFHS, 6.6 % of women in India face sexual harassment from their husbands while 3.8 % of married women in Kerala are victims of rape. According to the same survey the rate of marital rapes in Kerala is higher than the states like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Maharashtra, Assam, Mizoram, Goa and Andaman. It is worth noting that these states are far behind Kerala in women's health and human development indicators.

According to the Kerala Social Welfare Board report, among the recorded 18378 domestic violence cases in 2015-18, 2482 were marital rapes. In 2015—16 alone, 716 of 6051 reported domestic violence cases were marital rapes. Of the 6022 domestic violence cases filed in Kerala in 2016-17, 4626 women have suffered physical violence. Of these, 854 were raped and sexually abused. In 2017-18 out of 6305 reported domestic violence cases 912 were marital rapes. As per the 2016-17 statistics, the highest number of rape cases were reported in Thiruvananthapuram. Among the 1325 reported cases as many as 309 women were sexually assaulted by their spouses. The lowest number of cases was reported from Alappuzha, Malappuram and Kasaragod; 5, 7 and 9 each respectively.

District wise figures of Marital Rapes in Kerala in 2016-17 (Kerala Government service providing center data consolidated)

Thiruvananthapuram: 309; Kollam: 15; Pathanamthitta: 48; Alappuzha: 5; Kottayam: 21; Idukki: 36; Ernakulam: 103; Thrissur: 22; Palakkad: 87; Malappuram: 7; Kozhikode: 95; Wayanad: 53; Kannur: 44; Kasaragod: 9

There is a significant slump in the reported cases in 2018-19 compared to the previous two years. Out of 5025 reported domestic violence cases, 783 wives were sexually assaulted in this period. However, according to the Social welfare department’s acting project manager Mohammed Nisar, the stark difference in the statistics may be because some of the shelters have become inactive and the service centers do not provide proper reports.

The figures in Kerala may increase again

There are many cases of marital rape in Kerala where women are unwilling to reveal. “Generally women only talk about physical and financial exploitation, in that sense at least 3,000 women might have become victims of sexual assault between 2015 and 2018.” Says Smita Chand, a legal counselor at Pathanamthitta Mahila Mandiram.

“Only brutal sexual assaults find place in record books. The one-time incidents are hardly recorded. Another reason why the sexual abuse case is not documented is the difficulty of producing evidence. Often women are reluctant to share their ordeals to a male lawyer. With all these, the cases reported in the service centers go unrecorded or undocumented,” Chand adds.

The cases of marital rapes are reported in government run shelters for the victims of domestic violence as well. There are plenty of cases reported through lawyers in family courts, police stations, Kudumbashree forums and family counseling centers in Kerala.

About 16% of women in Kerala undergo some form of physical, mental or sexual abuse from their spouses. It is startling that these many rape cases are reported in a state where 92.1 % of housewives play a significant role in family decisions, 34.9%of women own a property or land and 70.6 % of women own a bank account. Most of these cases are extreme forms of sexual assaults.

Women undergo multiple forms of sexual violence from their spouses like exposure to pornography, forcible sex during menstruation, forced sex during pregnancy, forced oral sex, and excessive sexual intimidation. Here the women don’t have enough awareness or education to recognize whether they are victims of sexual violence. In such a society the complaints will be less reported.


Tomorrow : Part 2: The Consequences of the Patriarchy

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