Why Modi govt’s stand on marital rape reeks of hypocrisy, pandering to male voters
New Delhi, August 31: When the Supreme Court recently struck down instant triple talaq-- the age-old practice that allows Muslim men to instantly divorce their wives--Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hailed the judgement as "historic" as it "grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment".
"Judgment of the Hon'ble SC on Triple Talaq is historic. It grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment," Modi tweeted after the apex court's verdict banning triple talaq.
The Modi government at the Centre always supported the ban on triple talaq. The government made its position clear by arguing against triple talaq in the Supreme Court.
Thus when the verdict was announced, experts said that it was another feather in the Modi government's cap which would surely going to help the BJP win votes of Muslim women in the upcoming elections across the country.
While the case was still in the court, Modi made Muslim women's rights an issue during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election early this year by announcing that he, his government and his party are for the abolition of triple talaq as it causes great harm to a large section of women in the country. Thus, Modi in a way projected himself to be a champion of Muslim women's rights.
Just days after taking a moral high ground on the ban on triple talaq, the BJP is back to what it does best--espousing the age-old ideology of protecting Indian culture--even if that means standing behind rapists.
For the ruling BJP, rape of a woman by her husband is not a crime. In a way, the saffron party is not only supporting a heinous crime in the garb of protecting marriage but telling Indian women that they have no rights over their own bodies.
The Centre, in an affidavit filed in response to pleas seeking criminalising marital rape in the Delhi High Court on Tuesday, said that marital rape cannot be made a criminal offence as it could become a phenomenon which may destabilise the institution of marriage and an easy tool for harassing the husbands.
Imagine if all ruling parties in the country in the future too start taking a similar stand on all crime-related laws even before they are formulated to avoid their "misuse". Then no laws would be there to protect us from criminals. If a law is likely to be misused, then the government should ensure that it should come up with a strong law to stop any wrongdoings.
But in no way it can say that marital rape is not a crime as millions of women in India and across the world are regularly forced to submit to sexual violence perpetrated by their husbands just because they are married to their men.
We all know, all laws have been misused by vested interests, but that did not stop us from having laws. Right? We have competent police force and judiciary to find out if a person has tried to wrongly use a law.
Those women (if the law on criminalising marital law comes up) who would be caught misusing the law should be adequately punished. But that does not mean that genuine victims of marital rapes should not get justice because of an absence of a law.
Is the Centre trying to say that marriage is a licence to rape? Then what about the consent of women before having sex with their partners?
And, why is the government trying to project itself as a saviour of the "institution of marriage". If a marriage is strong enough then nobody can break it. But if a husband is raping his wife (which means he is perpetrating violence on her) then such a marriage should be declared null and void, because the very structure of a marriage is based on love, trust and respect and clearly a beastly act like rape has no place in it.
While the BJP has taken a sympathetic approach towards men by citing possible harassment of husbands by their wives, in the same defence for men, the Centre is forgetting the burning topic of harassment (here a barbaric crime of rape) of wives. In such a statement, the BJP clearly pandered to the male voters by supporting patriarchy and regressive ideas of the past.
To make its stand on not criminalising marital rape further strong, the Centre told the Delhi High Court that the Supreme Court and various High Courts have already observed the growing misuse of section 498A (harassment caused to a married woman by her husband and in-laws) of IPC.
In fact, the recent verdict by the Supreme Court on misuse of section 498A has been strongly opposed as women's rights activists have called it an anti-women step.
Following the Supreme Court's verdict on the misuse of section 498A on July 27, several women's rights groups have written to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) seeking a review of the ruling.
The petition, signed by 16 women's rights groups states that the Supreme Court ruling "completely overlooks" the fact that women are subjected to regular harassment for dowry and domestic violence.
In regard to marital rape, the Centre added that what may appear to be marital rape to an individual wife, it may not appear so to others. So, thus that means that not all women are against rapes and many are fine with the idea of being raped by their husbands? If this is not medieval, we don't know what.
However, thankfully, the Delhi High Court does not agree with the Centre's stand on marital rape and on Wednesday observed that sexual intercourse with the use of force is criminal even in a marriage by citing a judgement of the Philippines Supreme Court.
The judgement from the Philippines said that a married woman has the same right to control her own body, as does an unmarried woman. She can give or withhold her consent to a sexual intercourse with her husband, and he cannot unlawfully wrestle such consent from her in case she refuses.
On Tuesday, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for one of the petitioners, argued that marriage cannot be viewed as giving a husband the right to coerced intercourse on demand.
He said a marriage licence cannot be viewed as licence for a husband to forcibly rape his wife with impunity and a married woman has the same right of full control over her body as an unmarried woman.
Unless and until, the government is not ready to admit that a rape is a rape, even if it is committed by a husband, then clearly we are denying justice to millions of victims of the immoral act.