But for the victim they form a continuum of a life of degradation and despair, where one act of violence cannot be segregated from the other. How does placing violent penetrative sex on a higher pedestal redeem her from this continuum of brutality? The demand for deletion of this clause seems to subscribe to the patriarchal presumption that vaginal violation forms a separate category , even within marriage, than other types of brutality .
Despite all the reforms, rape outside marriage continues to revolve around the notion of purity and stigma, rendering the victim unfit for marriage. Hence, the notion that the abuser must marry the victim prevails, not just in our society, but also in our courts. On the other hand, violent sex within marriage becomes part of the abuse which an emotionally and economically dependent wife is subjected to by the very man with whom she entered into a sexual contract. It has very different implications. The very nature of the relationship demands that it be addressed as a separate category .
“Sexual violence“ within marriage is also not confined to penetrative sex or insertion of objects into body orifices. From the experiences that women narrate, it is inclusive of a range of other acts of a sexual nature, including refusal to have sex because her husband finds her repulsive, threatening that if she denies him sex he will bring other women and indulge in sexual acts in her presence or rape their minor daughter, forcing the woman to have sex with his boss, colleague or friend, or forcing her to undergo repeated abortions in pursuit of a male child, etc. These sexual acts are committed only within a marriage because of the extreme vulnerability which women have vis-a-vis their husbands. Women do not walk out of abusive marriages because of the very nature of dependency . So even if the offending clause is deleted, it will not change the lives of women unless they have a strong support base, and society stops viewing marriage as the be all and end all of a woman’s life.Lacking state support and economic means, marriage is the only option for most women to ward off destitution and secure a roof over their head. Rape every night and domestic violence becomes a small price to pay , when basic survival is at stake.
It is not that the law does not provide any options for abused women. Apart from divorce, there are other remedies available such as protection orders, right to shelter and maintenance, and a criminal complaint under section 498A of IPC. This section inserted thirty years ago, can be invoked in cases of physical brutality, including sexual violence. But the perception that it is an anti-dowry law which is grossly misused prevails not just among aggrieved husbands, but also among lawyers, police, judges and the media.
Instead of saying that marriage is sacred, it would have been prudent for the minister to clarify that civil and criminal provisions are in place which survivors of marital rape can avail of. But ironically, the government, under pressure from men’s rights groups, is proposing its dilution, rendering brutally violated married women without an effective criminal remedy against their abusers.