Why marital rape isn’t rape in India

Disclaimer: The angrier I get, the more sarcastic I become. Also, my husband-master has read and sanctioned this post.


We have a fine tradition of honouring women in India. It all started the day Lord Bramha decided to marry Saraswati against her wishes and set the precedent of not bothering to find out what a woman really wants. As time passed, the Vedas gave way to the Upanishads, the Upanishads to the Puranas, and the Puranas to the Epics. The Sanskrit originals gave way to Victorian adaptations and these adaptations are, in fact, the basis of our current understanding of our fine traditions. They teach us, as M L Sharma so wisely and succinctly summarizes, that there is no room for women in Indian Culture.

Sharmaji is hardly the voice of moderate India, though. He just represents an animal rapist and gets featured in documentaries made by foreigners out to defame our country because they’re obviously threatened by our emerging superpower status. No, to understand the value of women in India, we need to look to our seminal work of law – The Manusmriti:

Day and night woman must be kept in dependence by the males (of) their (families), and, if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one’s control.

Among other gems from this divine code of conduct we have:

Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.

As we know, the Manusmriti is the word of God. Who are we to argue with the word of God? Have you ever noticed that no matter where God chooses to manifest himself, the God who lays down the law and the follower who faithfully records are always male. If this is not irrefutable proof that these teachings are correct then what is?

Unfortunately, many do not give due respect to the word of God. In such a case, one of our earliest compilations of human-made laws, the Arthashastra makes sure to include women in its list of property right along with cattle. Women do have some rights, to be sure, but only a woman who has borne her husband sons has the right to refuse intercourse. She may not conceal her fertile period from him and he is obliged to approach her during this time.

For those who learn through example, the Mahabharata is full of role models:

  1. Bhishma abducts the three sisters of Kashi to make them marry his brother. Their consent does not matter.
  2. Amba, who loves another, is forsaken by her love as well as by her abductor. She cannot find peace and so commits suicide.
  3. Vyasa rapes Vichitravirya’s wives with his mother’s (their mother-in-law’s) blessing to father Dhritarashtra and Pandu. Dhritarashtra is born blind because his mother closed her eyes out of fear. Pandu is born pale because his mother turned pale with fright.
  4. Vidura was born not exactly out of rape, but from a lower caste woman for Ambika sent her maid to Vyasa instead of giving herself to him again. The maid was supposedly fearless thereby showing that the woman is solely responsible for birth defects
  5. The Pandavas themselves are not biological sons of their father but they are considered the Pandavas because Pandu was the master of Kunti
  6. Draupadi is married to five men against her will because it was willed so

The examples above prove that rape is not a matter of a woman’s consent. Rape is actually the act of sex happening without the woman’s owner’s consent (father/brother/husband). To test your understanding, take this little quiz and find out where you stand. No cheating!

Scenario:

Imagine a man just had sex with a woman and the woman kept screaming her refusal (the b*tch!). As a self-appointed guardian of Indian Culture, what is the appropriate response if…

Questions:

  1. The man is married to the woman
  2. The man is not her husband but the woman did not display her mangalsutra
  3. The woman was not wearing salwar-full sleeved kameez-dupatta
  4. The woman was working in a night shift
  5. The man is the woman’s boyfriend and has promised to marry her
  6. This man his not her boyfriend but the woman once had a boyfriend
  7. The woman is single, never had a boyfriend and lives alone
  8. The woman refused the man’s advanced despite him repeatedly stalking her and proposing marriage
  9. The woman is a four year old who was playing outside her house
  10. The woman is a prostitute and the man attempted something she did not agree to/he did not specify up front

Bonus question unrelated to the scenario: The woman is not married to the man but agreed to have sex and enjoyed it.

Answers:

  1. Not rape. Woman needs to be taught her duties as a wife
  2. Not rape. Women who are married should not be brazen. Her husband has suffered a loss
  3. Not rape. Women who dress provocatively must know that they will be taught a lesson
  4. Not rape. Women should know their limits
  5. Not rape. That is why you should not have a boyfriend
  6. Not rape if it’s a dented and painted woman
  7. Not rape. Leave valuables unguarded and expect no thieves to come in?
  8. Not rape. What does she think of herself? Does she think she’s too good for him?
  9. Yes but it’s the mother’s fault.
  10. Huh? Had ho gayee…

Bonus answer: This is rape.

Your Score:

0-3: Victim of Evil Western Influence. You don’t understand that rapes happen only in India, never in Bharat.
4-6: Read learn more Indian Values but don’t lose heart. You’ll surely improve!
7-11: Any Uncleji will proudly give you 1 crore cash, a lambi car, flat-screen tv, ten cows, and his daughter in marriage. You’re a woman? Well done! You truly understand your roles and responsibilities.

Now that you have been duly educated about what is and isn’t rape, please stop petitioning for ridiculous things that undermine the sacrosanct institution of marriage. Leave your MP’s alone!


* The origins of this story are obviously controversial to Hindu apologists today as is the aspect of incest. Some even go as far as to argue that it’s evil propaganda against Hinduism but one version of the story certainly exists where Bramha overpowered Saraswati in order to marry her.


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29 thoughts on “Why marital rape isn’t rape in India”

  1. The hypocrisy of culture! It is astonishing as to Manushastra came to existence and it is equally astonishing to see how strong its roots are even to this day,.. Makes me wonder how generations after generations are brainwashed into stupidity in the name of culture.

    1. Once a few generations follow something, we follow the path without questioning why or updating ourselves with changing times.

      Thanks for dropping by. I am used to your turbaned avatar on indiblogger and almost didn’t connect the two 🙂

  2. *Slow clap*

    True story, I tried to read the mahabharata. I got only as far as point 4 in your list and then had to stop reading. This was just a few pages in. It’s not even recognised as rape or something objectionably at all and there’s so much of it!

    1. Nice to see you here Carvaka! I made it through the Mahabharata recently but I took it as some sort of obligation to educate myself although mymmotives aren’t exactly clear

      Great to hear from you. Hope you come back 🙂

        1. I am not disputing what you say at all! However, I try my hardest to not blog about religion and I leave my heated debates to the coffee shop and occasionally email 🙂

          That said, I don’t know if this post wasn’t religious because we do consider the Mahabharata a religious text as much as a literary work.

          Sorry for the late reply. This comment went into spam for some reason.

  3. And we have the gall to insult another culture or religion when Manushatra has so much nonsense in it. I applaud the detail you have gone through in the post. Rape is rape- marriage or not.

    1. Thanks for your appreciation. Yes, there’s no point in going about pointing fingers especially when it’s out of some perverted sense of superiority that we may be bad but others are worse. Whether others are actually worse is not important

  4. Your problem is a blind following of outdated scriptures. These were not written/dictated by God (assuming one exists) but by people and reflect the sensibility of their times. These cannot be used in current times. I use smell test. If something feels wrong, then it probably is wrong.

    Btw, there is no relegious text, simply none, which can be used as a suitable code of conduct these days. Singling out Hindu scriptures when Christian, Muslim and others are equally unsuitable is what raises the hackles on Hindus. Every religion is same and every follower (of whichever religion) reacts same when you question his/her faith.

    1. Our current administration seems to equate Indian culture with Hindu culture and the current scenario is a reflection of that. They seem to think that a majority viewpoint has to be accepted by all but still behave as though Hindus are an oppressed minority.

      I agree with you about the origin of the scriptures. As Richard Dawkins says, viewpoints which would be completely unacceptable outside the context of religion are tolerated and even encouraged because we turn a very convenient blind eye. The issue is not with what God wants or whether a God even exists but rather one of how belief is exploited.

      Thanks Tom for reading and sharing your views.

      1. One thing I’d like to add: The Manusmriti, from what I understand is far from the top of the pecking order of Hindu scriptures (usually Gita > Vedas > Upanishads) but is an exceedingly frequent target of criticism when criticizing Hindu social rules.

        So much so that I would wager that most people today first heard about the Manusmriti in an article critical of Hinduism or Hindu law!

        The book has very sparingly used as the absolute guiding document of law. Perhaps consulted only when prevailing common laws don’t address a particular situation. Even with the amount of variation we have had in India, across each empire in each time period and each region of India, I am not aware of any society which has been described as significantly following the extreme views of the Manusmriti. For e.g, see Viduraneeti and Chanakya neeti, some similarities to Manusmriti but completely devoid of the

        Of course, the Manusmriti is a favorite whipping boy of “anti-Hindu” propagandists. Much like how anti-American propaganda describes America as a racial society by describing the laws of the last century.

        The Abrahamic religions also have to constantly contend with “Apocrypha”, books of dubious authority and with mixed respect within the community. For example, see “Book of Enoch”.

        One last peculiarity: The Manusmriti was apparently the first Sanskrit documented translated to English.

        -TSCI

        1. The Manusmriti is not a religious text, certainly. But the Dharmashastras have their place, didn’t they? I ask this because all my knowledge comes in bits and pieces and I haven’t had a chance to put them together and fill the gaps.

          Perhaps no one follows or even followed the Manusmriti but I would argue that it’s still useful because it lays down the thinking of the time. Unfortunately, it seems to resemble the thinking of our times as well. That’s the pity.

  5. Sad is the state of affairs when a woman is not only blamed for her rape but that rape is not even recognized as rape. 🙁

    1. Yes, exactly. Forget about assigning blame, we don’t even believe that forcing a person to have sex is rape irrespective of who is forcing

      1. Ahem. Let me play a contrarian advocate here (long post):

        There are two issues here. First, as you know,different societies develop different definitions for words. Words evolve meanings and change. That is one of the reasons why legal frameworks frequently use Latin words (Habeas Corpus) to avoid ambiguity due to change.

        Just the same way American and British English have diverged, the word “Rape” in India has historically evolved to mean “Loss of Chastity”. Which is not an unnatural evolution of the word meaning.

        The legal system is merely conforming to that definition.

        I am still with you that forcing a person to have sex is a criminal act. Let is for the time being call this FS (forced sex, new definition!).

        I do not believe that all FS should be treated equally by law. For instance, FS by a “guardian” in an institutional setting (as in Tarun Tejpal’s case) is dealt with stricter in Indian law than other kinds of FS. (10 years RI vs 7 years, IIRC).

        Now, a jab at the second issue. i.e Why I don’t think FS in a marital setting should be treated as harshly as other kinds of FS. A FS criminal is harming a victim directly. Secondly, he/she is additionally leveraging the harm a society causes to a victim because of the stigma of “Loss of Chastity”.

        Surely, you don’t think the punishment for pushing a person down should be the same whether the victim was pushed down on the beach vs pushed down a staircase. Both are just “pushing”, no?

        The same way, a FS criminal in a marital setting has the defense that the victim was not harmed as much as in a non marital setting. There is some trickiness here – the additional harm is “social” and not “real”. (But social cost is deemed as a cost in British derived laws. I believe that’s the whole foundation of slander/defamation laws).

        That said, FS is just disgusting. In a marital setting, the social costs are lower, but the emotional costs are higher (similar to “guardian” variation above). To me, they don’t balance out but come close.

        Peace,
        TSCI

        1. Here’s my rebuttal:

          Your entire argument seems to revolve around the value our society places on chastity (or lack of). A feminist gives not two effs to this most hallowed and precious attribute because she knows that chastity has nothing to do about women as people and everything to do about women as objects. If we want women to be treated as human beings, and you know how hard it is for so many to accept that we are, sex cannot be about chastity anymore. It has to be about consent.

          This, as you have also pointed out, is a very alien concept in India. The word rape needs to be reclaimed precisely because we do not need the regressive connotation of chastity anymore. We do not need a word for women who have been rendered “unchaste”. Besides, look at it in a meta way. Is chastity an attribute of the mind or is it a physical act? Is a woman who has been raped truly unchaste? Anyway, coming back, we need to reinforce the concept of consent. Look how much we struggle with repealing Sec 377. Why is that? It’s again because we care more about some random idea of social mores (which change from decade to decade) than the concept of what consenting adults do.

          We have to progress. We can’t keep holding on to 5000 year old traditions forever. We need to shake off our colonial hangover and look forward. I understand where you’re coming from. It seems like we’re quibbling over trifles when we want to talk about what to name an act. But remember, words are powerful beasts. And there’s a reason The Party forced Newspeak on its members.

          All said, the closer the rape victim is to the woman, the harder it becomes to prove rape. There’s no way to know whether a woman was experimenting with bondage with her husband or was actually raped (and vice versa, of course). Yet there is potential for abuse of any law, is there not? (I understand you didn’t dispute the need for a law but this is an argument we’ve heard repeatedly). The only thing we can do is to repeal our regressive “guilty until proven innocent” clauses. Yes, it’s hurtful to women but we still cannot turn justice into vendetta.

          1. First, I get time in bursts, so I apologize that I keep bumping this stale thread.

            Even going by your argument, given the Indian social context, we still have two variants!

            i.e Should we now have a “Rape by a non spouse” sub clause that merits additional punishment?

            -TSCI

            P.S: Your Orwelllian reasoning to justify the words used to name things scares me!

          2. I am not arguing for two variants of rape, I’m arguing about the burden of proof.

            As for the Orwellian reasoning, I suppose it sounds ominous and paranoid but I do feel that language carries a more power than we acknowledge.

            Please feel free to comment on any post you read here. I love hearing new ideas 🙂 It doesn’t matter at all how old or new the thread is.

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