When no is not an option: Marital rape denies right over her body

  • Poulomi Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 25, 2015 01:40 IST

Marital rape: Image for representation only. (Photo:iStock)

Years before human resource development minister Smriti Irani traded popularity for power, she had managed to strike a balance between tradition and reason as Tulsi, the face of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, one of India’s most-watched and longest-running soap operas. In one particular episode of the family drama, Irani’s character created a rift in the family when she stood up against her son Ansh for raping his wife Nandini.

Though the depiction of marital rape on prime time television had received mixed reactions, it is impossible not to appreciate Tulsi’s courage in standing up against a son to protect the dignity of a daughter-in-law. In real life today, though, Irani might find it difficult to exhibit similar courage and go against the government’s less-than-empathatic stand on the issue of marital rape.

Responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha last month, minister of state for home,Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary said, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context.” One of the reasons cited was that marriages are treated as a sacrament in the country. The government’s stand follows a recommendation to criminalise marital rape by the United Nations (UN) Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Though countries in Europe and the US started criminalising marital rape in the last century, in India, rape within marriage by a partner continues to not be a criminal offence. “Marital rape is an offence under the Indian Penal code when the husband and the wife are separated though still married to each other under section 376B of the Indian Penal Code,” says senior advocate and former additional solicitor general, Indira Jaising.

A man can also be accused of rape for having sexual intercourse with his wife if the wife is below 15 years of age. But as senior advocate Rebecca John points out, the clause in itself is a contradiction since the legal age of marriage for women in the country is 18 years. The same is true for the age of consent to sex by women.


In the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape of 2012, the Justice Verma Committee, set up to review laws against sexual assaults on women, had said that “the law ought to specify that marital or other relationship between the perpetrator or victim is not a valid defence against the crimes of rape or sexual violation”. But the government had even then failed to act on the committee’s recommendation. The government’s blinkered view of the sanctity of marriage in Indian society is especially disturbing when viewed through the filter of facts. In a seven-state study on ‘Masculinity, Intimate Partner Violence and Son-Preference in India’ by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) published in 2014, nearly one in five women interviewed spoke of having faced sexual violence from a partner in an intimate relationship.

Indira Jaising, Senior Advocate: There is a real fear of the law among men for the reason that law confers rights and can be enforced, it is not like a khap panchayat when things can be contained within the family or the panchayat so as to protect the honour of the abuser.

“For generations, women have been given in marriage. Once married she is viewed as property that belongs to her husband and his family. A woman’s right to her body is not recognised,” says Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research. It is this idea of marriage as a symbol of patriarchal control over women or as advocate Vrinda Grover puts it, “as not a relationship between two equal partners but an institution used to create dominion over women, particularly control over their sexuality and labour” that most rights groups find problematic. That marriages in India are still by and large looked upon as a license for sex might also have something to do with the issue. “It is this whole suhaag raat concept. Even in a situation where we have a predominance of arranged marriages, the first night is all about what you did rather than about getting to know each other. It encourages a man to have unlawful expectations from his wife,” points out John.

As in the case of 37-year-old Rashmi (name changed on request). Married in 1997 at the age of 15, Rashmi’s travails started after her elder son was born. “My mother-in-law and husband started putting pressure on me to get money from my father. If I refused they would abuse me,” recalls Rashmi. Then started the sexual assault. “He would beat me up and then demand sex and force himself on me when I didn’t want it. Often, he would force me to have sex with him in front of the children,” she says. Rashmi was divorced in 2005 and has now remarried. “In many communities, women experience shame and guilt in reporting violence within their marriage or intimate relationships; they are fearful of the consequences of reporting violence, especially as many women are dependent on their marital home for shelter and economic support. Women may also under-report violence as some believe such acts are a “normal” aspect of the male-female relationship,” says Frederika Meijer, UNFPA representative.

(Photo: iStock)

In 2014, additional sessions judge Dr Kamini Lau denied bail to a man accused by his wife of raping her, subjecting her to unnatural sex and also taking her nude photographs. “Non recognition of marital rape in India is gross double standard and hypocrisy in law which is central to the subordination and subjugation of women,” she was reported as saying. What must have helped Lau in this case was that it was covered under some existing laws – like the one for unnatural sex. In February 2015, however, the Supreme Court refused to entertain a woman’s plea to declare marital rape a criminal offence saying it wasn’t possible to order a change in the law for one person. “The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights to men and women. But by taking away a woman’s right to say no to forced sexual activity within a marriage you are denying her the most  fundamental right of self determination over her own body,” says Grover. Human rights activists worry that rape by a partner may have more damaging long-term consequences than when the abuser is an outsider.

“When women experience coercion and violence within relationships, it violates their fundamental right to live in safety, security and with dignity. An intimate relationship, particularly marriage, should be a space of mutual trust and respect,” says Meijer. The UNFPA study also found that “the propensity to perpetrate and tolerate violence is often determined by childhood experiences of abuse: men and women who experienced childhood discrimination, who have suffered abuse and witnessed gender-based violence in their homes and as children, are far more likely to perpetrate and tolerate violence as adults.” Laws alone can’t make a difference. “It is important to work towards the empowerment of women, politically, socially and economically. We need to start young in engaging with boys and girls in addressing gender stereotypes and redefining notions of masculinity,” says Meijer.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen held a mirror to the position of women in eighteenth century England, when she wrote, “Man has the advantage of choice, women only the power of refusal.” Married women in twenty-first century India are yet to get that power of refusal when the man in question happens to be her husband.

There is an uncomfortable buzz at the office of the Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF). As if the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act and laws to protect her from sexual assault weren’t enough, “the feminists” are now demanding the criminalisation of forced sex by a man with his wife. “Coerced sex with wife, husband or a regular sexual partner is not rape,” says Rajesh Vakharia, president of SIFF. Vakharia insists that the volunteers of SIFF have come across thousands of cases where the wife has abused or hit the husband for refusing to have sex. Murmers of a law against marital rape being misused by women, especially in the case of an acrimonious divorce are getting louder. “A law against marital rape will give many the scope to lodge false complaints and might destroy the fabric of family life in the country. How does one prove in court that one night sex was consensual and the next night it was rape?” wonders New Delhi-based criminal lawyer Vikas Gupta.

The very tone of Gupta’s comment is distasteful to right activists. “Sexual abuse is rarely carried out in isolation. It is usually accompanied by other forms of physical and verbal abuse. Also, often sexual abuse goes beyond forced sex with the partner, to forced abortions or forcing the partner to have sex with other men. It is a pattern and so anyone who thinks it’s a case of one-off coerced sex does not understand the magnitude of the problem,” says senior advocate Rebecca John.

Agrees advocate Vrinda Grover, “Whenever there is a movement to increase a woman’s access to justice, people who are afraid of women being empowered start talking about the misuse of law.” Men are not the only ones who don’t see the need to criminalise marital rape. “A law against marital rape will not liberate women. One has to look at the problem in a more comprehensive manner. Sexual abuse is never carried out in isolation. It is accompanied with verbal and physical abuse. We have a both a civil and a criminal law against domestic violence. We need to make the law more accessible to women and create a support system for victims,” feels women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes.

Forced sex is a form of domestic violence covered under the domestic violence Act. But as Grover points out it is a civil law and only offers protection to the victim, but no scope of punishing the perpetrator, which is why a criminal law against marital rape is needed. That the nature of the crime is such that it will make proceedings difficult is accepted. “There will be evidential complications. It will require a very nuanced understanding of the law and the situation. It is a complex situation. So rather than behaving in an escapist manner and not having a law at all, what we should do is form committees to look at systems across the world to come up with a law that can best address the situation here,” says John.

Meanwhile, SIFF is ready with an alternative – as well as a charter of demands. “If any violence is involved, then such a crime can be tried under the existing Section 323 of Indian penal code. The accused must be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof must remain with the complainant. The complainant must provide with the evidences and establish that the crime has taken place,” says Vakharia.

The Definition of ‘Rape’ Cannot Change with a Marriage Certificate


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A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

NEW DELHI, May 12 2015 (IPS) – “I was brutally raped thrice by my husband. He kept me under surveillance in his Dubai house while I suffered from severe malnutrition and depression. When I tried to flee from this hellhole, he confiscated my passport, deprived me of money and beat me up,” recalls Anna Marie Lopes, 28, a rape survivor who after six years of torture, finally managed to board a flight to New Delhi from the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

Today, Lopes works at a non-profit in India’s capital, New Delhi, and is slowly picking up the shards of her life. “Life’s tough when you have to start from scratch after such a traumatic experience with no support even from your parents. But I had no other choice,” Lopes tells IPS.

“Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” — Amitabh Kumar, the Centre for Social Research

Her story is different from that of thousands of Indian women only in that it has a somewhat happy ending. For too many others who are victims of marital rape, escape is not an option, keeping them trapped in relationships that often leave them broken.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that over 40 percent of married women in India between 15 and 49 years of age have been beaten, raped or forced to engage in sexual intercourse with their spouses.

In 2011, a study released by the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based non-profit, said one in every five Indian men surveyed admitted to forcing their wives into sex.

Only one in four abused women has ever sought help, the survey stated, adding women are much less likely to seek help for sexual violence than for physical violence. When violated, women typically approach family members rather than the police.

Given this ominous and entrenched social reality, the present government’s reluctance to criminalise marital rape on the grounds that marriage is “sacred” in India has fuelled an intense debate.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in a statement to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian parliament) last week that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, could not be “suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty […] religious beliefs [and the] mindset of the society.”

Human rights campaigners are up in arms about this statement, claiming that in addition to it affirming the country’s patriarchal mindset, it besmirches India’s reputation as a liberal and equitable democracy.

“Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” asked Amitabh Kumar of the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based think tank.

“A rape is a rape, and […] infringes upon the victim’s fundamental rights,” Kumar told IPS.

Currently, marital rape, defined as forceful sexual intercourse by a husband without the consent of his wife – leading to the latter being physically and sexually battered – is governed by Section 375 of India’s Penal Code.

The law expressly states that forced sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, provided the latter is not under 15 years of age, does not constitute rape.

Though the Domestic Violence Act passed in 2005 recognises sexual abuse in a marital relationship, legal eagles say it offers only civil recourse, which cannot lead to a jail term for the abusive spouse.

Following the gang rape of a young medical student in New Delhi in December 2012, the groundswell of public angst in India led the then-ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to set up a commission tasked with reforming the country’s anti-rape laws.

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The three-member Justice Verma Committee recommended that sexual violence between spouses be considered rape and be punishable as a criminal offence.

However the government, which at the time was helmed by the Congress Party, dismissed the committee’s suggestion by arguing that such a move would wreck the Indian institution of marriage.

“If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress,” said a report by lawmakers submitted to parliament in 2013. The government eventually cleared a new sexual assault law, one that did not criminalise marital rape.

Experts say the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is toeing a similarly conservative line to its predecessor.

BJP Spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi stated last week, “We will give prominence to our institutions,” suggesting that the government has little intention of acting on the recommendations of the Verma Committee, or demands from civil society.

In January this year, the Supreme Court rejected a woman victim’s petition to declare marital rape a criminal offence, arguing that nationwide legislation couldn’t be tweaked for one person.

Even now, the legal community is splintered over the merits and demerits of criminalising marital rape.

While senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani and former Supreme Court Justice K T Thomas have publicly endorsed the government’s viewpoint that the law must not be changed, others beg to differ.

“The institution of marriage is an integral part of Indian culture. But this has not stopped us from bringing in the anti-dowry law or domestic violence legislation,” New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Soumya Bhaumik told IPS.

“If a husband can be tried for murdering his wife, why can’t he be tried for raping her? The entire concept of consent or definition of rape does not change with a marriage certificate.”

Bhaumik also referred to documented cases of husbands or even wives forcing themselves upon their spouses, leading to not just physical but mental and emotional trauma as well.

“The current Domestic Violence Act treats such episodes as civil cases. This means that erring spouses are issued restraining orders or the aggrieved party is given a protection order. However, there is no provision for putting the guilty party behind bars,” he stated.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recommended that India make it criminal for a man to rape his wife.

Marital rape has already been criminalised in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, most European nations, Malaysia, Turkey and Bolivia.

This places India in a tiny global minority – along with China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – which refuses to criminalise this form of assault.

Some experts feel that the Indian government’s reservations over the issue may stem from fears about a communal or religious backlash. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 states that it is a wife’s foremost duty to have sex with her husband.

This entrenched attitude, as well as a lack of economic independence, acts as a barrier for women who might otherwise come forward to report the crime.

“Most women don’t come forward to complain about such rapes as they fear that jail for the breadwinner will spell doom for family and kids,” Winnie Singh, executive director of Maitri, a Delhi-based non-profit that works for the rehabilitation of underprivileged women, told IPS.

“According to our research, conviction has been less than one percent in such cases.”

Singh also blames a cumbersome legal process that puts the onus on the woman to prove that a rape has occurred, something that few women are willing to take on given low conviction rates.

According to a report by Aashish Gupta of the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), despite an increase in reporting among survivors following the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, rape continues to remain under-reported.

Only about six of every 100 acts of sexual violence committed by men other than husbands actually get reported, reveals Gupta’s report.

Experts like Singh feel that in such a scenario, sensitisation and mass education are vital to bringing about awareness and ensuring justice for the victims.

“Stepping up rehabilitation efforts as well as large-scale visual campaigns by the government and human rights organisations involving all stakeholders are the only ways to safeguard women from this heinous crime,” she stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

President, PM call for end to violence against women (Roundup)


President and Prime Minister Modi on Sunday called for gender equity and decried violence against women as the government said it has initiated one-stop crisis centres that will provide assistance to women who face violence in any form.

In his statement on International Women’s Day, Mukherjee termed equality, liberty and dignity as women’s “sacred rights”.

He asked the people to reaffirm their commitment to ensure gender equity and empowerment of womenfolk in India.

The president also presented the ‘Stree Shakti Puraskar’ and ‘Nari Shakti Puraskar’ for the year 2014 at a function in Rashtrapati Bhavan here.

In a separate statement, Modi said: “Our heads hang in shame when we hear of instances of crime against women.”

Modi said his government has initiated several steps to help women who face violence and abuse.

The prime minister said he “salutes the indomitable courage and stellar achievements of women. We must walk shoulder-to-shoulder to end all forms of discrimination or injustice against women”.

He said the central government is setting up ‘One-Stop Centres’ that will provide assistance, legal advice and psychological counselling to women who face violence or abuse.

Elaborating on the same, union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said the centres would in the first phase come up one in each state.

“If they are successful, then we will go in for more such centres,” she said.

The minister said the centres would be separate from police stations and hospitals and would also have facilities where women can stay for sometime if needed.

Gandhi also said she has asked the finance minister to restore some part of the allocations for important schemes slashed in the union budget this year.

In other events, over 30 organisations and NGOs came together to “assert women’s freedom” and asked the prime minister to take action against those threatening the rights of women.

The event, titled “Aath (8) March, Saath (together) March”, included street plays and interactions to empower the women residents of the national capital and to inform them of their rights. It was organised at Jantar Mantar.

Bollywood stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Karan Johar and Sonakshi Sinha and Shabana Azmi also came together and urged the society to treat women as equals throughout the year and not just assign them one day of the year.

Veteran actress-social activist Shabana Azmi said rather than treating women like goddesses, the society should treat them as equals.

Bachchan tweeted: ‘Woman’s Day’ .. ?? A single day dedicated to women? But a woman dedicates every day of her life!!!”

In Gurgaon, the administration gifted ‘Women only’ cabs to women.

The initiative is part of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) signed on the occasion of International Women’s Day on Sunday by Deputy Commissioner T.L. Satyaprakash with private firms to ensure safety and security of women in this Haryana city bordering Delhi.

One MoU was signed for introducing ‘women only’ cabs and another for launching a mobile safety app.

Gender Justice and the Media



Violence against women has become a routine affair. The heart wrecking stories of women being subjected to inhuman treatment unfold every other day. It has been observed that crimes against women are on a constant rise. Be it rapes, molestation, sexual harassment, domestic violence, female trafficking, eve-teasing or abduction, there is no end to woes of women.

While the situation is grim across the globe, Kashmir is no exception, where the situation is even worse. Over the past two decades, the Valley has witnessed unprecedented crimes against women, which many attribute to the ongoing political turmoil. Time and again women have been subjected to physical violence by military and paramilitary forces. And the story doesn’t end here. Women in Kashmir have fell victims to domestic violence and sexual abuse by family members as well.
Media researchers argue that the political stalemate of India and Pakistan has led to the abuse and suffering of women in the Valley. The dispute over Kashmir and the consequent political instability has led to serious consequences for the Kashmiri population. Most vulnerable among Kashmiri people are women and children, who often become the targets of physical violence. Due to the weakened political state, perpetrators are seldom brought to justice, while victims live in constant fear of further violence and abuse.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police Crime Branch in 2012 revealed that over the past couple of years, 4,066 cases of crimes against women have been registered. These include 1,797 cases of molestation, 1,279 cases of kidnapping and abduction, 426 eve-teasing cases, 195 suicide cases, 187 rape cases, 1 gang rape, 177 cases of cruelty at the hands of husbands, 4 cases under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, one case of dowry death, and two cases of immoral trafficking. However, only 1,832 such incidents were recorded in the women police station. As the number of silent sufferers increases with each passing day, it becomes more difficult to tackle the issue.

To look into the possible amendments in the criminal laws related to sexual violence against women in India, Justice Verma Committee was constituted on December 23, 2012. One of the recommendations of the Committee was that sexual offences by armed forces and men in uniform in conflict areas should be brought under ordinary criminal law. The Committee observed that rape and other forms of sexual assault were consistently deployed as an expression of power and must not necessarily be seen as crime of passion only. The recommendation had much relevance in the context of Kashmir. However, much to the disappointment of women in Kashmir, the government of India rejected the specific recommendation of removing the requirement of sanction for prosecuting armed forces personnel accused of atrocities against women.

Every time a heinous crime against women takes places, it is most likely to be reported in the press. Besides, there are many gender issues in the society that ought to get due space in the media, such as gender discrimination, female foeticide and violation of women’s rights. It is in this backdrop that this study has been carried out, which aims at analysing the nature and amount of coverage given to gender issues by leading English dailies published from Jammu and Kashmir.

It has been found that crimes against women dominate the stories in gender beat. This category is in turn dominated by sexual violence against women that include rape and murders, followed by harassment and molestation.

The local dailies have been found to cover gender issues mostly in the form of hard news. Very rarely do the publications come up with soft and feature stories. It is, therefore, recommended that the publications should launch campaigns to fight against the crimes against women. They should come up with series of soft and exclusive stories on the issues. There are numerous cases awaiting justice for a very long time. The publications should bring those cases to fore so as to draw public and government attention to them and thus help them get addressed. Besides, they can also aware people about various laws pertaining to violence against women.

The stories based on gender issues do not receive any special treatment even though they are given due space. Such stories are mostly published on inside pages, except for a few occasions. The news of the death anniversary of 2009 Shopian victims Aasiya and Neelofar was carried on front page by all the publications probably because the issue turned out to be more of political in nature than a gender issue. On the other

hand, some other incidents of similar nature are usually published on inside pages. The news related to crimes against women, suicides and other such grave issues spread over one to three columns in space on most occasions and rarely go beyond four columns.

Most of the news stories are based on press releases and wire agencies. A decent number of reporter stories are also carried by the publications, but not enough to depict their seriousness towards gender beat. The publications should assign stories regarding violence against women to reporters rather than relying on official handouts, press releases and agency stories. The publications need to be a little more serious about these issues.

The positive aspect of women has been found to be somewhat missing in the newspapers. Stories highlighting achievements of women, their role and rights are usually fewer in number. The publications should highlight women’s positive side as well. They should draw attention to the achievements of women in different spheres and their role in the society by publishing series of success stories of women.
Moreover, the publications should generate awareness among people about the rights bestowed on women by the Constitution as well as diverse religions.

(Research paper presented at two-day International Seminar on ‘Gender Justice: A Way Forward’ held at the University of Kashmir).

(source: greaterkashmir)

Proprietors of womb, vagina and foetus


am a woman in the prime of life, with certain powers

and those powers severely limited

by authorities whose faces I rarely see.

—Adrienne Rich

Women’s bodies have not ceased to be political battlefields even in a civilized world. They continue to remain domains for which many vie to control. Two incidents in India last weekdemonstrate how a woman’s womb is treated as a collective property through experiences of gynaecological actions like birth control or fertility endorsements as part of a cultural aggression programme. One was the callously performed sterilization operations over 40 women in Jharkhand, exposing them to several health risks and the other was the BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj exhorting Hindu women to produce 4 offsprings, essentially male children, and offer two of them to sadhus and army. Whether there is an attempt to control population or an attempt to change demographic patterns across the country, women’s bodies and wombs have been deemed as properties of the nation or still worse, that of rabid communal leaders, robbing women of the choice to reproduce or not.

Such patterns tend to objectify a woman, treating her like a child producing factory with a patriarchal system and polity taking the liberty of deciding whether it is right for a woman to produce less than 2 or 3 children or more. The move may be necessitated by an ill-conceived policy and a corrupt culture or by communal passions but it tends to treat women and their bodies as a collective property. The Jharkhand sterilization operations, close on the heels of similarly reckless surgeries performed on 83 women in Chattisgarh, is reported to have stemmed from corrupt practices of offering monetary benefits to health practitioners for setting birth control targets. The entire scheme itself is based on the assumption that women’s bodies can be treated as national properties with coercive methods employed to ensure its success. Far worse is the call to Hindu women to produce 4 children in a bid to improve the numerical strength of the community. The suggestion is both gender biased as well as communal to the core. Its venom does not get any diluted even if attempts are made by a sheepish ruling BJP to distance themselves from the remarks or take action against Sakshi Maharaj, when the discourse is allowed to spread like virus by other votaries of the Hindu rightwing. The remarks may be shocking and downright pernicious in nature but don’t quite come as a surprise. Not very long ago, VHP’s Praveen Togadia had made similar suggestion. RSS leaders have been openly preaching population boom among Hindus and need we forget Narendra Modi, years before he became the country’s prime minister, with his infamous anti-Muslim retort of ‘Hum Paanch, hamare pachees’.

Treating women’s bodies as common property is not exclusive to the Hindu right wing. The infamous coerced birth control measures undertaken during the dark days of Emergency under Indira Gandhi still send shivers down the spine of those who bore the brunt. Beyond politics, women’s bodies become markers of masculine aggression, demonstrated through sexual and domestic violence as well as female infanticide and foeticide. Sexual violence also becomes a weapon of war in conflicts and communal rioting, women’s vagina deemed as an object, a monopoly and anybody’s property. The horrifying rapes in north-east and Kashmir, the gruesome sexual violence during Gujarat communal violence and the usurpation of women’s bodies in Chattisgarh are stories that remain unforgettable. Even more shocking that in the larger discourse of sexual violence brought to the centre stage post the Delhi bus gang rape, these stories remain muted, unheard and unrecalled as if deemed to fulfill some so-called nationalistic pursuit.

In a patriarchal system wombs, vaginas and fetuses become objects of possession, tombs and trophies of defeat and victory, that serve the collective purpose of masculinity and aggression, often celebrated as national and community pride; their acts of goodness brutal to bodies of women, lethal to their hearts and minds. As long as such trends are not construed as gender biased and violation of human rights of women as individuals, they will push the country into a mould of regression and forbid inclusive progress and security as well as retard democracy that is based on the basic principles of justice, equality and liberty.

Why women are so unsafe in our cities


Some 20 years ago, a friend from Mumbai and I were discussing how women were treated in our cities. We both agreed that women were most unsafe in New Delhi, where the hostility to them took both verbal and physical forms. In Kolkata, Chennai, and Ahmedabad, women were rarely abused or attacked in public, so long as they conformed to certain roles. They had to dress and act demurely, in keeping with what was recognised as Bengali or Tamil or Gujarati culture.

My friend and I congratulated ourselves that our own cities were more progressive. In Mumbai or Bangalore, women did not have to wear the sari or salwar kameez to feel safe. If they were more comfortable travelling in Western dress, they were not subject to hisses or glares. In both cities, there were a substantial number of women professionals, working as lawyers, doctors, bankers and teachers. Both cities also had prominent and successful women entrepreneurs.

But in which city were women more free, Mumbai or Bangalore? My friend thought it was Mumbai, where they could take public transport at any time in a relaxed frame of mind. I answered that while the public transport system in Bangalore was appalling, women driving their scooters and mopeds to work was a common sight (whereas in Mumbai it was not).

Twenty years later, I look back on that conversation with embarrassment. To be boastful about oneself or one’s family is foolish; to brag about one’s country or one’s city can be equally unwise. For the truth is that women are not safe in Bangalore anymore. In the last two decades the situation has visibly regressed. There is much more jeering at young women, and more physical (including sexual) violence against them too.

Women between the ages of 15 and 30 face the most hostility, but women of other age groups are scarcely any safer. There have been a series of horrific rapes of little girls in the schools of Bangalore. And attacks on elderly women have also increased. My 80-year-old mother was brutally assaulted on her morning walk; when she resisted, the attackers (three young men) pushed her to the ground, ripped the mangalsutra from her neck and left her with a gaping head wound.

To be sure, Bangalore is not exceptional in this regard. In all our cities, women in public places are extremely vulnerable, and, so far as one can judge, less safe than they were 20 years ago.

Indian society has always been solidly patriarchal. In the dominant religions of the sub-continent, Hinduism and Islam, women were assigned an inferior place in scripture as well as social practice. Now, as women refuse to subscribe to traditional gender roles, as they seek to educate themselves, take up jobs outside the home, choose their own marriage partners, and in other ways assert their independence, they face a patriarchal backlash. Sometimes the assault comes from within the family; at other times, from the larger society.

India is undergoing a painful and tortuous transition, where ancient hierarchies of caste and gender are slowly giving way to modern ideas about the equality of all individuals before the law. In recent years, there have been a series of attacks against Dalits across the country, conducted by upper-caste men infuriated that their social inferiors were becoming IAS and IPS officers. The surge in attacks on women is likewise an angry attempt by men to sustain the overwhelming social and political dominance they have long enjoyed but which is now challenged by modern notions of gender justice.

The violence against women in contemporary India has other causes too. Every year, millions of young men move from the countryside to the city in search of jobs. Not all these men get regular employment (for economic growth has been capital- rather than labour-intensive). Meanwhile, they are confronted far more directly by a culture of conspicuous consumption than they were in their villages. Dissatisfied and disenchanted, they vent their anger on women.

Another contributory factor is the images conveyed by advertisements and in films. Hoardings of expensively attired, bejewelled, and beautiful young women line the streets. Bollywood films, aimed increasingly at a rapidly Westernising middle class, portray romance and desire as inevitable byproducts of contemporary life, creating a further sense of frustration among the unemployed young men who watch them.

The crumbling infrastructure of our cities also militates against women’s safety. Streets lit dimly or not at all; bad or non-existent means of public transport; an incompetent and corrupt police form – all contribute to the insecurity and vulnerability of women.

I have focused on our cities; but of course the situation in the countryside is scarcely better. Here women are suppressed even more thoroughly by patriarchal norms and patriarchal institutions. The widespread practice of female foeticide; the withdrawal of girls from school when they reach puberty; the unwillingness to let women work and the absolute bar on their choosing their marriage partners – these all confirm that women are treated as less-than-equal in Bharat as well as India.

The columnist Rahul Jacob recently wrote that women in China lead more autonomous and independent lives than their Indian counterparts, and felt far safer at work or on the road. When I myself last visited China, the delegates to the conference I was attending were taken every day from hotel to seminar venue in a large bus driven by a self-confident, calm, and utterly secure young woman – not always the same young woman. This is one sphere where we can do well to emulate China. For while ‘Make in India’ may be a worthy aim, ‘Make Women Safe in India’ is far worthier.

(Ramachandra Guha’s most recent book is Gandhi Before India. You can follow him on Twitter at @Ram_Guha)

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

– See more at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/comment/ramachandraguha/why-women-are-so-unsafe-in-our-cities/article1-1303092.aspx#sthash.TMAypLXR.dpuf

Lessons from a Father: Language Beyond Gender

Tuhin A. Sinha

Tuhin A. Sinha

Tuhin A Sinha is among the best-selling authors in India, a columnist and a screenwriter. Starting in 2006 with his first book, That Thing Called Love, an unconventional romance set in a Mumbai monsoon, Tuhin has written five novels. Tuhin is acknowledged among the most prolific Indian writers with a maverick knack to experiment with new genres. His columns on Indian politics appear regularly in India’s leading dailies. Tuhin has a regular blog on ibnlive.com. He also appears frequently on news channels on discussions around politics and cricket.

lessons to son about sexual assault

My dear Neev Tanish,

At the moment, you are a little over two and half years old. You can count from 1 to 10; you can mumble a few nursery rhymes ; you have your favorite shows on Nick, to whose title songs you sometimes dance with great excitement. Every time we travel by air or enter into a mall, you understand that the little bag you are carrying needs to be put under the security scanner and you insist that it is done so. You habitually fiddle with my cell-phone, often surprising me with the knowledge you’ve gained about the equipment.

However there is something that you don’t know yet: Once in every few days your Dad and Mom have a disturbing day when they read a horrific rape incident on the front page of the newspaper. Two years ago, in the heart of our national capital, an innocent 23 year old girl (whom we know as Nirbhaya) was gang-raped and killed by five brutal men. As a responsible writer, I have tried as much as possible to address gender violence through mybooks. In fact, the Nirbhaya case had prompted my book, The Edge Of Power, which rooted for India’s political parties to fight the elections on the issue of security for women in the country.

Sadly two years after the Nirbhaya incident, nothing seems to have changed. Newer and more brazen cases of violence against women get reported almost every day. It hurts me to think that in a few years from now, your innocent smile which we are blessed with every morning, might suffer when you understand how sexually perverted a reasonably large part of our society is.

Sadly, the problem of gender inequality and violence is so deep rooted in our nation’s psyche that there is not much we as individuals can do to fix it. As someone who likes to be radical in this thoughts, I do feel legalizing prostitution might make a positive difference. However, policy decisions are not something we have control over. That is for the law makers to decide. But there is something very basic that I would expect from you.

In a few years time, as you spend more time with your peers and away from home, you will learn a lot of things which we won’t teach you. Use of foul language and invectives is fairly common in most societies. And soon you will be exposed to it! There is no specific reason why some people hurl obnoxious invectives at the drop of a hat, but sadly the practice is pretty universal: I mean, people indulge in it in a road rage situation; there are cricketers and sportspersons who often hurl abuses at each other during a match; on the other hand, some weird people use the choicest of gaalis out of affection for their friends.

I would be saddened if you ever use foul language or invectives that have references to the private body parts of a woman. I have no clue how gaalis were devised over the centuries and why those deriding one’s female family members should be so popular. But that’s a sad truth you will discover soon as your own innocence starts getting affected by worldly influences.

You must learn to decipher which influences are worth accepting and which need to be shunned. Respect for women should start in language, even before they are in deeds. By minding your language and shunning those invectives which even remotely de-ride women, you will contribute in your own limited way towards respecting women- a trait our society badly needs to inculcate. And trust me, respect for women is all we, as a society, need to develop to curb rapes.

Your loving father,


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