The Ordinance and what it means
Viewpoint: In denying the reality of marital rape, the male policy-maker seeks, in effect, to deny the autonomy of the wife’s body lest conceding such autonomy bring down the very edifice of the traditional idea of marriage
Badri Raina Delhi
As The Hindu comments editorially (“Wanted a Verma Ordinance”, February 4), the Ordinance on sexual violence formulated by the central government and since approved by the President, is “problematic, not in what it seeks to achieve but what it does not attempt to redress.”
Of the things that the Ordinance leaves out of consideration, I wish to make a comment on one, namely, marital rape.
On this issue, the honourable finance minister has made the public statement that rape can be considered “rape” only in cases where between a “separated” couple, such violence is perpetrated. At best, he concedes, this matter requires to be debated.
On the face of it the averment might seem the stuff of reasonableness; yet, what an ugly world of ideology gets express therein, charitably, unbeknown to the minister. In denying the truth of rape within unseparated couples, the core argument foregrounded by women thinkers and activists, is as it were, disregarded by what else but patriarchal fiat, even as reforms are sought to be undertaken.
And that argument is after all a simple enough one—that even in the thick of the best marriage, a woman’s body is not simply an extension of a male existence, or the object of a male prerogative, but a discrete entity whose pains and pleasures remain unique to its biological and psychological confines, and over which any woman must have whole and unquestionable right, regardless of what quality of relationship she may be part of. And that such an obvious entitlement—one that men take for granted—cannot be hostage to custom, convenience, or sophistries of any other kind. And that, much scriptural injunction notwithstanding, a woman’s body cannot simply be at the disposal of male want, whoever the male be, but must at all times be seen as the repository of an autonomous will exactly as any man or other animal.
Ironically, this self-evident reality is recognized by the law in a parallel area of concern—one indubitably related to the issue of marital rape. I am referring to the arena of “domestic violence.” What else does this law against domestic violence do but recognize that women in relationships, like any human being on the street, have the natural right not to be objects of male fury because their bodies are separate from those of the men they have living arrangements with, and injuries inflicted upon them thus constitute crime similar to such violence perpetrated in any other private or public sphere.