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Soni Mishra
Soni Mishra

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Marital rape is not just sexual violence: Flavia Agnes

flavia-agnes-youtube Women's rights activist Flavia Agnes | YouTube
  • "I don't believe in placing rape on a pedestal within the hierarchy of crimes within a marriage. For a woman who is facing domestic violence, it is equally violating if her skull is fractured, her spine is broken, her cornea is damaged, liver is injured, or her vagina is penetrated forcefully. What women object to is the violence involved"

Women's rights activist and lawyer Flavia Agnes has very strong views on the issue of marital rape. According to Agnes, marital rape should not be criminalised. Even as the Delhi High Court is considering petitions demanding the inclusion of marital rape under rape laws, the Mumbai-based activist says bringing it under the purview of Section 376 (punishment for rape) will not solve the problems of women.

Sexual violence is just a part of the whole gamut of violence that a woman is subjected to within marriage. By isolating it from other forms of violence, we would only be playing to patriarchal norms, she says.

Agnes says a solution would be to bring all forms of abuse under the ambit of Section 498A (dealing with matrimonial cruelty) and ensure strict compliance. Excerpts from an interview:

Should marital rape be criminalised?

I don't think marital rape should be criminalised. It is not because these incidents do not happen or because Indian culture provides adequate protection to women. My reasons are totally different. I am of the view that it happens far too frequently in India. But, bringing it within the purview of Section 376 will not solve the problems of women.

What are your reasons?

Rape is a patriarchal formulation of power, and the objective is to humiliate women. Men rape women because, within the concept of vaginal purity, a raped woman is considered soiled, unfit for marriage. Or, if she is married, her husband can throw her out because she is polluted. It is within this framework that society considers rape worse than murder.

I don't believe in placing rape on a pedestal within the hierarchy of crimes within a marriage. For a woman who is facing domestic violence, it is equally violating if her skull is fractured, her spine is broken, her cornea is damaged, liver is injured, or her vagina is penetrated forcefully. What women object to is the violence involved.

So sexual violence in a marriage should be seen within the domestic violence framework.

Vaginal penetration does not take place in isolation. It is a part of the whole gamut of violence that a woman is subjected to within marriage. It takes on various forms, including refusal to have sex with a woman; threatening to rape her daughter if she does not have sex with him, or actually raping her teenaged daughter; bringing other women and engaging in sex with them in her presence; forcing her to have repeated abortions—all this amounts to sexual violence within marriage. By isolating penetrative sex from other forms of violence, we are only playing to the patriarchal norms.

More importantly, for many women, the husband's refusal to engage in sex also amounts to abuse. When the husband says that he prefers a prostitute rather than have sex with his wife, that too amounts to sexual violence. All this should come under the ambit of domestic violence.

If we do not do this, it will be shortsighted. That is my main objection. If there is already so much distrust about women who file cases under the cruelty provisions of Section 498A, just imagine how it will be for women who file cases of rape against their husbands.

What we need is to bring all forms of cruelty under Section 498A and ensure strict compliance.

From your experience working on women's issues, how common is marital rape?

As explained earlier, it is very common. But it is never in isolation. It is a part of the general power that a husband wields over his wife. It includes economic, emotional, and sexual violence. What choice does a woman have if her husband says that he will not give her money to purchase milk for children if she doesn't have sex with him? What will she do if he throws her out on the street with her children? Is the violence inflicted upon the women any less?

Women have no choice within marriage; they always weigh their options. I think those who isolate penetrative sexual violence within marriage, and place it on a pedestal, are oblivious of the women's social realities.

The government says that even if the law is changed, very few married women will come forth to lodge complaints.

My main problem is the heirarchy of violence within marriage that this will bring about—only penetrative sexual violence will be considered grave.

Women will not file cases because they have few choices. Even when they are battered, they don't file cases. So is this something new?

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Topics : #Marital rape

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