Video Volunteer’s correspondents Usha Patel and Babita Maurya talk about sexual consent in UP’s villages
Today is Valentine’s Day. There will be hearts and candies and flowers, at least in the metros. There will also be rapes, in both cities and villages. Legally sanctioned, “sacramental”, marital rapes inside homes. The discourse around rape in India still revolves around a woman’s “izzat” or honour. Once she gets married, her “izzat” ceases to matter even as she is subjected to rape by her husband who is supposedly her protector and guardian.
When Video Volunteer’s correspondent Usha Patel began initiating conversations about sexual consent within marriage in her village Buddhipur in Uttar Pradesh, the evidence was stark. Asked point blank about who had a right over their bodies, the women in her community said, “the husband“.
This idea of women being the property of men within the “sacred” institution of marriage is the fundamental principle that underlines the reluctance to criminalise marital rape in India. It is why Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development, stated that “the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context“. It is why a house panel of lawmakers of the Indian Parliament stated that, criminalising marital rape had the “potential of destroying the institution of marriage”. It is why Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), that deals with rape, excludes any and all sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife provided the wife is 15 years or older from being categorised as rape; this when a girl cannot get married legally before the age of 18 years.
The fact that a large component of domestic violence and abuse faced by married women is centred around sadistic, unnatural or forced sex practices by their partners has been ignored. This violent paradigm is so normalised that most married women see ‘sex without consent’ and sexual violence as part of their wifely “duties” – a small price to pay for food, shelter and some measure of security. Not surprisingly, it is only when they find some degree of financial independence that women begin to even question marital rape.
For instance, when VV correspondent Babita Maurya interviewed Sharmila Maurya from her village in Raipur Durgadevi, Sharmila began by saying that she was living life her own way because she had begun working after her kids grew up. But when asked about sexual consent, she dithered. She acknowledged that her husband had a right over her body even though she defiantly also claimed her body as her own. Bluntly, she captures the sexual dynamic within her marriage by saying, “when he wants to do it, he does it.”
“Women get tired working the whole day. At night the man takes charge of our bodies for his sexual needs”
For women in these villages who are not working or are largely dependent on their husbands for sustenance, it gets worse. Asha Devi in her interview talked about how the men in her community slap and use cuss words before forcing themselves on their reluctant wives who are tired after finishing their domestic chores and serving their families the whole day. Sabita remarked how men “capture” women’s bodies to service their sexual needs even if the woman is half-asleep and tired. In a survey conducted by the United Nations Population Fund and the International Center for Research on Women, where more than 9,200 men were interviewed across seven Indian states, one-third of them admitted to having forced a sexual act on their wives. In the same survey, 60 percent of men said they had used some form of violence to assert dominance over their partners.
“Men and woman should have equal rights. Both are human beings.”
This imbalance of sexual agency between married couples emerged when VV correspondent Babita pushed Sharmila to comment on the status of physical relations in her community. “A man does not come home for days and that is ok, but a woman is questioned each time she steps out of the house alone. A man can have physical relations with four women and no one says a word. But when a woman waivers even slightly, society thinks of her as a ‘fallen woman’”. She questioned the unlimited sexual agency that men seem to have and the excessive restrictions placed on women that prevent her from fully expressing sexual agency and consent. It is not unusual to see fights escalate or tension to simmer if a woman dares to say no in these communities. The result is the woman puts out simply to keep the peace in the house or out of fear. Sharmila questioned this unequal status quo — “Men and woman should have equal rights. Both are human beings.”
Questioning marital rape needs to start at the grassroots. VV’s Gender Correspondents who do in-depth interviews with women and men in their communities and organise gender discussion clubs around these videos are powering a change in attitudes. And change is in the air. You can see it when Rekha Devi of Buddhipur village looks into the camera and asks, “I want to ask men, why do you behave like this? What are we to you?”
These videos were made by Video Volunteers community correspondents. This series documenting everyday patriarchy is supported by UNFPA
Community Correspondents comes from marginalised communities in India and produce videos on unreported stories. These stories are ’news by those who live it.’ they give the hyper-local context to global human rights and development challenges. See more such videos at www.videovolunteers.org. Take action for a more just global media by sharing their videos and joining in their call for change.