The Destabilization of an Institution

“Sakshi’s getting married?” I asked, stunned.

“Yes!” There was a squeal of pleasure from the other end. A friend had phoned me up with the good news. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

I wasn’t so sure. Sakshi was not yet 18, and even though I was no older than she was, I suspected her marriage wasn’t entirely legal.

It isn’t. Sakshi’s marriage, like nearly 65% of marriages in the State of Rajasthan, was illegal. The marriageable age for women in India is 18. Sadly, India has the highest number of child brides in the world.

But Sakshi was in for a worse fate.

Sakshi and I went to the same high-school. Shy and innocent, the first thing that struck you about her was how gullible she was.

So gullible in fact, that when her parents married her off at the age of 17, she didn’t say a word of protest. In Rajasthan, marriage is an expected and often foregone conclusion to a girl’s life. Whatever she may want, marriage is an anticipated ritual in society. To break that convention is to bring dishonor to the family.

I hoped Sakshi’s husband would be a good man. She deserved it.

But I was wrong.

A few years later, I heard from the same common friend that Sakshi was in the middle of a nasty divorce. After many, many attempts, I finally got her to talk to me about what really happened.

Sakshi’s in-laws started demanding money from her parents from the very day that she entered that house. Whatever her parents gave, it was never enough. And it would often lead to a round of taunts and abuse. Her husband, who seemed nice enough in the beginning, turned out to be a monster. He was very aggressive, which was far more noticeable after two months than it had been on the day of the wedding. He would shout at her about the smallest of things, looking for faults, itching for a fight. If she bought something for herself, he’d loudly criticize her for spending all his hard-earned money.

But the greatest betrayal of all, was the rape.

A husband is supposed to love his wife. Sex is an act of love. Sex, is not something he buys his wife for. Sex is not supposed to be non-consensual between any two people, let alone partners bound in holy matrimony. Sex is not supposed to hurt her, scare her, or scar her for life.

Somebody forgot to tell Sakshi’s husband that.

He was an absolute beast. He’d molest her anywhere and hurt her because it got him off. All he wanted was sex. Day and night, he would use her for sex, cheapen her, demean her. If she screamed in pain, it would only spur him on. If he grabbed her breasts and nearly tore them off, he didn’t care. If he forced himself on her, night after night, raping her body, raping her very soul, it didn’t matter even if she cried all night. This man was not a bad husband, he was a very good psychopath.

Within a year of the marriage, things had quickly spiraled out of control. Now he had taken to beating her up. If she cooked something and he didn’t like it, he’d beat her to within an inch of her life. She told her parents about it finally, but they were so horrified and shocked that it took a while for them to do anything about it. By then, Sakshi’s husband had already tried to strangle her. Her parents were scrambling around, trying to find the right resources, trying to sweet-talk the rambunctious son-in-law, breaking down several times and begging him not to hurt their daughter. Sakshi’s work-colleagues started noticing the bruises on her face and her arms, and she’d always have to make up some excuse. I fell, she’d say. I fall a lot.

At some point, Sakshi found the courage to seek help. With the help of a very nice lady lawyer, Sakshi filed for divorce in Mumbai, on grounds of cruelty, but the summons came and went and her husband never showed up. She’d also complained against the family for demanding dowry and committing domestic violence which attracts criminal provisions. But the arrogant husband and in-laws, safe in the knowledge that the system was broken, refused to show up in Court. Finally the divorce is now expected to come through this year, on grounds of mutual consent. Sakshi is considering therapy today and looking forward to a life of peace. There is anger there and there is so much pain. There is also, hope.

It is estimated that sexual violence within a marriage has increased by nearly 50%. 10%-14% of all women have reportedly been raped within a marriage. The UN Population Fund found that in 2/3rds of marriages in India, women have been either beaten or raped. In the year 2005-2006, the National Family Health Survey reported 6000 cases of marital rape. This subject is too taboo for a survey to bring accurate results; the biggest issue, is that there is no law for it.

The only law there is, actually condones marital rape. According to Section 376 of the IPC:

Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape.

There is no question of consent here. A husband cannot be prosecuted for forcing his own wife to have sex. While women’s rights groups have approached the Supreme Court to formulate a law to criminalize marital rape, the government is more concerned with the fact that it’ll lead to “Destabilization of the Marriage Institution“.

You know what I think? I think we need destabilization. A complete meltdown. I think we need to deconstruct marriage and introduce the concept of gender equality. Rape is a far more heinous crime than malicious prosecution. Is the government afraid of the law being abused? Innocent men being accused of rape? Are you more  afraid of false rape and less afraid of rape-rape? Use the considerable legal resources at our disposal and figure it out. Make it gender-neutral. Constitute a panel of the brightest legal minds, have a passionate debate, but make the law. While we idly fret, women like Sakshi are being sacrificed at the altar.

Here’s a tip: When facing a dilemma on whether to stop the nice lady from being raped, or to stop the nice gentleman from being harassed, kindly stop the lady from being raped first, then think of a way to stop the gentleman from being harassed. The nice lady thanks you for your consideration.

We’re so afraid of calling ourselves feminists. We’re so afraid, that we’re trying to come up with alternatives to the word ‘feminist’. When my friend Sakshi was being raped brutally by her husband, I wasn’t thinking “Hmmm. Should I call myself an egalitarian? Is this a human rights issue? Is this a women’s rights issue? Is this going to lead to the destabilization of her fucking marriage?!”

I am too jaded at this point, to try and galvanize you all into action. Too jaded, and too tired. What I will say, is the last thing Sakshi said to me when we talked about her experience:

It’s like getting into bed with the Devil. These people will not take a second to destroy you completely; not a second before they kill you. Get out. Get out right now. Don’t wait for it to get better; it won’t. Don’t wait for him to love you; he won’t. We’re stronger than men, we don’t have to be afraid. It’s going to be hard, but you have to be patient, stay strong and be brave.

Sakshi was very brave.

The question is, are we?  

 

 

 

 

{DISCLAIMER: Names and details have been changed for reasons of privacy.

For help, visit The Red Elephant Foundation

She Says Organization

Sayfty Organization

National Women’s Rights Commission Helpline  }

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