Being Women

Marital Rape – Is The Sanctity Of Holy Matrimony Still More Important Than The Consent Of Women ?

Is the sanctity of holy matrimony still more important than the consent of women in India? It all sounds terribly like dark comedy. I mean what sort of a marriage is this, where a grown man doesn't even know/understand something as basic as consent, right? Well, many marriages work this way. But that's a story for another day.

As a child, my mother made me watch Anandi Gopal on Doordarshan. This was back in the late 90s, as far as I can remember. She thought it would be empowering for me to see a show where a little girl grows up to become one of the first female doctors in India. And it was inspiring, for the most part, until one day, when it was NOT. 

For reasons, I don’t remember, little Anandi gets forcefully married to a much older man, Gopal Rao Joshi. This man was almost old enough to be her father and I vaguely remember Anandi being absolutely terrified of him. He scared me too, I didn’t know why. Finally, I figured it out one day. In one episode, the husband raped Anandi. Yep. As simple as that. They didn’t say or show it explicitly, though, but till now, I haven’t found any other explanation. All I could see was Anandi crouching in a corner begging her husband to go away and the husband ignoring her pleas and pulling her forcefully towards him in a dimly lamp-lit room. Eventually, the room gets completely dark.

But Anandi just screams and screams and screams. 

They later show, that night changes Anandi in a good way. She grows up overnight and learns to be a responsible person. She studies hard with the help of her very supportive husband and achieves many goals. And just like that, what is supposed to be a story of women empowerment, also becomes a story of normalizing sexual violence and marital rape (I’m not even mentioning rape of a minor, because of course, child marriage was common practice). 

I was around 10-12 years old. I didn’t know what rape is, what sex is, and what’s consent. I just felt scared and traumatized imagining what could have happened. Did she get beaten up? Why was she crying? Did the husband try to kill her but failed? A plethora of nightmare scenarios had played out inside my head. It was only in retrospect as an adult, that I understood what I vaguely saw at that time, was most likely a rape scene. 

The present-day discussions and debates over criminalizing marital rape keep bringing back parts of that trauma. As a grown-up, I now also realize that there need not be a scream or an ominously older husband forcing himself on an underage wife for it to be considered as rape. Any sex that doesn’t take consent into account, is rape. Marital or not. Wide age gap or not. It need not even be explicitly violent; it can be sneaky and manipulative as well. 

Saying “I am not in the mood” but doing it anyway of course because he wants it.

Saying “No” at first, but then giving in to emotional blackmail or indirect threat of some sort. 

Saying “Ok” somehow because what if he leaves/cheats otherwise.

Hating it, but also not being able to stop him because it will enrage him. 

Wanting to say No, but let him do it anyway because of obligatory wifely duties.

Wanting to say No, but no point because he won’t listen anyway. 

Cringing because it physically hurts but letting him do it for 10 minutes just to get it over with. 

I barely know any woman, who has never been pressured to have sex by one or more of their cishet partners (boyfriends, husbands, lovers etc.). So, I understand why many men are feeling angry over the possibility of marital rape being criminalized. I get why they want to boycott marriages altogether to protest against this ‘radical’ and ‘unfair’ possibility. You see, they already know that what they do in the name of sex is NOT okay and they are afraid of losing that oppressive privilege. In a patriarchal system, sex is often something men do to women, isn’t it? And marriage ensures, men have access to this sex whenever the mood strikes, irrespective of the degree of the consent of their wives. 

But the truth is, even if marital rape is criminalized, most Indian women would still silently bear with their husbands soft raping them (just a term I use for badgering and pushing and indirect threats many men use to manipulate their wives until they get sex). They don’t want to see their husbands criminalized, no one does. Especially for something as ‘minor’ as violating the bodies and disregarding the consent of their wives. I mean, isn’t it already implied that marriage = women owe sex to men anytime and in any way the man desires? Yep, this is the level of patriarchal conditioning we grow up with. So, I’m very cynical about whether women will come forward even if marital rape is criminalized. But what it MIGHT do, is push our men to introspect a little. To make them a tad conscious and think “Is my wife okay with having sex today and in this way? Or am I just forcing it on her? Am I making her so uncomfortable that if I continue, she might call the police on me one day?” 

Yes, yes, it all sounds terribly like dark comedy. I mean what sort of a marriage is this, where a grown man doesn’t even know/understand something as basic as consent, right? Well, many marriages work this way. But that’s a story for another day. 

Indian men have been allowed to rape their wives for so long that we have all forgotten sex is also an art and that we Indians once wrote an elaborate book on it to help everyone (well, both men and women at least) enjoy the pleasures of courtship, flirting and sex. Till we dig deep into that heritage and bring back participatory sex (within/ without a marriage), or declare marital rape to be the crime that it is, I am thrilled that men are declaring #marriagestrike. It will spare many women from being violated by someone they are supposed to love and might help establish a tiny semblance of equality in a marriage.  I know it’s a little too late now, but I’ve often wished that Anandi never got married as a child. And even if she did, the little me would have slept better if at least marital rape were a crime already, and so, Anandi’s husband was shown to have been thrown in jail for violating his wife, someone he was supposed to love, respect, and protect. Wives, at any age, are not properties owned by their husbands and criminalizing marital rape would merely be the most basic, most fundamental step in acknowledging that.

By Sanchari Bhattacharya

Sanchari is a writer and artist, currently based in Bangalore. Her writings (fiction, nonfiction, translations etc.) have been published in various magazines, anthologies as well as different online platforms, over the years. Her interest in feminist literature, coupled with her experience of being raised by a widowed single mother, deeply influences both her art and her writing. She can be contacted at

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