This week, as the Delhi high court hears arguments to potentially criminalize marital rape, the debate has crash-landed out of the courtroom into keyboard warrior territory.
The hashtag #marriagestrike has been trending on Twitter in India, with a number of men vowing to shun marriage altogether if marital rape becomes a criminal offense in the country.
Proponents of the marriage strike movement believe that a marital rape law could wrongfully prosecute innocent married men with false rape charges, especially as a means for wives to gain additional alimony in divorce cases.
“Already as of now in India, it is a crime for a man to get married. If a man gets married and if he is accused [of rape], there is no way for him to defend himself. He has no protection,” Anil Kumar, creator of the #marriagestrike hashtag and founder of men’s rights organisation Save Indian Family Foundation, told VICE World News. The proposed measure, however, does not equate an accusation of rape with conviction.
Many social media users have mocked the hashtag and the marriage boycott threats from the frantic men. One person tweeted: “men on #MarriageStrike – is it a threat or a promise?” Another wrote: “Kudos to Indian men for trending #MarriageStrike. More power to you guys. Please don’t call it off. I have found a new excuse to give my parents in order to postpone the marriage talks at my home. Thank you.”
India is one of 36 countries where marital rape is not criminalized. The Indian Penal Code assumes all sex within marriage is inherently consensual, stating that “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.” The Delhi government said a law on marital rape is unnecessary as it is covered by an existing section of the penal code that deals with cruelty inflicted on a woman by her husband.
Marital rape is a pressing problem in India. A national family health survey conducted in 2015 found that the average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to face sexual violence from her husband than from others. However, the prevailing male-dominated point of view permeates even the bureaucracy, as shown by the government’s aversion to the marital rape law.
In a court pleading, the Delhi government said: “It has to be ensured adequately that marital rape does not become a phenomenon, which may destabilise the institution of marriage apart from being an easy tool for harassing the husbands.”
Men’s rights groups such as Purush Aayog are pushing back legally and saying rape laws have no space in a marriage.
“I strongly think that consent and willingness of sexual acts are ingrained within the act of marriage. If you will bring this rape law inside the marriage and the husband will be given punishment, then who will marry?” Barkha Trehan, a woman and president of Purush Aayog, told VICE World News.
“Just yesterday, I received 15 to 20 calls from different men who are of marriageable age and they told me: ‘Why would I get married? Do I want to spoil my career? Do I want to lose my dignity? Do I want to become the biggest criminal on earth behind bars for no reason? Why would I want to marry?’”
Women are also active members of the men's rights movement in India, here they are protesting with the Save Indian Family Foundation on March 8, 2020. Photo: Save Indian Family Foundation
According to journalist Rituparna Chatterjee, who covers gender politics, the #marriagestrike movement aims to usurp necessary protections for married survivors of sexual violence.
“Sex in any form of partnership requires the consent of both parties, and trying to take away that protection from women in married relationships based on a yet unproven fear that the law might be misused by women to register false cases of rape, is [indicative of] cis male entitlement to women’s bodies,” Chatterjee told VICE World News.
“The right questions to ask are, what kind of safeguarding is going to be built into the law? What checks and balances will it have? Instead of trying to stop it through ridiculous self-goal hashtags.”
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