Not That Bad: Review and reflection

The week after I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on television, I purchased an anthology of essays edited by Roxane Gay, Not That Bad (Harper 2018). The subtitle of this book is ‘Dispatches from Rape Culture,’ and I thought I would find more ideas, insights and words that I could then bring to the everyday work I get to do with Prajnya on gender-based violence.

It has taken me more than two months to make my way through this powerful book. In small part, this is a function of my life, but largely, it is because the essays are so powerful, so disturbing, so heart-breaking that you really cannot binge-read. They are also inspiring in their courage and exactly as I hoped, have left me with insights and words that I think will find their way to things I say and do in training sessions and workshops.

The essays–and I am using this word to describe what are mostly first-person testimonies, because they are written in the spectrum of styles that ‘essay’ covers–are almost all by survivors, of all genders, and include a couple of essays where the writers reflect on whether or not they gave consent. Through almost all the essays, the deeply internalised stigma attached to the experience of violence is expressed and sometimes rejected.

I am going to share some excerpts here, for several reasons. First, I don’t think I can summarise. Second, I want you to experience the power of the words, and maybe go read this book. Third, there are people out there who cannot afford this book and will not have a library from where they can borrow it. This is not meant to undermine copyright or sales, and I do hope lots of people will read this. Women should read this because it will resonate so strongly, as most of us live with the experience and all of us with the fear of sexual violence. Men should read it to know what that really means in our heads and in our days. And yes, the book is full of potential triggers, so if you think you will be sensitive to them, tread cautiously (these excerpts are for you too).

The idea that what happens to us, is not so bad, is so deeply ingrained that it stops survivors from seeking help. If you survived, that’s already not so bad, is it?

At least you weren’t killed. At least you have access to medical care. At least you have insurance. At least you have wonderful friends. Because the ones who tell me this are my friends and my teachers and the social worker and the doctor, I hold their words and outstretched hands even though my anger is mounting and I want not to be touched.

These days, I speak few words, and I certainly don’t have the vocabulary to dismantle what’s been forced on me by people called safe. I don’t have the breath to say: No, I will not be grateful for my rights. I will stand with two feet on this earth and I will always say thank you when somoene does something kind and sorrt when I’ve done something wrong and never outside of that. And, yes, I am furious that I am pulled between poles of gratitude and apology–both of which are violent erasures.

Thank goodness I wasn’t killed.

I’m sorry I’m so inarticulate.

I can’t name it then, but I feel the words at least eroding my voice. I sense that “at least” marks an end to the story I’m supposed to tell, that I’m supposed to say something gracious in response–“thank goodness”–or else nothing more at all. “At least” curbs my telling too much truth. It’s a blunt instrument wielded to club a reckless retelling into submission. The story ends here. But the truth is, I have no story–nothing I can corral into a coherent narrative.” (Claire Schwartz, pages 35-36)

I found this extremely powerful: “pulled between poles of gratitude and apology–both of which are violent erasures.” The week I bought this book and even when I picked it up to read in December 2018, in India we were witnessing a cascade of #MeToo revelations, that began with women in media and then spread to some other fields. Most of the women encountered the stock responses: Why now? Why not earlier? Why did you continue to work with this person? Many of the experience reported were not rape as traditionally defined (vaginal penetration without consent), so really, they should have been grateful, people seemed to be saying. Gratitude for that, and apology for upsetting the apple-cart.

Ally Sheedy in her essay mentions Hollywood’s #MeToo moment in 2017. She writes:

“This isn’t about naming names. I don’t have enough for a lawsuit, but I do have enough for a broken heart/ spirit. Nothing will change in Hollywood. Some men will get careful. Some men will pretend they never behaved like predators and wait this out. What’s so disheartening is knowing Harvey Weinstein’s sick actions will be addressed (finally) and yet the entire culture and context for his sick shit will remain in place.” (pages 112-113)

Just four months after India’s season of revelations, hardly anyone has been punished, and some are already being gently rehabilitated into public life. The defamation cases filed against the women who made the charges–those remain.

How commonplace sexual violence is, is something women at least know intuitively. This exchange in Stacey May Fowles’ essay underlines that, but also makes me wish we could so sensitize doctors, counsellors and nurses in India so that they would respond to survivors with sensitivity.

“When I finally managed to splutter out “something bad happened to me,” she just knew.

Without saying a word, she slipped a small square of yellow paper across the desk toward me. It was printed with information about the rape-counseling clinic.

I was struck by the ease with which she provided me with the contact, as if she’d done it hundreds of times before.” (page 279-280)

A counselor says to Fowles, “Every one believes there is suffering worse than her own, that they should be strong enough to cope without me.” It’s not that bad, why seek help? And if it were that bad, how come you are alive to seek help? How many Indian, Southasian girls can go to a doctor or a hospital and get help, leave alone expect sensitivity? We have tried in a small way to change this, but there is such a long way to go.

So Mayer writes about words, enjoyed and deployed as weapons of control (page 136). She titles her chapter Floccinaucinihilipilification and quotes the Oxford English Dictionary definition: “The action or habit of estimating something as worthless.” Gaslighting, sealioning, lollipopping, Cordelia-ing and mansplaining–she gathers all these words into this suitably long one (page 137).

So Mayer’s essay compares rape to colonialism, calls them “kin” (page 140). She writes:

“…I learned the blazing insight that rape was not an act between an individual and an individual, hidden in a dark room… Rape was and is a cultural and political act: it attempts to remove a person with agency, autonomy, and belonging from their community, to secrete them and separate them, to depoliticize their body by rendering it detachable, violable, nothing. (page 140)

…When we talk about sexual violnce as feminists, we are–we have to be–talking about its use to subjugate entire peoples and cultures, the annihilation that is its empty heart. Rape is that bad because it is an ideological weapon. Rape is that bad because it is a structure: not an excess, not monstrous, but the logical conclusion of heteropatriarchal capitalism. It is what that ugly polysyllabic euphemism for state power does.” (pages 140-141)

Michelle Chen also writes about the politics of sexual violence in her essay on the violence experienced by women who are displaced or in flight. “The place where sexual violence is most readily weaponized is the one where other social instruments have become unhinged: the interface between two societies. Sexual domination, a familiar pillar of every nation-state’s culture, fills the liminal spaces opened by mass displacement.” (page 191) As Warsan Shire wrote in her poem, Home: “and one prison guard/ in the night/ is better than a truckload/ of men who look like your father.”

In the final essay in the book, Elissa Bassist lists all the reasons why she stayed in a violent relationship and did not think of it as ‘violence.’ This is one of the most heart-breaking essays in the book.  She says, in more powerful words than I could summarise that she stayed because she and her boyfriend were both a product of their milieu, which is misogynistic and violent. She closes the book by saying:

“Because worst-case scenario is murder.

Oh, because it wasn’t that bad.” (page 339)

We become accustomed to the language of violence, the culture of rape. It is us, as we know ourselves. 

“Violence in a family comes down through generations: long before my father (finally) left my mother, her father left her mother, and her father’s father left my great-grandmother…

Sometimes by mother tells me stories about her father, or stories about my father. They are not mine to repeat. “I want you to know,” she tells me, as if she feels guilty for explaining our history to me. I am amazed at how much violence we can contain–internalize, suppress, hold on to, narrate. How much we can swallow and still survive.” (So Mayer, pages 132-133)

Women who speak about the violence they experience, who name their assailants or harassers and who express anger are accused of making trouble. Speaking about their experience of violence, several of the survivors writing in this book talk about how this feels.

“Forgive the abuser. The only solution for female anger is for her to stop being angry.

And yet, when Jesus flipped tables in the temple, his rage was lauded. King David railing to the heavens to rain fire on his enemies is lauded as a man after God’s own heart. An angry man in cinema is Batman. An angry male musician is a member of Metallica. An angry male writer is Chekhov. An angry male politician is passionate, a revolutionary. He is a Donald Trump or a Bernie Sanders. The anger of men is a powerful enough tide to swing an election. But the anger of women? That has no place in government, so it has to flood the streets.” (Lyz Lenz, page 164)

Amy Jo Burns writes: “The truth no one told you is that, in order for a good girl to survive, she must make some things disappear.” (page 167)

This includes the memory of violence, the name of your harasser, the resultant trauma and every one of those inconsequential details from that consequential moment–what you were wearing, the colour of that vase, the food on the table, the light in the room. As Dr. Ford said“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” We never forget, but we must. It wasn’t that bad, after all.

(Cross-posted from here.) 

Consent, not culture, should drive ‘marital rape’ debate

In the last few years, there has been a lot of talk in India about sexual violence, especially stranger rape. Starting with the December 2012 gangrape of Jyoti Singh, the discourse on ‘safety’ and ‘protection’ of women has taken on several dimensions. There are apps that can alert your family if you’re in danger, clothes that make your rapist’s job difficult. There are calls for increased policing, for cutting down on night shifts for women, for not letting women use cell phones to prevent rape… The list is endless. And most items on the list are problematic, because these ‘good intentions’ come from a very flawed understanding of the problem.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 10.41.43 am

Screenshot of written reply given by Minister of Women and Child Development in Rajya Sabha on March 10, 2016. The reply is copied word-for-word from an earlier reply to a different question on marital rape, given by the Ministry of Home Affairs in April 2015.

And it is this same lack of understanding that lies at the root of the Govt’s latest reply in Parliament on maritalrape. “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors e.g. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc.,” Union Minister Maneka Gandhi said in a written reply on March 10. This is the entirety of the Minister’s reply on the issue of marital rape. (It’s also exactly the same reply given by the Ministry of Home Affairs to another question on marital rape back in April 2015, so at least, they have been completely consistent in their stand!)

Meanwhile, the Govt is yet to decriminalise consensual gay sex — or indeed any ‘unnatural’ sexual activity including anal sex, oral sex, and the whole gamut of sexual activity that isn’t penis-in-vagina intercourse. While a curative petition is waiting to be heard in the Supreme Court, the Govt has, at the latest instance, refused to take a stand on the issue.

As many have pointed out, right now in India, rape is legal but consensual sex isn’t. And the reason for this is our understanding of rape itself: ‘Indian rape’ is not about consent. It’s not about the mental and physical trauma that the victim undergoes. Instead, it is about the ‘sexual purity’ of a woman, and the honour of her family. Anything that takes away either is wrong — and therefore, as members of the Home Affairs committee said back in 2013, “if the marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress and the Committee may perhaps be doing more injustice.”

By corollary, ‘Indian sex’ isn’t about consent either. Nor is it about mutual pleasure. Sex within a marriage is about duty, honour and reproduction for a woman. Any sex outside of this definition is not recognised as sex at all, and automatically becomes either ‘unnatural’, or ‘rape’.

While the Minister’s reply in Parliament is infuriating, not just for the views there but also the absolutely flippant nature in which they were presented, outraging about just her, or just this government will not help much. The political class feels that “marital rape has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage” and society doesn’t feel differently. The challenge before civil society and liberal media right now is to shift the debate away from ‘culture’, and steer it towards consent, or the lack of it. The challenge is to stop focusing on ‘family honour’, and start focusing on the physical autonomy of adult women.

Until that happens, until our euphemisms for rape, in all languages, continue to revolve around ‘loss of chastity’, rape and sex will continue to come with unnecessary prefixes.

See Also: Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Rape

Gender Violence in India Report 2014: Rape

The World Health Organization defines rape as ‘physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration … of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object’.[1] Rape is a subset of sexual assault, which is defined as any sexual act (including but not limited to penetration or intercourse) committed using coercion or without the victim’s consent.[2] People of any gender can be victims of rape and sexual assault, but the majority of victims are women. The Sage Publications Multimedia Encyclopedia of Women in Today’s World notes that most legal definitions of rape involve sexual penetration through force and without consent. The Sage entry, however, also acknowledges that there remains ‘widespread disagreement regarding the meanings of “penetration,” “force,” and “consent”’; definitions and application of the laws on rape vary from country to country, and even from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within a country.[3] Rape victims may thus be left to seek justice amid confusing laws, or be faced with sceptical law enforcement personnel who doubt their claims and experiences.

Another issue related to rape and sexual assault is that of ‘victim blaming’: holding victims of sexual assault responsible for the rape or assault because of their attire, appearance or actions. In India, there have been several documented cases of victim-blaming by politicians, spiritual leaders, lawyers, police officers, and even women’s commission members.[4] A pervasive victim-blaming culture can deter women from reporting rapes, can cause them to fear further victimisation at the hands of law enforcement, and can make it difficult to successfully prosecute those rapes that are reported.

Feminists and advocates combating violence against women have argued that acts previously not recognized as rape should in fact be included in legal definitions. For instance, many countries have included an exception for marital rape, either previously or in current laws, stating that intercourse between a husband and wife cannot be deemed rape regardless of whether one party did not consent.[5] Advocates have also argued against the notion that ‘in order for an encounter to count as rape, the victim must have displayed “utmost” (or even any) physical resistance.[6] Nevertheless, ambiguity remains both in many legal definitions of rape and in enforcement of those laws.

The problem of rape is often compounded by widespread misunderstandings about the nature and incidence of rape and sexual assault. Many believe, for instance, that perpetrators are usually strangers to their victims, that women must have been ‘asking for it’ by behaving promiscuously or going out alone at night, or that lack of overt physical resistance implies consent.[7] In fact, many if not the majority of perpetrators are known to their victims; rapes can occur at any time of day in virtually any context, not just when a woman is along at night; and victims may be unable to resist or choose not to struggle out of fear of even greater violence.

The issue of rape in India has garnered much greater national and international attention in recent years, in large part due to the 2012 Delhi gang rape case that spurred mass protests and an international outcry.


2012 Delhi Gang Rape: A Case Study

On the evening of December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapist and her male friend caught a bus home after seeing a movie in a Delhi suburb. The six men on the bus, including the bus driver, began to taunt the pair for being out late together. The man, to protect his friend, tried to stop the teasing, upon which the situation turned violent. The man was beaten with an iron rod and gagged, while the woman was dragged to the rear of the bus, brutally raped and beaten repeatedly by the six men over the course of several hours. Finally, the men threw the two victims out of the moving bus, leaving them on the side of the road.[8]

The pair was taken to a hospital, where the man began to recover from his injuries. The woman, however, remained in critical condition for several days before dying from her injuries in a Singapore hospital on December 29, 2012.[9]


This incident became a watershed in spurring discussion and action on violence against women in India. It provoked national and international outcry over the status of women in India, prompting the Indian government to re-evaluate its procedures for the treatment, prosecution and compensation of gender violence. The Delhi gang rape case catalysed numerous mass demonstrations and increased activism around gender violence in general and the legal system’s handling of it in particular.[10]

In response to public pressure for a speedy trial, the Delhi High Court in December 2012 approved the creation of five fast-tracked courts to prosecute rape and sexual assault cases. It was in one of these courts that five of the men accused of the gang rape were prosecuted on charges of kidnap, rape, murder, attempted murder and destruction of evidence. The sixth man, a minor at the time of the attack, has been prosecuted in the juvenile court system.[11]

In March 2013, one of the accused committed suicide in prison while still on trial. The juvenile offender was sentenced to three years in a reform centre. The remaining four were convicted; the court issued death sentences in all four cases.[12]

In March 2014, the Delhi High Court upheld the verdict of the death sentence for all four convicts. As of mid-July 2014, the execution was stayed pending an appeal by the lawyers of the accused, who alleged that the trial had not been conducted in a ‘free and fair’ manner.[13]

In a wider response to the issue, the national government and state governments of India set up various commissions to better investigate violence against women. On December 22, 2012, the national government commissioned a judicial committee headed by former Chief Justice of India J. S. Verma, to investigate the legal framework and precedents regarding the prosecution of sexual assault as well as to make recommendations for amendments to criminal law. The Justice Verma Committee appealed to lawyers, the non-profit sector, women’s groups, the civil sector and the general public for their input and suggestions.[14] The report, released in February 2013, points to failures of government institutions and the police in recognizing and prosecuting sexual assault in a timely and constitutional manner.[15]

In April 2013, based on the recommendations given by the Justice J. S. Verma Committee, President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which made changes to the Indian Penal Code and Indian Evidence Act on laws related to sexual offences.[16]


Know the Law

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, introduced various amendments to existing laws on rape and sexual assault in the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Delhi gang rape case and the resultant public outcry were a powerful impetus in amending the laws. As Indian law stands today, the Act describes rape explicitly and exclusively as committed by male perpetrators against female victims. While this does encompass the majority of rape cases, it does not account for rape that occurs between other victim-perpetrator combinations, such as the rape of a man by another man.

Following the amendments introduced by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Section 375 of the IPC defines rape as non-consensual intercourse, penetration using the penis or ‘any object or a part of the body’, or oral intercourse.[17] The Act also specifies circumstances where consent may be nominally given but not valid, such as: consent obtained through coercion or threats; consent obtained by falsely impersonating the victim’s husband; and consent from a victim ‘unable to understand the nature and consequences’ of what she is agreeing to due to ‘unsoundness of mind or intoxication’. When a victim is below 18 years of age, penetration or intercourse is considered rape regardless of whether consent was given.[18]

The law specifies that mere lack of physical resistance is not sufficient to be regarded as consent. However, it also states that consent may be given ‘by words, gestures or any form of verbal or non-verbal communication’, creating potential ambiguities in determining when a woman has consented to a given sexual activity and possibly making it more difficult to prosecute rape complaints.[19]

Section 376 states that rape is punishable by imprisonment of at least seven years and up to a life sentence, plus a fine.[20] In certain cases, perpetrators are required to receive harsher sentences, such as when the perpetrator is a police officer, public servant or member of the military; when he holds ‘a position of trust or authority towards the woman’; or when the victim is pregnant, disabled or a minor. In these situations, the minimum sentence is ten years, with the possibility of a life sentence, plus a fine.[21] Section 376A prescribes a minimum sentence of twenty years when a perpetrator commits rape or sexual violence that ‘causes the death of the woman or causes the woman to be in a persistent vegetative state’,[22] while under Section 376D, a perpetrator in a gang rape faces a minimum sentence of twenty years, up to life imprisonment, plus a fine.[23]

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, has faced criticism for ignoring the Verma Committee’s recommendations on a number of issues; for example, the Act has raised the age of consent from 16 to 18, and has failed to make changes to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which currently makes it more difficult to try members of the armed forces for gender-based crimes[24]. The Act also includes an exception for marital rape, stating that ‘sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife … is not rape’.[25] This means that, under Indian law, marital status takes precedence over lack of consent in determining rape and sexual assault cases. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, does criminalise rape committed by a husband against his wife when they are ‘living separately, whether under a decree of separation or otherwise’, and prescribes a sentence of between two and seven years’ imprisonment, plus a fine.[26] For the majority of women assaulted by their husbands, however, there is no legal avenue for a criminal prosecution. The only legal remedy available to wives is the Domestic Violence Act, 2005, which is a civil rather than criminal law that provides for domestic violence reporting mechanisms and monetary compensation for victims.[27] It does not provide for punishment of offenders. Women’s advocates have argued that the marital rape exception prevents India’s criminal laws from adequately protecting women and effectively legalises countless cases of rape and abuse that occur within marriages.

Keeping Count

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) keeps track of cases of rape reported under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. The NCRB reported 33,707 cases of rape in 2013, an increase of 35.2% from 2012 (24,923 cases).[28] Although many rapes and sexual assaults are not reported, reports of rapes have increased in recent years as more victims have stepped forward. It is possible that growing public attention towards the issue has emboldened more women to seek justice; it has also been suggested that the actual incidence of rape is increasing, contributing to the growing number of reports.[29] One estimate suggests that in India, a woman is raped on average every 20 mintues.[30]

Table 1 and Figure 1 show the number of rape cases reported between 2009 and 2013 according to the NCRB data.

Table 1: Number of Reported Rape Cases, 2009-2013[31]

Year 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Number of reported rape cases 21,397 22,172 24,206 24,923 33,707

Figure 1[32]

Rape I

Note that the NCRB data only includes cases that fall under the Indian Penal Code definition of rape, not other forms of sexual assault that do not meet that definition.

The actual incidence of rape and sexual assault is difficult to determine with accuracy, as experts agree that the majority of rapes worldwide likely go unreported. Estimates of the proportion of unreported rapes vary from 54%[33] to 90%[34] of all rapes.

Of the rapes that are reported, the majority do not result in a successful prosecution. As of 2013, as many as three fourths of the perpetrators of the 24,206 rape cases brought forth in 2011 were either yet to face trial, had been acquitted or had the charges dropped.[35] Many rape and assault victims may decide not to report the assaults because of the fear of indifference or even retaliation from police officers and other law enforcement personnel. Victims have reported being asked demeaning questions by police, feeling as if the questioning procedures were like a second assault, waiting for hours to receive medical attention and being pressurized to marry their attackers or withdraw their complaints.[36]

[1] Jewkes, R., Sen, P. & Garcia-Moreno, C., ‘Chapter 6: Sexual Violence’, World Report on Violence and Health, ed. Krug, E. G. et al, 2002, p. 149,, accessed 1st December 2014.

[2] Jewkes, R., Sen, P. & Garcia-Moreno, C., ‘Chapter 6: Sexual Violence’, p. 149. See above note 1.

[3] Stange, M. Z., Oyster, C. K. & Sloan, J. E., ‘’Rape, legal definitions of’, The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Women in Today’s World, 2011,, accessed 1st December 2014.

[4] ‘NCW Notice to Mirje over Rape Remark’, The New Indian Express, 29th January 2014,, accessed 11th December 2014; Hullinger, Jessica, ‘India’s Deadly Gang Rape: 6 Troubling Attempts to Blame the Victim’, The Week, 9th January 2013,, accessed 11th December 2014; Bhalla, Abhishek & Vishnu, G., ‘The Rapes Will Go On’, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 15, 14th April 2012,, accessed 11th December 2014.

[5] ‘Feminist perspectives on rape’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, accessed 1st December 2014.

[6] See above note 5.

[7] ‘Common myths about rape’, RapeCrisis,, accessed 1st December 2014.

[8] Bresnehan, S., Udas, S. & Ramgopal, R., ‘”Nirbhaya,” victim of India gang rape fought for justice’, CNN, 16 December 2013, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[9] ‘Delhi gang rape: Chronology of events’, The Hindu, 10 September 2013,, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[10] Bresnehan, S., Udas, S. & Ramgopal, R., ‘”Nirbhaya,” victim of India gang rape fought for justice’, CNN. See above note 8.

[11] ‘Delhi gang rape: Chronology of events’, The Hindu. See above note 9.

[12] ‘Delhi gang rape: Four sentenced to death’, BBC News India, 13th September 2013,, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[13] ‘Court puts off execution of two men convicted of 2012 Delhi rape’, Reuters, 14th July 2014,, accessed 2nd Decemer 2014.

[14] Ed. Sanyal, P., ‘Recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee: 10-point cheat sheet’, NDTV, 24th January 2014,, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[15] Justice (retd.) Verma, J.S., Justice (retd.) Seth., L, & Subramanium, G., ‘Report of the committee on amendments ot criminal law’, Justice Verma Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law, January 2013,, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[16] Denyer, S., ‘India gang rape prompts tough new laws on sexual assault’, The Guardian, 5th February 2013,, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[17] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9),, accessed 8th October 2014. Sec. 9 of the Act inserts Sections 375, 376 and 376A-D into the Indian Penal Code. Section 375 defines ‘rape’.

[18] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9), Sec. 375,. See above note 17. This section defines consent and lists circumstances in which consent may be given but not held to be legally valid.

[19] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9), Sec. 375. See above note 17.

[20] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9), Sec. 376(1). See above note 17. This section establishes sentencing rules for rape convictions.

[21] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9), Sec. 376(2). See above note 17. This section lists circumstances in which a stronger sentence is required.

[22] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9), Sec. 376A. See above note 17.

[23] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9), Sec. 376D. See above note 17.

[24] ‘India: Reject New Sexual Violence Ordinance’, Human Rights Watch, 12th Febuary 2013,, accessed 11th December 2014.

[25] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9), Sec. 375, Exception 2. See above note 17.

[26] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, Ch. 2(9), Sec. 376B. See above note 17.

[27] Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Section 3,, accessed 29th October 2014.

[28] ‘Chapter 5: Crimes against Women’, Crime in India 2013, NCRB, p. 81,, accessed 26th September 2014.

[29] Special Correspondent, ‘Majority of rape cases go unreported: MPs’, The Hindu, 27th August 2013,, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[30] Bresnehan, S., Udas, S. & Ramgopal, R., ‘”Nirbhaya,” victim of India gang rape fought for justice’, CNN. See above note 8.

[31] ‘Chapter 5: Crimes against Women’, p. 81. See above note 26.

[32] Figure 1 was generated from the data in Table 1.

[33] Kark, M., ‘Understanding Indian and Pakistani cultural perspectives and analyzing US news coverage of Mukhtar Mai and Jyoti Singh Pandey’, University of North Texas Master’s Thesis, UNT Digital Library, p. 4,, accessed 2nd December 2014. Kark quotes a figure from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

[34] Srivastava, M., ‘The iceberg of rape’, India Today, 17th June 2009,, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[35] Fisher, M., ‘India’s rape problem is also a police problem’, Washington Post, 7th January 2013,, accessed 2nd December 2014.

[36] Fisher, M., ‘India’s rape problem is also a police problem’. See above note 33.


This series of posts were researched, drafted and edited by Divya Bhat, Shakthi Manickavasagam, Titiksha Pandit and Mitha Nandagopalan.

December 2014

Why India Should Criminalise Marital Rape

by Aparna Gupta

The marital rape exemption can be traced to statements by Sir Mathew Hale, Chief Justice in England, during the 1600s. He wrote, “The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife hath given herself in kind unto the husband, whom she cannot retract.” Hence for centuries, the rape laws around the world gave absolute immunity to the husbands, with respect to their wives.

However, the societal perception about marriage has now changed and wives cannot be regarded as mere property of the husbands. Internationally, at least 52 countries have explicitly outlawed marital rape in their criminal codes by April 2011. In India, the judiciary has time and again lamented about the lack of provisions to protect the wives from the acts of sexual perversity by their husbands. The Justice Verma Committee, the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women and numerous women rights activists have recommended for the criminalisation of marital rape in the Indian statute. Then why does India still allow this grave discrimination to exist in its laws?

During the passage of the Criminal Laws Amendment Act in 2013, the Indian Parliament widely debated on criminalizing marital rape and finally chose an opposite stance. The law makers who opposed the move argued that it has the potential of destroying the institution of marriage. Such archaic notions are completely flawed as marriages thrive on mutual respect and trust and not through submitting to an abusive husband. It is the act of rape by one’s own husband that destroys the marriage and not the prosecution of the perpetrator.

There have also been concerns regarding difficulty of proof. This has lead to two contradictory issues. The opponents argue that it would be nearly impossible prosecute marital rape, because unlike an unmarried victim, the evidence of penetration is not considered sufficient evidence. Secondly, there is the danger of husbands being wrongly committed of a serious offence. However, these difficulties already exist in the cases where the victim is in an intimate relationship with the accused. The difficulty in prosecution cannot be considered as an excuse for not bringing the required reform in legislation. For instance, the prosecution might also be difficult in cases of murder, but that does not mean that murder shall not be considered as a crime.

The second issue, regarding protecting the innocent husbands from false accusation can be taken care of through implementation of certain measures. The Section 228 A of the Indian Penal Code could be amended to prevent the public disclosure of the husband and not just the victim. This is also important to protect the identity of the victim herself, as revealing the identity of the husband might lead to disclosure of her identity. The law could also compel the wife to give evidence in order to prevent the misuse of the act. Moreover, while such concerns are genuine, the existing power dynamics in the society reflect that investigation regarding allegation of rape is a notoriously difficult process for the complainant. In a country with abysmally low rates of conviction in rape cases, it is hard to believe that criminalisation of marital rape would lead to victimisation of the husbands.

Finally, the purpose of the legislation is to create deterrence against the acts of marital rape and to send a strong social message that marriage cannot be equated to consent. It is to provide legal support to the wives who have been battered, beaten and raped in the name of marriage. It is to tell the husbands that marriage does not give them the license to rape their wives. Despite difficulties in prosecution, if the law is at least able to bring this change in mindsets, then it would be a victory for the law. Therefore, it is time that the Indian parliamentarians look beyond their doubts and criminalise marital rape.


Aparna Gupta is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. An engineer by training and student of policy by day, Aparna aspires to work in the domain of Human Rights and Gender Violence.

Marital Rape: Not a Myth

by Aparna Gupta

Every 6 hours, a young married woman is burnt or beaten to death, or driven to suicide from emotional abuse by her husband. According to the UN Population fund, two-third of the married women in India, aged between 15 and 49 years, have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex by their husbands. These are not just mere statistics, but each represents a silent sufferer brutalised and caught in the glorified institution of marriage in India. There have been reported cases where women have been forced to have intercourse till their late pregnancies and have been brutally assaulted by their husbands just after delivery of a child. There have also been cases where a husband has transmitted sexually transmitted diseases to the wife leading to vaginal infection through forced sexual intercourse. Despite such horrifying realities the Indian marriage and rape laws continue to remain misogynist and treat wives as the property of husbands. Marital rape is not only legal in our country but it is somehow a taboo to even talk about it.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code says that sexual intercourse by a man with his wife who is not less than 15 years old is not considered as rape. The IPC goes further and Section 376B provides for a lesser punishment for the perpetrator for committing a sexual offence if the victim is his wife, living separately, under a decree or otherwise. These provisions under the IPC are not only inhumane and misogynist but also absurd and inconsistent with the other laws in India. Section 375 clearly gives the legal sanction to a man to rape his minor wife, while the age of consent under other laws is 18 years. There exists a grave anomaly as the Indian statute criminalises consensual sex between teenagers but turns a blind eye to the atrocities that are committed against women in the name of marriage every day.

The countrywide protests after the 16 December rape case lead to the amendment of the IPC through the Criminal Laws (Amendments) Act which brought in many progressive changes. However, the Indian parliamentarians abstained from omitting these highly sexist and patriarchal exceptions from the law, despite contrary recommendations by the Justice Verma Committee. The Verma Committee explicitly stated that marital relationship between the perpetrator and the victim should not be considered as a valid defence against the crimes of rape and sexual assault. Therefore it is essential that the Indian law makers and the society at large believe that a rapist remains a rapist regardless of his relationship with the victim.

It was heartening to see that in the budget session this year, both the houses of the parliament spent considerable amount of time in discussing the issues related to gender violence and atrocities against women. However, amongst more than 750 members in both the houses, only one raised the issue of marital rape and the inconsistencies under the IPC. While the growing number of brutal crimes against women has pricked the conscience of the parliamentarians and the people of India, we seem to have passively accepted the crimes committed to them within the confines of their home by their husbands as something normal. This needs to change- the patriarchal mindsets that consider wife to be duty bound to provide sex to her husband; the traditional understanding of a wife’s role as a submissive, docile homemaker. And the taboos that exist around the discussions regarding sexual relationship between a husband and a wife.

Therefore, there is a need to create more awareness regarding the heinous acts of sexual perversity that many wives suffer under the hands of the husbands. No society or culture can exist without change forever. Sometimes the laws of the land undergo transformation in the light of the social change and at other times they become the agents of social change. This is one of the latter times when the country needs a judicial awakening through uprooting the patriarchal sections of the IPC that propagate the archaic notions of marriage and consent.


Aparna Gupta is currently a fellow with PRS Legislative Research’s Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament programme. An engineer by training and student of policy by day, Aparna aspires to work in the domain of Human Rights and Gender Violence.

Unspeakable Inequalities: சாதியும் பெண்களும் (Caste and women)

கவின் மலர்
Kavin Malar

(Caste and patriarchy intersect and manifest as violence in practices like rape, honour killings, custodial torture and forced marriage.)

இந்தியாவைப் பொறுத்தவரை பெண்கள் எப்போதும் தங்கள் சாதியுடன் தொடர்புடையவர்கள். பெண் எனும் பிள்ளை பெறும் எந்திரம் தன் சாதிக்கு பிள்ளை பெற்று சாதியின் மக்கள்தொகையை வளர்க்கவேண்டும்.. தன் சாதிப் பெருமை பேச பறைசாற்ற இன்னுமொரு உயிரை ஈன்றெடுக்கும் பெண் எனும் மனித உயிருக்கு இந்திய சமூகத்தில் என்ன மரியாதை உள்ளது என்று பார்த்தால் பூஜ்ஜியம்தான்.

பெண்ணின் உடல் எப்படி பார்க்கப்படுகிறது? அது ஒரு பண்டம். ஆண்களுக்கான ஒரு நுகர்வுபொருள் அது. அந்த நுகர்வு பொருளை ஆண் எப்படி வேண்டுமானாலும் பயன்படுத்த அவனுக்கு உரிமை இருப்பதாக நினைத்துக்கொள்கிறான். ‘இது இன்னொரு உடல், இன்னொரு ஜீவனுடைய உடல்’ என்கிற உணர்வின்றி பேருந்துக்களிலும், பொது இடங்களிலும் காம வேட்கையுடன் பெண்களை பார்ப்பதும், அவர்களை சீண்டுவதுமாக ஆண்கள் செய்பவற்றிற்கு அவர்களின் காமவேட்கை மட்டும்தான் காரணமா? காமம் கண்ணை மறைக்கிறது என்றால் தன் வீட்டுப்பெண்களான தாய் அல்லது சகோதரியிடம் இப்படி நடந்துகொள்வதில்லை. அவர்களிடத்தில் இந்த காம இச்சை தோன்றுவதில்லை. ஒரு சில விதிவிலக்குகள் இருக்கலாம். நாம் பெரும்பான்மை குறித்துப்பேசுவோம். இத்தகைய ஆண்கள் பெண்கள் தொந்தரவுக்குள்ளாகும்படி பார்வையால் அல்லது கைகளால் சீண்டுவதும் அத்துமீறுவதுமான செயல்களில் ஈடுபடுவதன் பின்னாலுள்ள உளவியல் யோசிக்கப்படவேண்டியது. பிற பெண்கள் அனைவருமே தன்னுடையை உடைமைகள் என்கிற மனோபாவம் அது. இன்னொருவருடைய பொருள் என்றால் எடுத்து பயன்படுத்த தயங்கும் கைகள் தன்னுடையது என்றால் உரிமையுடன் எடுப்பதுபோல, எல்லா பெண்களின் உடலும் தன் சுகிப்புக்குரியது என்று எண்ணும் ஆண்தனம்தான் ஓர் ஆணை அடுத்தவர் உடலென்றால் பெண்ணை தீண்டவும் முறைக்கவும் உற்றுப் பார்க்கவும் வைக்கிறது. பெண் என்பவள் ஒரு தனியான ஜீவன். அவள் உடல் அவளுக்குத்தான் சொந்தம் என்கிற உணர்வும் புரிதலும் எள்ளளவும் இங்கே இல்லை.

பிறந்தவுடன் பெண்ணின் உடல் பெற்றோருக்கு சொந்தம். அந்த உடல் எங்கே செல்ல வேண்டும், செல்லக்கூடாது, அந்த உடலை யார் பார்க்கவேண்டும், யாருடன் அந்த உடல் உறவுகொள்ளவேண்டும் என்பதையும் பெற்றோரே நிர்ணயிக்க எண்ணுகிறார்கள். வீட்டில் சகோதர சகோதரியர் உட்பட மூத்தவர்கள் இருந்தால், பெண் உடல் குறித்த இந்த கண்காணிப்பில் மொத்த குடும்பமும் ஈடுபடும். உறவினர்களும் கூட. உறவினர்கள் என்பதும் குடும்பம் என்பதும் இங்கே இந்தியாவில் சாதிச்சமூகம்தான். சாதிக்காரர்களுக்கு இங்கே பல பெயர்கள் உண்டு. சித்தப்பா, பெரியப்பா, பெரியம்மா, சித்தி, அத்தை, மாமா என்பதிலிருந்து கொஞ்சம் யோசித்தால் கூடப்பிறந்த அண்ணன், அக்கா, அம்மா, அப்பா என்று எல்லோருமே சாதிக்காரர்் கள்தான். ஆக உரிமை என்கிற பெயரிலோ அல்லது பாசம் என்கிற பெயரிலோ பெண்ணின் உடல் தன் சாதியைச் சேர்ந்த ஒருவன் அனுபவிக்கவே இருக்கிறது. என்கிற எண்ணத்தை அழுத்தமாகக் கொண்டிருக்கின்றனர். பெண்ணுடல் குறித்து இவர்கள் வகுத்துக்கொண்ட விதிமுறைகள் எல்லாமே சாதியின் பெயரால் இருந்தாலும் வெளியில் அப்படித் தெரிவதில்லை. அப்படி சொல்லிக்கொள்வதுமில்லை. ‘அவளுக்கு எது நல்லதென்று எங்களுக்குத் தெரியாதா?’ என்றோ, ’அவளுக்கு என்ன தெரியும்? பெரியவர்கள் பார்த்துக்கொள்வோம்’ என்றோ ‘என் பெண்ணை பொத்திப் பொத்தி வளர்த்தேன். அத்தனை செல்லம்’ என்றோ சொல்கிறார்கள். ஒன்று பெண்ணுக்கு ஒன்றும் தெரியாது. அவளால் தன் துணையை தான் தேட முடியாது என்கிற கருத்தோ அல்லது எங்கள் பெண்ணுக்கு நாங்கள்தான் துணை தேடுவோம் என்கிற இறுமாப்போ வெளிப்படுகிறது. அதன்பின்னால் சாதிதான் தன் கோர முகத்தை மறைத்துக்கொண்டு அந்தஸ்து,, பாசம், பற்று, கௌரவம் என்கிற வெவ்வேறு பெயர்களின் வாழ்கிறது.

பெண்ணை ஏன் ’பொத்திப் பொத்தி’ வளர்க்கவேண்டும்? எந்த ஆணையும் பொத்தி வளர்த்ததாக பெற்றோர் சொல்லி கேட்டிருப்போமா? ‘கிளியை வளர்த்து பூனை கையில் கொடுத்தேன்’ என்று கண்ணீர் வடிக்கையில் அந்தக் கிளியை எப்படி வளர்த்தோம் என்பதையாவது எண்ணிப் பார்ப்பதுண்டா? சுதந்திரமாக பறக்கவேண்டிய கிளியை கூண்டில் அடைத்துவிட்டீர்கள். கிளி பறந்தாலும் மாலையில் கூடு அடைய வந்துவிடும் என்கிற நம்பிக்கை இல்லாமல் வேறு சாதிக்கிளியோடு பறந்துவிடுமோ என்கிற பயத்தில்தானே கூண்டில் அடைக்கப்படுகிறது. அதை அதன்போக்கில் விட்டிருந்தால் இன்னொரு கிளிக்காவது துணையாய் இருந்திருக்கும். ஆனால் நீங்களோ ஒன்றுசேரவே முடியாத பூனையின் கையில் சாதியின் பெயரால் ஒப்படைக்கிறீர்கள். பெரும்பாலான கிளிகளுக்குத் தெரியும்; முதல் பார்வையிலேயே இது கிளியல்ல..பூனை என்று. சில சமயங்களில் கிளிகளும் சாதியை நம்பி பூனைகளை கிளிகள் என்றெண்ணி ஏமாறுவதும் உண்டு. இப்படி ஏமாறுவதைத்தான் அகமண முறை என்கின்றனர். தன் சாதிக்குள் மணம் செய்துகொள்ளவேண்டும் என்பது ஒவ்வொரு பெண்ணின் விருப்பம் அல்ல. எல்லா பெண்களும் அவரவர் பருவத்தில் எவர் மீதேனும் மையல் கொண்டிருக்கக் கூடும். அதற்கான வாய்ப்புகள் அதிகம். அந்த மையல் காதலாக கனியாமல் சாதி குறுக்கே விழுந்து தடுத்துவிடுகிறது. பல பெண்கள் தங்களை காதலிப்பவர்களை பிடித்திருந்தாலும் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளாமல் போவதற்கும், காதலைச் சொல்லாமல் மறைத்துக்கொள்வதற்கும், அப்படியே பிடித்து, ஒப்புக்கொண்டு காதலித்தாலும் அது பாதியில் முடிந்துபோவதற்கும் பின்னால் சாதி அல்லது மதம் இயங்குகிறது. ஆண்கள் காதல் தோல்வியில் கவிதை எழுதுவதோ தாடி வளர்ப்பதோ வெளியுலகுக்குத் தெரிகிறது. ஆனால் பெண்களின் மனம் மௌனமாய் கண்ணீர் வடிப்பது எத்தனை பேருக்குத் தெரியும்? இன்னொரு கிளியைத் தேடிய மனம் தெரிந்தே பூனைக்கு துணையாவது இப்படித்தான். ஆனால் ஆண்கள் நிறைந்த இவ்வுலகில் இலக்கியம், சினிமா, கதை, கவிதை என்று எல்லா வடிவங்களையும் கைப்பற்றி கோலோச்சும் ஆண்கள் பெரும்பாலும் பெண்கள் குறித்து ஏமாற்றுபவர்கள், தன்னைக் காதலித்துவிட்டு இன்னொருவனை மணம் செய்துகொள்பவர்கள் என்று சித்தரிக்கின்றனர். இந்தியாவில் இப்படியான சித்தரிப்புகளால் இகழப்படுபவர்கள் பெண்களாக இருந்தாலும் மறைமுகமாக அங்கே இகழப்படுவது சாதியோ அல்லது மதமோதான். ஆனால் பெரும்பாலான ஆண்களுக்கு தன்னைவிட்டுச் சென்ற பெண்ணை குறைசொல்லாமல், அவளை அதற்கு நிர்பந்தப்படுத்திய சாதியையோ மதத்தையோ வெளிப்படையாக குற்றம் சொல்ல முடியவில்லை. இது குறித்தெல்லாம் பேசாமால் மேம்போக்காக பெண்ணை குறைசொல்லிக்கொண்டிருப்பது அவர்களுக்கு மிகவும் வசதியாய் இருக்கிறது. அப்போதுதான் இன்னொரு திருமணத்தை சாதிக்குள்ளேயே செய்துகொண்டு தான் பெற்றெடுக்கும் பெண்ணுக்கும் தான் காதலித்த பெண்ணுக்கு அவள் வீட்டார் செய்ததையே தானும் செய்யலாம்.

எல்லாம் சரி. ஏன் பெண்கள் தைரியமாக சாதிய வட்டத்தையோ மத நிர்பந்தத்தையோ தாண்டி வரலாமே? ஏன் வருவதில்லை? நம் வீடுகளில் பெண்களின் வளர்ப்பு அப்படி. இயல்பிலேயே ஆணுக்கும் பெண்ணுக்கும் இடையே ஒரு கோடு போட்டு வளர்த்து பெண்கள் இதை மட்டும்தான் செய்யவேண்டும் இதைச் செய்யக்கூடாது என்கிற கட்டுப்பாட்டுக்குள்தான் அவர்கள் வளர்க்கப்படுகிறார்கள். பெற்றோரையோ அல்லது வீட்டையோ மீறும் துணிவு அவர்களுக்கு இல்லை என்பதற்கு அவர்கள் காரணம் இல்லை. ஏனெனில் அவர்கள் அப்படித்தான் வளர்க்கப்படுகிறார்கள். துணையின்றி வெளியே செல்வதற்குக் கூட அனுமதிக்கப்படாத பெரும்பாலான பெண்களுக்கு அச்சம் மடம் நாணம் பயிர்ப்பு என்று நாய்கட்கு இருக்கவேண்டியவற்றை பெண்ணின் இயல்பாக மாற்றிக் காட்டியுள்ள நம் சமூகத்தின் பெண்கள் எதிர்நீச்சல் போடவும் எதிர்த்து நிற்கவும் அனுமதிக்கப்படுவதில்லை. அப்படி எதிர்த்து நிற்பவர்களே கௌரவக் கொலைகள் என்கிற பெயரில் உயிர் பறிக்கப்படுகின்றனர்.

எவிடென்ஸ் அமைப்பு நடத்திய அண்மை ஆய்வுகளில் இந்த ஆண்டு மட்டும் 17 கௌரவக் கொலைகள் தமிழகத்தில் நடந்திருப்பதாக அறிகிறோம். இவை கணக்கில் வந்த, வழக்கு பதியப்பட்ட கொலைகள். வெளியில் தெரியாமல் எத்தனை நடக்கிறதோ யாருக்குத் தெரியும்? பல கொலைகள் தற்கொலை என்கிற பெயர் பெறுகின்றன. ‘வயிற்றுவலியால் தற்கொலை’ என்றே பல வழக்குகள் மூடப்படுகின்றன. கௌரவக் கொலைகளில் கொலை செய்பவர்கள் குடும்பத்தாராக இருப்பதால், புகார் கொடுக்கவும், வழக்கு தொடுக்கவும் யார் இருப்பார்கள் என்பது கேள்விக்குறி. இப்படித்தான் பல கௌரவக்கொலைகள் மூடி மறைக்கப்படுகின்றன.

படிநிலையில் தன் சாதியைவிட கீழ் உள்ள சாதியிலிருந்து ஒரு ஆணை பெண் காதலித்துவிட்டால், அந்தப் பெண் கொல்லப்படுகிறாள். குறிப்பாக அந்த ஆண் தலித்தாக இருந்தால் ஒன்று அந்தப் பெண் ஊரைவிட்டு வெளியேறி கண்காணாத இடத்தில் வாழவேண்டும். அல்லது கொலையுண்டு சாகவேண்டும் என்பதே தமிழகத்தின் தற்போதைய நிலைமை. அதிலும் தர்மபுரி சாதிய வன்முறைகளுக்குப் பின் தமிழகத்தில் நடைபெறும் சாதிய அரசியலும், மக்களை தலித், தலித் அல்லாதோர் என்று பிரித்து வைப்பதுமாக மிகவும் முனைப்புடன் நடந்து வரும் முயற்சிகள் மக்கள் மனங்களை மேலும் சாதியத்துக்குள் அமிழ்த்துவிட்டிருக்கின்றன.

தஞ்சை மாவட்டம் ஒரத்தநாடு அருகே சூரக்கோட்டையில் மாரிமுத்து என்கிற தலித் இளைஞரை மணம் செய்துகொண்ட அபிராமி இன்று கணவனை கோரமான கொலையின் மூலம் இழந்து, கைக்குழந்தையுடன் நிராதரவாக நிற்கிறார். காரணம் சாதி. ஆதிக்க சாதி வெறி. விழுப்புரத்தைச் சேர்ந்த கோகிலா என்கிற பறையர் பெண் கார்த்திகேயன் என்கிற அருந்த்திய இன இளைஞரை மணந்ததற்காக கொல்லப்பட்டார். காந்தளவாடியைச் சேர்ந்த பிரியா என்கிற பறையர் இனப்பெண் தன் தலித் இனத்தைச் சேர்ந்த பையனும் வன்னிய இனத்தைச் சேர்ந்த பெண்ணும் ஊரைவிட்டு வெளியேறி திருமணம் செய்துகொண்டபின், அவர்களுக்கு தோழி என்கிற காரணத்தாலேயே கொல்லப்பட்டார். காரணம் சாதி. சிட்டாம்பூண்டி என்கிற கிராமத்தில் ஒரு வன்னிய இளைஞரை கைபிடித்த காவேரியை சாதிப்பெயர் சொல்லித் திட்டி, பிறந்தவீட்டுக்குப் போக்க்கூடாது என்று தடுத்து சித்தரவதை செய்த்தில் அவர் இறந்தார். அது கொலையா தற்கொலையா என்று வழக்கு நடக்கிறது. காரணம் சாதிவெறி. தஞ்சை மாவட்டம் ஆம்பலாப்பட்டுகிராமத்தைச் சேர்ந்த சத்யா டேனியல் செல்வகுமார் என்கிற தலித் இளைஞரை மணந்ததால் சாதுரியமாகப் பேசி கிராமத்துக்கு அவரை வரவைத்து அவருடைய காதில் விஷம் ஊற்றிக் கொன்றதன் காரணம்…? சாதிவெறி. இப்படி பட்டியல் போட்டால் போட்டுக்கொண்டே போகலாம். இத்தனை பெண்களின் கொலைகளுக்கும் காரணம் சாதிவெறி.. பெற்றோரின் சாதிவெறி இப்படி ஆதிக்க சாதிப்பெண்களைக்கொல்கிறது என்றால், ஆதிக்கசாதி ஆண்களின் சாதிவெறி தலித் பெண்களைக் கொல்கிறது.

சென்ற ஆண்டு கடலூரில் ஒரு போட்டோ ஸ்டுடியோவில் பணியாற்றிய சந்தியாவை ஆதிக்கசாதி ஆண்கள் பாலியல் வல்லுறவுக்கு ஆளாக்கினார்கள். எங்கெங்கே சாதிக் கலவரங்களும் வன்முறைகளும் ஒங்குகிறதோ அங்கெல்லாம் ஆதிக்க சாதிக்கு இரையாவது தலித் பெண்களின் உடல்கள்தாம். மன்னர் காலத்திலிருந்தே இன்னொரு நாட்டுக்குப் படையெடுத்துப் போகும் வீர்ர்கள் எதிரி நாட்டுப் பெண்களை பாலியல் வன்முறைக்கு ஆளாக்குவதைப் வரலாற்றில் வாசித்திருக்கிறோம். சமகாலத்திலும் இந்திய அமைதிப்படை இலங்கைக்குச் சென்றபோது அங்கே பெண்களுக்கெதிராக பாலியல் வன்முறைகளில் ஈடுபட்ட்தை ஈழத்துப்பெண்கள் வாய்மொழியாகச் சொல்லவும் இலக்கியங்களிலும் பதிவு செய்யப் பார்க்கிறோம். இப்படி பெண்களின் உடல் மீது ஆண்கள் ஆதிக்கம் செலுத்த நினைப்பது என்பது அவர்களின் ஆணாதிக்கம் மட்டுமல்லாமல் பணத்திலோ பொருளாதாரத்திலோ அதிகாரத்திலோ உயர்ந்திருப்பதனாலும்கூட. இது உலகம் முழுவதும் உள்ள பொதுத்தன்மை. சாதியால் தான் உயர்ந்தவன் என்று தன்னைக் கருதிக்கொள்பவர்களுக்கும் இந்த ஆதிக்கத் தன்மை கடத்தப்படுகிறது. ஏற்கனவே தான் ஓர் ஆண் என்பதில் இருக்கும் ஆதிக்க உணர்வும் உடமை உணர்வும், அந்தப் பெண் ஒரு தலித் பெண் அல்லது மநுஸ்மிருதியின்படி தனக்குக் கீழுள்ள சாதியில் பிறந்தவள் என்றால் ஆணாதிக்கத்துடன் சாதி ஆதிக்கமும் வெறியும் இணைந்துகொள்ள அப்பெண்ணின் வயிற்றில் தன் கருவை வளரவிடுவதில்தான் தன் சாதிப்பெருமை அடங்கி இருப்பதாக நம்பும் வன்முறையாளன் பெண்களை பாலியல் வல்லாங்கு செய்கிறான். ஆனால் ஒரு சாதிக் கலவரத்தில், சாதிய வன்முறையில் மட்டும் தலித் பெண்ணின் உடல் தீண்டத்தக்கதாகிவிடுகிறது. அதாவது இந்தியாவில் பார்ப்பனியம் வளர்த்த புனிதம் தீட்டு என்கிற வகைப்பாட்டுக்குள் அடக்கிவிடும் மனித உயிர்களுள் தீட்டு என்று ஒதுக்கிவைக்கப்பட்டவர்களின் சாதியில் பிறந்த பெண்களின் உடல் வன்முறையாய் புணரும்போது களங்கப்படுவதாக ஆதிக்கசாதி ஆண்மனம் எண்ணுகிறது. இதுவரை ஆதிக்கசாதிக்கு மட்டும் தீட்டாயிருந்த பெண்ணுடல் இனி அனைவருக்கும் தீட்டானதாக களங்கப்பட்டதாக மாறிவிடுவதாக அவன் நம்புகிறான். அதற்கான திட்டமே பாலியல் வல்லாங்கு.. சாதிய வன்முறையில் பாலியல் வன்முறை என்பதன் அடிப்படை களங்கப்படுத்தும் நோக்கமே இங்கே பிரதானம். பாலியல் விழைவோ இச்சையோ இரண்டாம்பட்சம்தான். ஆக பெண்ணுடல் இங்கே தன் வேட்கைக்காகவும், சாதிப்பெருமையை பறைசாற்றுவதற்காகவும் சிறுமைப்படுத்தப்படுகிறது. இதுவே கயர்லாஞ்சியில் பிரியங்காவுக்கு நடந்தது. சாதிமோதல், சாதிக்கலவரம் எதுவுமே இல்லாமல் வெறுமனே அதிகாரம் மட்டுமேயானாலும் கூட அதற்கும் தலித் பெண்களின் உடல்கள் இரையாகும் கொடூரத்தின் சாட்சிகளாய் நாம் இருக்கிறோம். வாச்சாத்தியில் பழங்குடியின பெண்களுக்கு நடந்தது என்ன? வனத்துறையும் காவல்துறையும் இணைந்து பெண்ணுடலில் பாலியல் சித்திரவதை செய்தன. அரச அதிகாரம், காக்கிச்சட்டை என்கிற அதிகாரம் என்கிற இரட்டை அதிகாரத்துடன் ஆண் என்கிற அதிகாரமும் இணைய, அதிகாரமில்லாத தலித் பழங்குடியினப் பெண்கள் அச்சப்படுவார்கள் வெளியில் சொல்லமாட்டார்கள், மிரட்டி வைக்கலாம் என்று அவர்களிடம் அத்துமீறி பாலியல் வன்புணர்ச்சிகளுக்குப் பின்னால் சாதியுணர்வு இல்லை என்று சொல்ல முடியாது. இங்கே வன்புணர்ச்சியாளர்களின் சாதிகள் நமக்குத் தெரியாது. ஆனால் நிச்சயம் அவர்கள் பழங்குடியினர் அல்ல. வல்லாங்கு செய்தது அரச அதிகாரம் மட்டுமல்ல, சாதிய மனமும் சேர்ந்துதான்.

What the numbers mean: Data on Violence against Women

There’s been a lot of discussion in the print media over the last couple of weeks about data and statistics on different forms of gender and sexual violence. What numbers are there in India? What do they mean? How can we interpret them? What do they tell us and what do they hide?

In 2011, we organised a seminar to discuss exactly this, inviting representatives from the police, service provider organisations, lawyers, journalists, academics and students, among others. Much has changed in the two years since in terms of public awareness and attitudes towards violence – however, it does appear that little has changed in terms of data-related challenges.

Do read the excerpt from the seminar report below. You can access the full report here.

Making numbers count: The gender violence tally
16 September 2011: Seminar Report
The lack of accurate, accessible, updated and relevant data on gender violence remains a real stumbling block for the many non-profit organisations and governments that grapple with this issue. Why is it so important to have this data, to understand it and to use itproperly? Given that gender and sexual violence get little attention, numbers become essential for ‘flag-waving’, for holding up as evidence, proof, to backup anecdotal evidence. Most of all, good data conveys the urgency of the problem in ways that nothing else can.
For these and other reasons, data on gender violence was the focus of Prajnya’s first full-day research seminar.‘Making numbers count: The gender violence tally” was organised on 16 September 2011 to discuss four dimensions of data collection on gender violence: What are the available sources of data on gender violence in Tamil Nadu? Is all available data good data; indeed, what is good data? What challenges do we face in collecting data on certain specific forms of violence? How can we, through our work as activists, researchers or service providers, help gather high quality data on gender violence?
Also read:
Albeena Shakil in EPW on what the most recent data on rape and honour crimes in India tells us. Rape and Honour Crimes: The NCRB Report 2012, 3 August 2013, EPW.
A comprehensive and accessible infographic on NCRB data from The Hindu. Data busts some myths on sexual violence, 3 September 2013, The Hindu.
Rukmini S in The Hindu on how and why the NCRB undercounts crimes against women. India officially undercounts all crimes including rape, 13 September 2013, The Hindu.
Dilip D’Souza in Livemint on the many questions that official data on sexual violence raises. Report a rape today, 12 September 2013, Livemint.
And finally, Meena Menon in The Hindu on similar data-related challenges that Pakistan faces, in terms of violence against women. Women grapple with violence in Pakistan, 16 September 2013, The Hindu.

What do you do if you have been raped?

Nisha Susan takes a ‘comprehensive look at how Indian women can navigate the first few days after rape’. Read the excerpt below and the full story here (Yahoo India, 2 July 2013).

What do you do if you have been raped?

Despite being warned to expect it all your life, despite all the chatter of the last few months, you probably still don’t know how to deal with sexual assault. A comprehensive look at how Indian women can navigate the first few days after rape.

For many women there comes that odd, jolting moment when you realize you have structured your life around avoiding being raped.

That moment sneaks up on you. Perhaps it’s because you caught yourself thinking twice about sitting down on the footpath. You were tired while waiting for the bus but you thought twice and continued standing, holding your heavy bag. And suddenly it occurred to you that you didn’t want to sit on the footpath because you didn’t want to attract attention, and you didn’t want to attract attention because you didn’t want to be raped. And in that moment the absurdity hit you. It’s as if you had been a man and every sentient particle of your life had been arranged around avoiding being mugged or murdered.

That moment sneaks up on you. The moment passes and you go back to unconsciously arranging your life around avoiding this one crime. Every time you hear footsteps behind you, every time you open your front door, every time you walk through a basement parking lot, every time you turn into a dark street, you wonder – Is this the one? Is this how it’s going to happen? As comedian Ever Mainard says, “The problem is that every woman has that one moment when you think, here’s my rape! This is it. OK, 11:47 pm, how old am I? 25? All right, here’s my rape! It’s like we wait for it, like, what took you so long?”

For some of us – for at least 24,923 documented Indian women in 2012 alone – there has come that other unfortunate, jolting moment when you have been raped.

Three out of four times, you are likely to have been raped by someone familiar, someone familial: your uncle comes to drop off a tiffin box and stays to chase you round the house, breaking everything you try to hide behind, pulling the landline wire out of the wall. Your brother-in-law tries to rape you when you are five months pregnant. Your former husband decides that divorce isn’t quite enough. The sarpanch of your village. Your nephew. Your brother’s friend. Your brother. Your father.

Here is your rape. It has come. And here comes that epiphany. The realization that you have been warned about this moment your whole life but still don’t know what you are supposed to do afterwards.

After December 16, after the gang rape in Delhi, parents across India have clutched harder at their restless daughters. Well-meaning men and women have recited the gruesome details of that gang rape to each other, asking, “Can you imagine anything worse?” Women talk to their friends about how much more scared they are of strangers. A warm fug of paranoia has enveloped us, binding us closer to the homes and neighbourhoods where we apparently need not fear anything.

But here is that moment in that familiar place. You have been raped. Six months of paranoia later – are you kidding me, a lifetime of paranoia later – you still don’t know what you are supposed to do.If you are the kind of person who thinks buying insurance is inviting death or illness, you may not want to read any further. Crippling your life with the fear of rape – you’ve got plenty of that already.

You may choose not to seek justice, to never report the crime, to not discuss it. But if you wish to make a recovery, if you intend to seek justice, if you want to punish the man or men who have raped you, the first 24 hours are the most crucial. Coping with that first day’s procedures will shape the way rape affects your life.

The Case for Criminalising Marital Rape

Last month, the Indian Government passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, as a response to the brutal rape and murder of a young woman in December 2012 and the nation-wide protests triggered by this tragic event. Based on the recommendations of the well-received Justice Verma Committee report, the final amendments adopted by the government have been immensely disappointing, presenting a heavily diluted version of the Justice Verma recommendations, and have attracted domestic and international criticism for squandering the opportunity to make landmark changes to gender violence laws in India. Of the new legislation’s many shortcomings, one of the most troubling is the retention of an exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which states: ‘sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.

What does this statement imply? That a man is incapable of raping his own wife? That non-consensual sex cannot exist in a marriage? Or perhaps it is symptomatic of something much more sinister, which lies at the core of our patriarchal society: the pervasive belief that marriage precludes a woman’s right to consent, stripping her completely of any sexual agency. As the Justice Verma report notes, denying married women their right to consent reduces them to ‘no more than the property of their husbands’. This subjugation of the Indian Wife is conveniently presented in the sanitised guise of ‘protecting the family’, an argument that was repeatedly cited by our elected officials in the parliamentary debates that preceded the passage of the new act. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs that reviewed the Justice Verma recommendations similarly asserted that criminalising marital rape would be nothing less than an ‘injustice’, destroying the very institution of marriage.

Is it really possible our lawmakers do not realise that an abusive marriage is already broken? That protecting the idea of the traditional Indian family is not worth condemning countless women to violence, indignity and shame? Any victim of rape, whether she is single or married, and whether her rapist is a stranger, or her next-door neighbour, or her uncle, or her own husband, has to cope with intense emotional trauma; how can the law then be so discriminatory? When access to good medical and psychological care is already problematic for recognised victims of sexual assault in India, what recourse is available for marital rape survivors?

The other mystifying part of the exception to Section 375 is the assertion that a man can be charged with rape if his wife is under fifteen years of age. To place this in context, the minimum legal age for a woman to marry in India is 18, and the minimum age of consent is also 18 (having been raised by the new legislation from 16, which was primarily done to discourage premarital sex). Taken together, this means that a girl between the ages of 15 and 18 can be legally raped by her husband (in spite of such marriages being illegal, a recent study found that 47% of women in India between the ages of 20 to 24 were married before they turned 18), even though an unmarried girl of the same age has been declared by the law as being incapable of consenting to sex! This implies that the ability to consent is considered irrelevant once a woman is married, for a married woman is assumed to have no right to consent. Somehow, the deep injustice of denying someone her right over her own body continues to be ignored.

While there are some legal options available to a woman in a sexually abusive marriage, they are far from adequate. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, while addressing all possible forms of violence in a marriage, including sexual abuse, is only a civil law, aimed at providing relief and compensation to victims of domestic violence, not bringing perpetrators to justice. The only option for filing a criminal case is through Section 498A of the IPC, which broadly addresses marital ‘cruelty’, defined as causing ‘grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical)’. However, unless sexual assault is accompanied by severe physical injuries or psychological illness, prosecuting marital rape under this legislation is unlikely to be successful. Moreover, Section 498A, which also addresses dowry harassment, has become increasingly controversial, due to allegations of ‘false’ claims; a cursory search online brings up several websites advising the ‘real’ victims, namely husbands and their families, on how to escape the supposed machinations of their ‘wily’ wives. Thus, without the criminalisation of marital rape, women being sexually abused by their husbands have little hope of securing justice.

Some who support the government’s decision to include the marital rape exception in Section 375 argue that proving marital rape would be impossible, making any legislation pointless; after all, they say, a man is expected to have sex with his wife, it would be her word against his on whether it was consensual. Arguments such as this are indicative of a broader misconception: that rapists are always strangers and ‘true’ rape victims would have been virgins at the time of their assault, which is why doctors continue to use outrageous methods such as the ‘two-finger test’ to determine if a rape has occurred, and courts continue to insist on presenting this as evidence. If every hospital were provided with standardised rape kits, which would allow for a more thorough and sophisticated examination, then the challenge of proving sexual abuse, particularly for victims who have suffered long-term trauma (as is often the case with marital rape victims), would be diminished considerably. As part of the new legislation, the Indian Evidence Act was amended to state that a victim’s character or ‘previous sexual experience with any person’ would not be considered relevant in a rape trial. It is hoped that this, along with a recent Supreme Court judgment that called for the end of primitive and degrading ‘virginity tests’ as evidence of rape, will sound the death knell for these humiliating, outdated and ineffective procedures.

Moreover, sexual assault, particularly over a sustained period of time, is often accompanied by other telling signs of abuse. According to the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2005-06, women who have experienced sexual violence by their husbands also face a very high risk of both physical and emotional violence. In such cases, prosecuting the perpetrator for marital rape would not be an insurmountable task. Most importantly, even if a case may be difficult to prove, that is not reason enough to avoid criminalising such a heinous offence, and no woman should be denied due process.

Finally, to those who argue that criminalising marital rape will result in a multitude of ‘false’ cases, as detractors of Section 498A claim: for a victim of sexual assault, the ordeal does not end when she files a complaint against her abuser; her own feelings of shame, guilt and lack of self-worth, and the agony of being physically and emotionally violated are not all she must contend with. From the moment she speaks out, she is subjected to doubt, stigmatisation and even ostracism; at every stage, her motives, credibility and morality are questioned, and she is often forced to undergo a degree of scrutiny that even her abuser does not face. For a woman who is raped by her own husband, the shame is only compounded; the scrutiny only increased. She must face accusations of bringing dishonour to her family, stuck with labels that will follow her throughout her life (‘ungrateful’, ‘frigid’, ‘bad mother’). This climate of hostility towards actual victims is surely enough to dissuade most women from wrongfully accusing their spouses.

The NFHS-3 survey found that nearly one in ten married women in India have been victims of sexual violence by their husbands. Many of these women will choose to keep quiet about their abuse, even if marital rape is criminalised; but by removing the exception to Section 375, these women, at the least, will know that should they find the courage to speak out, they will be ensured some degree of institutional support; and crucially, the choice to speak out will be theirs. It is devastating that instead of giving them this choice, the law has forced them into silence.


1. Aarti Dhar, ‘”Rape law changes welcome, yet an opportunity lost”‘, The Hindu, 2 May 2013,

2. Anahita Mukherji, ‘47% of young Indian women marry before 18’, The Times of India, 10 May 2011,

3. ‘Delhi gang-rape victim dies in hospital in Singapore’, BBC News, 29 December 2012,

4. ‘Frequently Asked Questions on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005’, Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative,

5. Justice J.S. Verma, Justice Leila Seth and Gopal Subramanium, ‘Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law’, 23 January 2013,, pp 113-118.

6. Kanu Sarda, ‘Degrading 2-finger test must end: Supreme Court’, Daily News and Analysis, 23 April 2013,

7. Nilanjana S. Roy,’Our bodies, our selves’, The Hindu, 8 March 2013,

8. ‘One Hundred and Sixty-Seventh Report on the  Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012’, Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, March 2013,, p 47.

9. Piyashree Dasgupta, ‘Live: Lok Sabha passes anti-rape bill, RS votes tomorrow’, Firstpost, 19 March 2013,

10. Sunita Kishor and Kamla Gupta, ‘National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) India, 2005-06: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in India’, August 2009,, pp 95-109.

11. ‘The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013’, 2 April 2013,

Responses to Sexual Assault in Chennai: A Roundtable Discussion

This month’s roundtable discussion featured Prajnya’s first Shakti Fellow, Divya Bhat, who shared her findings from her research on responses to sexual assault in Chennai from a medico-legal perspective. Read the report on our PSW Weblog here.