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Home > News> Opinion > Let’s say it again: marital rape is not about sex

Let’s say it again: marital rape is not about sex

Women are raped not because they have refused to consent to sex. It is because the world would prefer that women do not ever think they have the right to consent to anything

Rape is when a man sees your body as the chink in your armour. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
Rape is when a man sees your body as the chink in your armour. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

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It’s an odd feeling to watch people in favour of a law against marital rape (after recent petitions in the Delhi high court) also talking about rape as if it is about sex. The violence within intimate relationships, we should all know, is a dark rainbow of colours. We should all know. We do all know.

Does anyone really think that if a bishop rapes a young nun, it is because of a pressure in his unholy loins? Does anyone think that if a movie star organises the sexual assault of a colleague in a car and makes sure it is taped, it is because he was overcome by her hotness? Let’s say it again, as feminists have been saying for decades, rape has nothing to do with sex. Marital rape too has nothing to do with sex.

The scenario laid out with shocking irresponsibility by those against such a law, and even some in favour of it, is as if the moment of consent is all that’s being contested. It is as if a man and a woman are watching TV together, smiling, eating chips, and the man feels horny and makes a move and his smiling wife says, not tonight, darling. And he asks a couple of times more and then, when she says no, he forces sex on her. In this scenario, it is only a variation on the evening where he had been eating chips and had offered it over and over to his wife. She said no many times, so he stuffed the chips in her face. No harm, no foul. It’s only chips. It is only sex.

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Rape is not the sex you have when you are not quite in the mood but you take one for the team—a familiar situation for men and women. Rape is when a man sees your body as the chink in your armour.

When you have learnt to keep your face calm, smile frequently, listen like a dog to signals inaudible to human ears, remember to make phulkas, remember to pay Airtel, and sometimes you get hit anyway, get your hair pulled anyway, get pushed to the wall anyway. And sometimes the person pushing you, pulling your hair, hitting your head, punching your stomach, has not had enough of your crying, enough of your attempts to not cry, enough of your anger. Sometimes then they rape you.

It is not because they have not had enough of sex. It is because they have not had enough of your pain. You may have sent your soul to live in a parrot on a faraway island but when the man you are married to (or let’s be real, living with because why pay rent in two places) realises he can have his fill of your humiliation by raping you. When you are raped, he hopes the parrot will return and flutter and flap ineffectively.

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Over and over again, men have this epiphany—that the right response to How Dare She is Let’s Rape Her. Because in that humiliation they hope and long to re-establish their equilibrium, their sense of the rightness of the world. And when through the configuration of the stars, a woman refuses even in that moment to be beaten down by the men who have tried to break her physically, the world steps in to assist.

I must admit to having been astonished by the particular vileness that actor Dileep was accused of—of having hired someone to assault his colleague and tape it (and as recent reports suggest, enable group viewings of the assault later). Every now and then I would shake my head and think, did that man really hire a person called Pulsar Suni to assault a woman? A “quotation” rape. Nowadays, though, I am inclined to think that the world in general is available for “quotation” rape.

The hands and teeth and nails and penis of the rapist on hire are puny in comparison to the whole system of quotation rapists available to orchestrate the sexual humiliation of women. The system is available to deny them college if they wear a hijab, put them on auction sites if they don’t, ask about a mysterious third nipple in court, tell them their noes are weak, tell them they have no right to walk to school.

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Yes, women often don’t seek help from institutions—family, police, courts—for well-demonstrated reasons. A woman who has been beaten by someone at home, raped at home, has to make the most difficult reckoning of all. What is the implication of telling the world how little she is valued, how much contempt she is held in, what cruelty has come her way? To tell this story is to open yourself for more contempt and cruelty, women instinctively know in a world obsessed with status reproduction. This is what can break you.

And when women refuse to be broken, when they tell each other about the attempts to break them, when they say over and over again that their bodies will not be the chinks in their armour, it is as if the whole world decides to get right on that Biblical quotation.

Feminist lawyers in India have argued that it is not the lack of an actual law against marital rape that is denying women protection. After all we have plenty of laws against women being beaten, starved or burnt. Over and over again, feminists say rape has nothing to do with sex. Over and over again, people cover their ears and sing lalalala or, as in the case of one police officer, talk as if such a law would ensure his bank OTP is being stolen daily by ladies with laws.

Also read: How important is sex in a marriage?

Women are raped not because they have refused to consent to sex. It is because the world would prefer that women do not ever think they have the right to consent to anything—even chips. Because if we remembered, if we were taught that we can say no, where would you all be? If we were not spending all our time smiling, making phulkas and listening for the flapping wings of doom, we would be plotting your doom. And then where would you be?

Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    21.01.2022 | 07:30 AM IST

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