With Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders as the champions of Hindus, the majority community does not need any detractors. At least, the government’s refusal to criminalize marital rape suggests that.
In a written reply to a question by Kanimozhi of DMK in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said, “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.”
To begin with, the government response is reminiscent of the disgraceful remark made by an alleged Commonwealth Games scamster that Indians have different standards of hygiene. The BJP has taken the different-standards argument to the next level.
Further, one fails to understand what does the criminalization or decriminalization of an act has anything to do with poverty or illiteracy. Are no poor and illiterate people prosecuted if they are accused of a crime?
Nor do “myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs” have a bearing on the legality of an action. Untouchability, other caste-based discriminations, suttee, and other social evils did enjoy the sanction of religion or custom, but that did not stop the founding fathers of the Indian Republic from embracing such concepts as liberty, equality, and justice. The Preamble of the Constitution pledges to secure “justice, social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; and equality of status and of opportunity…”
In fact, the government’s stand is contradictory not only because it militates against the imperatives of modernity but also because it violates the very conservative position it pretends to adopt. The government rightly pointed out that Indian society treats marriage as a “sacrament.” Merriam-Webster defines ‘sacrament’ as ‘an important Christian ceremony (such as baptism or marriage).’ Specifically, it is “a Christian rite (as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.”
In short, a sacrament is an important religious ceremony. In a Hindu wedding, the groom takes several vows: “From today, I will consider my wife as ardhangini (the other half of my persona). I will merge my existence with hers, and take care of her as I take care of the parts of my own body”; “I bestow the right of ghrihalaxmi (lady of the house) and respect her counsel”; “I pledge that I will regard her as my friend and I will love her”; long is the list of vows that the groom takes.
And the vows taken by both the groom as well as the bride are in full solemnity. So, if a man forces himself on his wife for sexual gratification, thus ignoring her physical discomfort and/or mental state, he is reneging on his vow religiously taken; he is indulging in an act that violates his own dharma as a husband and as a man; and he is also violating Hindu dharma. Quite apart from being a criminal, he is also a sinner. To protect such a man in the name of religious beliefs, customs, and values is to engage in an act akin to that of a snake that, to quell its hunger, starts devouring its own tail; to condone the actions of such a man is to undermine and degrade everything the Indian civilization stands for.
The BJP seems infested with people who are ignorant of Hindu ethos; either they don’t know the story or the significance of the story of the birth of Ganesh. According to the Shiva Purana, once Goddess Parvati, before going to take a bath, ordered Nandi, Shiva’s Bull, to guard the door. But when Lord Shiva came, he could not stop him. This infuriated Parvati. That is why she created her son, Ganesh, using the turmeric paste (used in bathing) from her body and breathing life into it. The rest of the story, how Shiva beheaded him while he was guarding the door and got an elephant’s head as a replacement, is quite well-known.
The moral of the story is that the husband does not have a licence to intrude into his wife’s space. This is not to say that Hindu India was absolutely egalitarian or that there was gender equality; after all, Draupadi was sold as a possession of her husband Yudhishthhar; but the myth of the birth of Ganesh does underline the fact that the concept of a woman’s privacy, which was beyond the reach of even her husband, did exist in Hindu society.
It is depressing that the party which claims to be the votary of the Hindu cause adopts a stance which is retrograde, anti-women, illiberal, and anti-Hindu.