Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Understanding Marital Rape from the Indian Cultural Perspective

Maharashtrian married women routinely use "Murdya" or "Melya" (meaning a dead man, a corpse) for referring to their husbands. For instance, if a man is demanding sex and a woman decides to yield, she may say something like, "Ghe re melya" or "Ghe re murdya" (Take it, you dead man). It's a derogatory word, but generally acceptable, and men don't react to it very badly.
Having such a vocabulary makes it easier for a woman to deal with her husband's pressure to have sex. By routinely referring her husband in the third person as "melya", she reconciles to a man's more frequent need for sexual activity as something that is part of his nature. She may not like it, but she resigns herself to it. She does not take it personally when he forces himself on her, any more than she would feel violated by, say, a child that insisted on suckling.
The question of "marital rape" does not arise in this cultural context, even if her husband takes her by force.
In most Indian languages, "Izzat Lootna" is the term for rape. Literally, it means, "robbing respectability". So, when a stranger violates the modesty of a woman ( by molesting her, and not necessarily with penetrative sex), she says that "usne mera izzat loota". But she does not use the same phrase when her husband has his way with her, with or without her consent. The idea of saying "Mere pati ne mera izzat loota" (My husband robbed my respectability) is alien and laughable. Because no matter what her husband does, she (his wife) has no "respectability" to hide or withhold from him. Her respectability is not enhanced by withholding sex from him, and is not degraded by engaging in any sexual activity with him. Their sexual activity is their private matter, and it usually does not spill over into public domain.
Another term used for rape is "zor-zabardasti" which basically means, "use of physical force". A wife may say, "Mere pati ne mere saath zor-zabardasti kiya" (My husband took me by force.
"Zor-zabardasti" also does not have the taint of dishonour if done by the husband. A woman is not considered dishonoured or violated if her husband does zor-zabardasti with her. A man may lose face in society if his wife insists in telling the world that he does zor-zabardasti with her, but it would not be considered a criminal offense. Unless the man is particularly brutal and beats her up very badly, even the police would not consider registering a criminal complaint. Zor-zabardasti is within the "tolerable range of behaviour"; Indian society thinks that this is normal between a man and his wife, even if it frowns on it with some disapproval.
The idea of "Marital Rape" arises from a western and modern cultural outlook -- an outlook built on the assumption that a married woman is first and foremost an individual, and then a wife. A woman's personal autonomy is given more value than her marriage. If her personal autonomy is violated, her friends and well-wishers advise her to leave the marriage. This is culturally alien to us in India.
On the other hand, our Indian cultural outlook is that a married woman is primarily a wife, and then, secondly, an individual. Her social standing comes from being Mrs. So-and-so. To those of us who swear by the western or "modern" way of thought, this may seem like an ancient, outdated or even regressive way of thinking. But please remember, the institution of marriage is ancient, and some may argue, outdated. Are we are willing to dump this institution and move into a brave new world?
If you want a glimpse of the brave new world proposed by the people who are giving us this "Marital Rape" concept, please read about Brangelinahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brangelina
Brangelina is (are?) an embodiment of all the "modern and progressive" cultural values that are packaged with concepts like Marital Rape. Think about whether you and I want to be a Brangelina.
Please remember, our vocabulary shapes our language, thoughts and behaviour. Ultimately, our vocabulary shapes society. When a new catch-phrase is introduced into popular language, it cuts a new channel in our collective mind, and thoughts begin to flow in that channel, making the channel deeper and broader. And then because of these thoughts, our actions change. And when a lot of people change their actions, our civilization itself changes for better or for worse.

No comments:

Post a Comment