top of page

The Long-Lasting Battle for Autonomy

The Delhi High Court is hearing a challenge to a provision in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that will change women's lives in India— marital rape immunity. Since January 7, the two-judge bench has been hearing multiple petitions demanding that marital rape be criminalised. Currently, Section 375 of the IPC states that any sexual act by a man against a woman’s consent is rape. However, there are certain exceptions to this law, one of which being:

Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under eighteen years of age, is not rape.

Thereby, if a man dismisses his wife’s refusal and has sexual intercourse with her, he cannot be punished for that. A woman could file a case, according to Delhi High Court, on the grounds of cruelty or initiate a divorce. However, the fact that marital rape is still not exclusively criminalised is a serious concern for women. Until no law helps them distinguish between right and wrong, women will continue to stomach abuse in the name of marital relations.

Marital rape needs to be criminalized
Marital rape needs to be criminalized

Women will continue to feel they are obligated to provide for their husbands— whatever that provision may be. Men turn a deaf ear to their wives’ pleas and subject them to forceful penetration when they are menstruating, pregnant or physically and mentally fatigued. Some women had to bite down their tongues when their inebriated better-halves staggered inside after a tough day at work and pinned them to submission. Despite these nights etched in their memory, women refuse to blame their husbands. They vehemently shake their head— with a curl of lips that could only denote a twisted pride— marvel over their husband’s angel-akin decency. They never recognize that ignorance of refusal is abuse. As the wife, they believe they are obligated to ensure the man lets off steam, even at the cost of tainting them with trauma.

They never recognize that ignorance of refusal is abuse.

This belief runs deep in their minds and can be traced back to an archaic doctrine of coverture. This doctrine stated that a woman’s legal rights and obligations were automatically in her husband’s control. This notion originated from the concept that a man and his wife were one person, and therefore, the legal rights and freedom could only be exercised by one person. The thought may be archaic but is shared by men even today. After the news of the case being heard spread, men dashed to Twitter to trend a hashtag, #MarriageStrike. A glance at the 60 thousand-odd tweets under the hashtag would make the narrative they are expressing very clear— who wants to get married if women have the power?

Women do not have autonomy over their body or choices.
Women do not have autonomy over their body or choices.

What they are doing is not new, however. For far too long, some women have been fighting for autonomy for all women. It may be property rights at one point or the right to education and work at some other point in history. Causes may change but men’s reactions will always remain the same. They will weep and mope about how their standing in society is being threatened because dare a woman get the same rights as him. Dare a woman to be her person with her ambitions and interests rather than the shadow he wants her to be. Every time in history, when a woman is about to achieve a semblance of autonomy that is very easily granted to her male counterparts, men have always acted like the world is going to end.

Women cannot choose their college. They cannot choose the clothes they wear (society chooses them). They cannot choose what age they wish to get married, or if they even wish to get married. They cannot choose who they get married to, lest when she has to deliver children. Women cannot even choose whether they wish to deliver children or wish to adopt.

All their life, autonomy over choices that shape their life, have been taken away from them. Here, the Delhi High Court hearing is one chance for this long-lasting battle for autonomy to end. Yet, naysayers still keep her shackled, tearing her golden ticket to peace in pieces.