Suffering in silence

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Much noise has been created around a new bill in Indian Parliament that holds much promise for making a difference to the much neglected Indian woman, with the Domestic Violence Bill.

But the reality is it is woefully inadequate in addressing the core problem of millions of Indian women.The reality of Indian women is far from enviable and fraught with silent suffering that shows no sign of reprieve. For generations the oft-quoted statement has been that the place of the Indian woman is her home and yet it is in this very environment that some of the most grievous atrocities are committed against her, day in and night out. The concept of human rights, leave alone the rights of women today, has been an abject failure in scratching the surface where the fate of Indian women is concerned. Untold miseries and brutal abuse is heaped on her endlessly, with no sign of relief.

Not surprisingly, it is the husbands who are guilty of subjecting their wives to unspeakable acts of oppression without so much as the slightest remorse. In India even in this day and age of women’s emancipation and equal rights for women, the right of a woman to refuse sex with her husband is completely unheard of. A survey of villages in Uttar Pradesh by an NGO revealed findings that as far as the rights of Indian women are concerned, we might as well still be living in the Dark Ages.

The survey findings revealed that of the 115 women covered, 68% admitted to being forced to have sex by their husbands. Only 30% were able to avoid being subjected to their husbands’ sexual whims. A majority of the women were married while they were still minors with no knowledge about sex.

In a similar survey in a Delhi slum, 77% suffered torture for refusing their husbands’ sexual demands. However only 9% of men were willing to admit being guilty of this crime.

In the USA, a survey estimated that 10 to 14% of women are victims of marital rape with 25% of all rape cases coming under the category of marital rape. It was only in 1993 that an amendment in the law put an end to the common belief that a husband had sexual rights in a marriage. Nevertheless only 17 of the 50 states in the US have adopted the law against rape in marriages, with the remaining 33 states continuing to grant the men the age-old tradition of subjecting their wives to their sexual demands.

The situation in England was hardly any different with 1 out of every 8 women being a victim of marital rape. In 1995 the House of Lords made marital rape illegal. Canada, Australia and New Zealand followed suit with Mexico and even India’s neighbours Nepal and Sri Lanka doing the same. Today there are merely 15 nations across the globe which have taken this initiative.

In the Indian context, the UPA govt brought out the Domestic Violence Bill to protect women against husbands and other male members of the household from inflicting physical and mental abuse. Tragically, the Bill stops just short of touching upon the issue of marital rape. The implication is thus, that Indian wives are doomed to continue suffering sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands with nobody to turn to for help.