Below The Belt
Dark truths of sex behind closed doors in India
Exposing the shame and abuse women face on a day-to-day basis.
- Total Shares
I was in Kolkata when the December 16/12 rape case happened two years ago. I was asked to blog about it by a leading newswire. I couldn’t stop watching television, not wanting to miss out on any new development. Every channel kept saying the same thing. The candles. The countless protest marches. The defiant sloganeering. The shaming of the capital where I lived. The darkness in my own sex, in my fashion. Social media erupting with pictures and pages dedicated to who we had become – a nation that worships its Goddesses, but mistreats its own women. A country of faceless victims. The anger. The angst. The absolution. That we gave into. That still resurfaces with a vengeance, every time another shameful violation happens. Somewhere. When another man forces himself on a woman. Gagging her voice. Suffocating the progress we thought we had made. Mocking our defenses. The gaping holes in our safety system. Holding up her thighs. Staring into a silent darkness that is centuries old. Our womb that has been plundered and plagiarised. That used to be able to talk… once.
"He used to tie my hands to the bedpost, and hit me with a leather belt, asking me to touch his organ. With my tongue. If I stopped, the times I gagged… he’d kick me hard. Saying he was close. His eyes fearful. I was eight months pregnant, when he insisted on doing it from the rear. Videotaping the same. I tried to protest, but he beat me severely. It’s like hearing me howl gave him a great deal of pleasure. He would often masturbate as I lay whimpering on the side of the bed. I miscarried. Almost bleeding to death. I have been married for eight years. It was an arranged marriage. I was raped on my wedding night. It has never stopped. My family is not so well off. Besides, how can I explain that in the darkness of a woman’s bedroom, she is the most vulnerable. I am always alone. I wanted to die, after my second miscarriage. We have a daughter. What do I tell her? Who is he? What kind of a woman am I? A wife? A whore?"
"It first started as verbal arguments. We were in the same tuition classes for our MBA. Once, I remember he slapped me in a public place, calling me a 'whore', when I took a call from my own brother. He was always suspicious, used to throwing temper tantrums. Screaming at me. Pulling my hair. Every time we had a fight, I was mortally afraid. What if he stabbed me or something, threw acid on my face, I thought the times I wanted to break free, not taking his calls. He’d appear outside my doorstep; howling, repentant… it was an act. He can never change. I may never be able to leave him. We’ve had sex. What if he blackmails me, later, like they show in these serials and stuff? What will people say about my character? Will I ever get married? Will my husband also ill treat me? What if every woman is not strong… if she has failed… fallen, more, more than once…"
"He was desperate for sex. I said I am not ready. I said I was scared. He laughed. Called me a prude, asking me if I was virgin? Saying it wasn’t possible… I couldn’t look up. I made some excuse again… I mean what if he had seen it? The fear… the way my stepfather used to sense that I was scared, asking me to unzip him. Touching me. I was dirty. Everything felt dirty after that night. It was the first time a man had seen me naked. I can never forget how it felt. The way my mother asked me to shut up. To stop crying. Saying that it wasn’t going to be easy for us to get away. Was she my enemy? Or him? Was my body just for men to use and throw? What if I didn’t want to have sex? What if I am still a ten-year-old child… what if we are always alone? Somewhere…."
Under the Indian Penal Code, marital rape is not covered by the ordinary rape laws and is a form of non-criminal domestic violence. Also, according to IPC Section 375 which says that sexual intercourse or sexual acts by man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape; in fact exempts spouses from prosecution except in cases of legal separation. Some cases, however, are in fact covered by the ordinary laws relating to assault and unnatural sex/ sodomy as in the present case, for use of violence to claim sex is clearly not acceptable. In May, this year, a judge officially confirmed that rape laws don’t pertain to married couples — once you’re legally wed, forced sex is no longer a crime. The judge in question, Virender Bhat, was hearing a particular case in which a woman had alleged she had been drugged, then forced to marry, and then raped — in other words, she hadn’t consented to the marriage or the sex. Bhat said there was no evidence that the accuser had been drugged, but he also said that if the woman’s husband (identified only as Vikash) had forced himself on her, that wouldn’t qualify as rape under Indian law. The official verdict said – "The prosecutrix (the wife) and the accused (Vikash) being legally wedded husband and wife, and the prosecutrix being major, the sexual intercourse between the two, even if forcible, is not rape and no culpability can be fastened upon the accused."
According to a recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund India, India ranks the highest in the list of countries where adolescent girls are subjected to sexual violence by an intimate partner. The study ironically titled "Hidden in Plain Sight", says 77 per cent of girls between 15 to 19 years in India have suffered sexual violence at least once in the form of forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts by their husband or partner.
What’s further shocking is that 41 per cent reported physical violence by their mothers/stepmothers while 18 per cent were abused by fathers or stepfathers. Brother and sisters were the perpetrators in 25 per cent cases. Most adolescent girls who are victims of sexual violence also report physical abuse and, in India, that number stands between ten to 20 per cent. The report also says that among married girls who experienced physical violence since age 15, a current or a former partner was cited most often in all of the countries. The proportion is more than 70 per cent in India. Women who were not married were most likely to report physical violence at the hands of family members, friends/acquaintances and teachers.
"I was raped by an upper caste man. In my own village. It is very common in UP where I hail from. The village Panchayat did not do anything. We are not allowed to drink water from their wells actually. I was 14. I was menstruating…it was the peak of summer. I took only one sip. I didn’t see him coming. He was much older. He said this was a punishment for our sect. That he wanted to teach a lesson… to me. I never went to the police. They are all the same. The law hardly protects the poor. It is our lot, my father tells me. It’s why I was sent away to work as a maid… far away from the village… the elders thought it best…"
In May this year, international media was agog with stories from India of violence against women, particularly the village of Badaun, in UP where two women, aged 14 and 15, were raped, murdered, their dead bodies, hung from a mango tree. The families of the girls alleged that the local police did not file any complaint as the victims belonged to a low caste, and the perpetrators were from a higher caste. The Central Bureau of Investigation recently filed a closure report in the death of the two teenage cousins in Badaun in western Uttar Pradesh, ruling out murder and rape and concluding that it was a case of suicide.
The agency filed its report before special judge Anil Kumar in Badaun claiming there was no forensic or circumstantial evidence suggesting rape and murder as alleged in the FIR registered by Uttar Pradesh Police after the girls’ corpses were found hanging from a tree in May.
Whose stories are these? Which woman are you, really? What if rape is not the only kind of sexual violence there is? What if every woman at some point in her life is violated? What if the man attacking her is the one she choses? Or is scared to run away from? What if we tell her to suffer in silence? Saying she must attain Sitahood at all costs? That it is what her womanhood is worth?
What did Nirbhaya’s death mean?
What if she had lived?
(The stories featured in the article are culled from the interviews the author has conducted with the many nameless women of the country during her research.)