Karnataka HC in its recent judgment on marital rape took a progressive detour and a much needed affirmative reorientation in the legal system’s engagement on marital rape, while hearing the case of a petition filed by a man for dropping of rape charges levelled up on him by his wife. Karnataka HC’s stance is paradigmatic, given that the India Penal Code legalises non-consensual sexual intercourse between a married man and a woman aged over 15 years, via the Exception 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code.
This judgment comes at a crucial time when the country is actively debating on the question of legal framework w.r.t marital rape and High Courts stand divided upon the issue, as was the case with the Kerala HC and Odisha HC’s judgement.
It is worth quoting, Karnataka HC’s comment on the case, “A man is a man; an act is an act; rape is a rape, be it performed by a man the ‘husband’ on the woman ‘wife’… The “age-old…regressive” thought that “husbands are the rulers of their wives, their body, mind and soul should be effaced. ”
Re-read the quotation, the onus of violence is placed on the actor, the man. He is the central figure in this narration of violation and is very much visible to it. The person who is violated is recognised and is central to the narrative as a survivor with dignified, legal individuality and whose bodily autonomy is accepted. In the recognition of the woman as the recipient of violence and oppression, the court’s use of words does not place the woman as central to this violent transaction and neither does it, in calling out the perpetrator, invisibilise the full extent of his action. This is an ideal linguistic portrayal of a violent transaction.
Unfortunately, the mainstream media does not take away or learn much from judiciary’s wisdom. Consequently, we are stuck with the same stock images of sexual violence, on behalf of mainstream media without any introspection on them. This stands true for the coverage of Karnataka HC judgement on marital rape too. That such reductive, agency-denying and traumatising images continue to accompany a reclamatory judgment such as the one by Karnataka HC is painful. On top of this, often the stock photos put to use by these media houses carry an element of titillating a heinous and traumatising crime.
So here is a 4-Pointer on traversing trauma and being a victim, from the mainstream media.
A Passive Representation Of The Woman As The Helpless Victim Who Doesn’t Resist
Be a good woman. You know, the Sati-Savitri type. Manu has already proclaimed you to be your husband’s property. We are only reinforcing what he said, visually. And as far as this choking you is concerned, speaking from experience, when any man or woman is choked, they got to accept it without resistance or attacking their perpetrator. So cry, silently. Be the docile, meek, powerless woman, as we have conditioned you to be.
The Focus Continues To Be On The Survivor
Here is the thing, you were assaulted, “allegedly” , so clearly, we do not know there was an assaulter. And since it is important to not call someone guilty before their guilt is proven (you know, law and all), so we are going to use a representative image where you are the focus and your perpetrator lurks in the shadows. So while we write, Hang the Rapist, we will sell your guilt and shame, for what else must you possibly feel?
Scandal Sells, And We Are In The Business For Selling
We clearly do not care about the social and psychological trauma that you are undergoing. But we definitely plan to pay lip service to it, so we are going to write an article about it. But to sell it, we are gonna add an ambiguous picture which may or may not be depictive of assault, but seems to carry a degree of titillation, and that is essential when it comes to selling it to the masses. Sorry, but Not Sorry.
And if everything fails, we will remind you marriage is divinely ordained.
While we know of a myriad of ways to remind you, placate you and educate you on your duties as the ideal woman and wife, if nothing really gets to you, we will remind you that marriage is a divinely ordained ritual. And whatever the feminist types may tell you, rituals such as marriage that bear the witness of God are real. So, please don’t bring your liberalism and wokeness to the sanctity of this institution, particularly, if heaven is where you are planning on getting a ticket to, because, after all, pati is parmeshwar.