Consent is key
- Will Nepali society ever fully understand marital rape?
Jan 2, 2019-
On December 21, ‘Routine of Nepal Banda’, a Facebook page with over a million followers, posted about how a man was arrested in Taplejung after his wife accused him of rape. One would assume, or hope, that an issue as serious as marital rape would receive an equally serious reaction. However, the post was met with confusion and humour.
Marital rape is the act of sexual intercourse with one’s spouse without their consent. It is a violation of a person’s rights, which affects the victim both physically and psychologically. In many countries, it is still not recognised by law as rape. The Nepal government, however, has criminalised marital rape. The new Criminal Code considers marital rape a criminal offense. Section 219 (4) states, “If a man rapes his wife when he is still in a marital relationship with her, he shall be sentenced to up to five years in jail.” Nepal has become a member of just 50 countries that have criminalised marital rape.
Despite Nepal having progressed on the legal front, our society itself is lagging behind. Many commentators on the earlier post expressed a lack of understanding of marital rape. One commenter even stated, “Aafnai wife laini rape hunchara?” (Is it possible to rape your wife?) Another commented, “Aafnai bari ko aap khannani napaune?” (Are we not allowed eat the fruit of our own garden?) These comments shed light on how misunderstood marital rape is in Nepal, where conservative and patriarchal norms make it difficult for victims to discuss or even bring up the abuse they have faced at the hands of their spouse.
These comments on the Facebook post reflect not just a misunderstanding of marital rape, but also of consent. Sexual consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Consent must be informed, enthusiastic and constantly renewed. Before being sexual with someone, you need to know if they want to be sexual with you. It is a person’s right to choose and we must respect this right. Being married doesn’t automatically give you the power to control your spouse and their choices. It is crucial that we understand that only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’, anything outside of this explicit consent is rape. These rules apply everywhere, even within marriage.
It is important to understand that marital rape is a form of sexual violence. It may be confusing to many who believe that by agreeing to marriage, one is giving lifelong consent, where it may seem as though consent is blurred in any long-term relationship. However, just because your spouse said ‘yes’ to marriage doesn’t mean you never have to ask again. According to Planned Parenthood, “Consenting is a choice made without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” Without consent, any sexual activity is rape.
In Nepal, spouses who have been raped by their significant others are reluctant to seek justice. One of the main reasons for spouses becoming less vocal about marital rape is because it directly impacts the ‘prestige’ of the family.
Victims risk their lives and have so much at stake by speaking out. Instead of offering support, we see people joking about the entire matter, trivialising and invalidating these traumatic experiences just because they cannot comprehend or understand it. In some comments on the Facebook post, people actually thought that the woman had had an affair with the police officer and then falsely accused the husband.
There are a few organisations that deal with cases of marital rape and provide shelter to women. Marital rape should not be at the receiving end of a joke. It is an issue that requires a penalty. As a society, we need to provide support to victims and spread awareness about marital rape, so that if a case of marital rape is reported, it isn’t posted on a Facebook meme page for comical purposes. We need to actively aid the victim and call out the perpetrators instead.
- Rajbhandary is a first-year International Baccalaureate student at Ullens School
Published: 02-01-2019 08:04