Consent or Culture: The Film Industry Redefining Marital Rape
The proactively vocal society we live in today has probably its most deeply rooted issues in the crimes against one significant half of the population, i.e. women. Domestic violence in the country is not a new concept, nor has it transformed in any dimensions. These crimes are still mainly confined to women, with about 70% of them being victims. One of the incarnations of such violence is Marital Rape, an act of forcible sex with one’s spouse. It is understood in the Indian culture that marriage is a license for the husband to have sex with his wife, even if it means to be without her consent. The more considerable irony is that there is no concept of consensual sex in most marriages in India. With its impeachment in most countries globally, India joins the club of the 36 countries that have not criminalized marital rape yet.
The Problematic Portrayal
In the realm of this issue, one of the expressions of society, Art, has played an essential role in shaping the destiny of the victims of this felony. The Indian Film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, has been producing films around societal issues for ages, yet the surface of marital rape seems untouched. On the contrary, there are movies that directly or indirectly normalize marital rape. One such agony is Ashok Gaikwad’s Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat. The film plots a girl as the central character who is raped by a man just because he slapped him. When the case reached the jambs of justice, the Court, in return, ordered the rapist to marry the girl.
The problematic part is that the movie does not portray this judgment as disturbing and should be challenged; instead, the focus has been on what follows the judgment. The girl endlessly struggles to sustain in the marriage, which is a humiliating compromise on her part. Whether the movie will be called an eye-opener that highlighted marital rape as an issue in the 90s itself, or should it be better regarded as a mental agony that normalized rape. The message’s implication can be reiterated as if a man wishes to marry a girl who denies his request; he can rape her and obtain an injunction against himself to marry the girl. This statement might seem an exaggerated version of what has been portrayed in the movie, but a thoughtful inspection of the message explains that the intention was no different.
The Provoked Stance
While there is sexism and appraisal for marital rape on one side of the track, there is a ray of hope on the other side of the parallel track. Influential women-centric films like Parched, Provoked, and Saat Khoon Maaf can be attributed with the tag of real thunderclaps, which highlighted the issue and explicitly described it as a punishable wrong.
Parched portrays the life of three women oppressed in different ways by the men, sexually assaulted, physically abused, and mentally pestered. However, the trio of friends leaves on a freedom ride eventually, after one of these friends accidentally sets her battering husband on fire, the other friend had to sell her hut, and the third friend leaves her job as a bar dancer.
In the movie Provoked, which has been derived from a real-life case, the husband molested her wife in every way possible, from rubbing cigarette buts on her skin to battering her soul out of her body. Her marriage was more of a compromise than a relationship between a husband and wife. After years of suffering, when her husband was sleeping one day, she set him on fire, ultimately resulting in death. Initially sentenced to life imprisonment, the wife appealed in the higher Court and was eventually released of the charges. Her release from the prison spreads out a powerful message that how she reacted to her sufferings was not wrong in the eyes of the law. The essence of the film is in the reflection that a woman is not obliged to suffer in marriage, whatsoever be the situation.
The lack of a properly framed statute against the heinous crime is a topic of introspection for society, essentially the country’s judiciary. However, the common perception around an issue is often built by the artists of a society. The Indian Film Industry, accused of the disgraceful representation of the problem, later realized the fallacy and has evolved accordingly to deliver promising movies like Parched and Provoked. As an audience, and more importantly as a member of a responsible society, now the onus is on us to encourage the effort to ensure that the issue is not forgotten before the competent authorities address it.