Marital rape is legal in India, and it appears that it will continue to remain legal for a man to sexually assault his wife in this country, as the Centre appears to uphold regressive logic about the same despite ongoing efforts to criminalise. “Family issues”, “the dignity of a woman” and other such phrases have been used by the Centre as it buys more time from the Delhi High Court on a batch of related petitions that challenge existing law. Just prior to this development, the hashtag #MaritalStrike was trending online. The hashtag was used by men to declare that they would not get married if marital rape became a crime in India. A modern Lysistrata perhaps, but in reverse – where the protestors of the Greek play withheld sex on a pro-peace principle, these keyboard anti-heroes are decidedly pro-violence (and quite exaggerate their own desirability).
Well, good riddance, yes. Indian society could only benefit if those would-be-rapists took themselves out of the matrimonial market and out of the gene pool too. But if only they could be taken at their word (or rather, their confession).
Months ago, I wrote in this column about Línea Calma, a Colombian hotline that supports men struggling with aspects of toxic masculinity. This brilliant initiative centres men’s responsibility in reducing harm. I wrote that no comparable Indian hotline exists, whereas misogynistic ones that claim to uphold the institution of family by supporting men with abuse cases lodged against them do. Several angry messages came my way after that piece was published, from Indian misogynists threatened by the fact that men in other countries were actively fighting patriarchy (and that a woman writing in an Indian newspaper drew more people’s attention to how poorly the Indian situation compared). No surprise then that the same anti-feminist network is behind #MaritalStrike. In a predictable move, they have since banned women from their organisation. Women with internalised misogyny issues who support anti-feminist men (they call themselves “men’s rights activists”, a misnomer) are no longer welcome in that circle.
Many have laughed these people off. I would like to as well, but can’t. I don’t think it’s funny that many of the would-be-rapists who have participated in #MaritalStrike will likely be married off by their families soon enough. They will marry women who will be raped. They’ve already declared, in public, that this is so important to them that they would rather not marry at all if their partner’s consent matters.
What would be amazing, though off-script for Indian patriarchy in the best way possible, is if participation in #MaritalStrike actually leads to engagements falling through. If families of prospective brides realise that the proposals on their hands are from would-be-rapists, and decline them. If families of would-be-rapists realise that their sons are menaces, and that they would be complicit in violence and abuse if they knowingly get them married – and don’t. Imagine it: the humiliating “Does she know how to sing?” at a bride-viewing being replaced by a “What are his/your views on #MaritalStrike?” instead. Just asking the question becomes a form of violence prevention – and if the law evolves sensibly, crime prevention too.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in January 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.