In this post, part four of my ongoing series of blogs on sexual violence in India (read parts one, two, and three), i intend to discuss that tool of everyday violence and opression – sexual and otherwise – perpetrated on a majority of indian women, everyday – the great Indian marriage.
We live in a country where marriage is as much of a fact of life... for everyone … as growing up, growing body hair, feeling hunger/cold/heat, death and so on. We dont have a concept of choosing not to get married because everyone must. Neither do we, as a rule, have a concept of choosing who we marry (beyond a pretend selection among candidates vetted and put forward by parents, and even there the boys get a far better say than girls). So, we live in a society where as women, we are mentally prepared from day one – practically from the cradle onwards - to be compulsorily and without choice married off to a total stranger, and expected to fulfil our conjugal duties (read provide sex).
We are also a patrilocal society, where the new bride is expected to move in with her husband's entire family, and basically act as an unpaid maid-of-all-works for every member. She is also expected to dissolve whatever values, learning, personality she has manage to acquire at her parents' home, (often in spite of efforts to make her a blank slate) and totally reformulate her entire being in the mold of her in-laws. Basically, she is the lowest ranked member of the new household, with no rights, no voice, no one to fall back on, and only a long list of DUTIES and expectations to live up to. One foot wrong, one failing, one 'flaw' and not only does she stand to be persecuted, screamed at, even hit, her parents, their values, and their very 'culture' will come into question. Often, they will be called up to be insulted.
Into this witches' brew of seething turmoil, add the worst two ingredients. A lifelong training to grin and bear anything the husband does to her, and an almost total absence of any kind of knowledge about sex on the part of both partners, complicated by far by a huge set of myths and misconceptions on part of the man. My own personal experiences as a counsellor for sexual health, online and offline, for almost 20 years now, keeps reasserting to my mind how little we- as Indians – know of basic human sexuality, and how many wrong and dangerous notions we have.
For women, the extreme taboo surrounding not just anything sexual but anything physical means that they are often unaware of basic hygiene and health related to their own bodies. Menstruation, puberty, various discomforts and discharges, these are not just mysteries, they are things to be ahsamed of and ignored, often to the point of illness, and never to ask about or get a straight answer about. As for the male anatomy or the actual sex act, they know only what they can glean from vague but thrilling whispers overheard when the married women get together, and the suggestive jokes they are pelted with around the time of their wedding, both sources being useless as a way to learn anything meaningful and often filling their heads with dangerous notions and fear.
In the case of the men, the situation is far worse. Not only is their entire knowledge of female anatomy derived from foreign porn (leaving them with no idea what a real indian woman looks like), their total knowledge of the sex act is derived from the same source as well. This means they routinely expect their women to be 'brazillian wax'ed, buxom, unrealistically flexible, able to take monster organs with a smile both vaginally and anally, completely in love with performing oral sex, and capable of acts like 'squirting' orgasms. Sex, to them is insertion, thrusts, climax, and thats all, and they are convinced that the bigger and rougher they are and the harder they thrust, the more the woman will enjoy it. In fact, they have no concept of foreplay, no concept of sensitivity or paying attention to a partner's needs, no desire – in most cases – to even care whether the partner feels anything as long as they themselves get off.
To top that off, they also have the concept, egged on by friends and society in general and bollywood, and all kinds of popular culture, that a marriage MUST be consummated on the 'suhaag raat' or the first night. Most believe that if they don't essentially rape this practical stranger they now own on that very night, they will somehow be less of men, and their wives will question their masculinity as well. Additionally, with marriage being the only endorsed and allowed way for people to be sexually active, most of these men are like rabid starved animals who have been waiting for years for this opportunity to finally stick it in someone. And thy are not going to wait.
The result, a horrendous night for the woman, which is a good trailer for what the rest of her sex life is likely to be – for the rest of her life. Scared, anxious, nervous at having to leave everything she knows and make herself into a new person to suit the random demands of a family of strangers, married to a stranger she barely knows (inspite of the 'modern' practice of a bunch of dates – often chaperoned by cousins or unmarried aunts), and already dreading an act she has heard enough about to fear, she is given no time to get comfortable. Forget arousal, she doesnt have the choice to even relax, or just unclench – mentally- before her 'parmeshwar' or god asks for his rights.
Is it a wonder then that most women, even educated, modern, free mixing allowed, working, totally 21st century Indian women have shatteringly disastrous and painfulexperiences beginning their sex life. And no, it does not get better. To add insult to injury, we dont have a concept of – let alone a law against – marital rape. She has no right to refuse to have sex with her lord and master, and in most cases she does not even realise it is possible to say no. Ill or well, happy or depressed, fresh or tired, turned on or not, doesnt matter. If he wants it, he gets it. She? She is not supposed to have wants, or needs or desires or opinions, so it doesnt matter.
Rape? But thats what strangers do to women right? Thats why we call it izzat lootna... or robbing of honour. We force raped women to MARRY their rapists because it restores their robbed honour, never mind her trauma at having to have a lifelong repeated experience of sexual acts with the monster because there cannot be trauma. By virtue of the fact that he is now her husband, the rapist becomes someone whose attentions she is required to welcome and enjoy. Simple. So how can a husband rape his wife? He owns her, he has full rights to do what he wants to her, whenever he feels the need. Where is the question of her desire, consent, or refusal thereof? She is chattel, property, she has no will of her own. This is her DUTY! And this is the attitude not just of our society, but also of our judiciary and our ministers.
Given this mentality, a woman has ZERO legal or social recourse against cruelty. No matter what he does to her sexually, and how much she suffers, she has no support. No one to turn to, no help, no way of stopping it. In most cases she does not even realise that this is abnormal. An overwhelming number of women think that it is normal for sex to hurt, all the time, everytime, and more than half of them have never even come close to an orgasm. It is not surprising that women suffer decades of sexual trauma at home, at the hands of the very peperson who is supposed to care most for her, and often does not even recognise it as torture. Even if she does, she has nowhere to turn, no one who can help. She just has to live with it until one of them dies.