"Newly married woman murders hubby for not being handsome"
This is a headline of a PTI story carried by various publications on Tuesday, after a 22-year-old in Cuddalore brutally murdered her husband with a grinder stone. While multiple media reports claimed Viji committed this crime because of her husband's appearance, what they failed to touch upon was the incident leading up to this murder.
Viji married 24-year-old Ramesh on 2 April this year. He was a wood sculptor, and according to investigating officials, Viji was neither happy nor convinced about her marriage to him. At close to 4 pm on Monday, Ramesh who returned from work, demanded sex.
Still not completely settled into this union, Viji allegedly refused to conjugal relations. Following this, the investigating official claims, Ramesh grew angry and abused Viji.
He allegedly told her that, 'If you are not willing to sleep with me, send your mother for the same.' Enraged by his words, Viji claims to have killed her husband with the grinder stone.
The Failure of Our Society
Sudha Ramalingam, a senior advocate and human rights activistThis incident is a result of our failure as a society. The last person that is usually consulted in a marriage is the woman herself. If given the choice, this woman may have never agreed to this marriage. This case is a form of extreme revolt that she has displayed.
In her mind, this may have been an attempt to defend herself from the onslaught. The inequality in society doesn’t leave space for a woman’s consent in marriage and in a physical relationship.
Sudha, in the last instance, is referring to marital rape, which is not recognised by society, or stringently punished by law.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had, in fact, garnered criticism from women activists when she claimed in reply to a question in Parliament that, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors."
With even a woman minister offering 'context' as an excuse to rape, the situation at the ground level is understandably deplorable. Chennai based International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) is an organisation that works towards rehabilitation of battered women.
According to its CEO, Prasanna Gettu, three out five cases of domestic violence that they deal with, are cases of marital rape. The women however, fail to recognise it as such.
Prasanna Gettu to Times of India, April 2016In Tamil Nadu, the mindset is such that women don’t even recognise marital rape. Most women assume that rape can only occur outside a marriage and the offenders can only be strangers.
While marital rape is not a crime in India, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 does list sexual abuse as a form of domestic violence.
Under this law, women can get civil protection if they have been subjected to marital rape. But with the regressive rules we have, it leaves even children at risk. According to the Indian Penal Code, marital rape of wife ‘over the age of 15’ is not punishable.
Domestic Violence Unchecked?
But the cruelty doesn't stop there. Women, are subjected to physical and verbal abuse as in the case of Viji, but are expected to remain silent.
Amongst these victims, are women who are harassed for dowry on a daily basis. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Tamil Nadu had 1,900 cases of domestic violence by husband or his relatives registered in 2015.
Telangana, which recently witnessed a suicide following domestic abuse, stands sixth highest in the country in terms of cruelty by husbands and in-laws. 7,329 cases were registered in the state in the year 2015.
A 20-year-old woman hanged herself in a bathroom in her maternal house in Balapur after she was allegedly unable to handle harassment by the hands of her husband and in-laws.
Anjum Faizan had been married only for three months when she took her life on Monday. Her husband, Irfan, and his family allegedly tortured her for dowry, driving her to take this extreme step.
M Sudhakar, Sub-InspectorThey used to beat her up and verbally abuse her for dowry. On Monday, she recorded a video, where she said sorry to her parents for taking the extreme step, and blamed her in-laws and husband for her suicide.
Irfan and his whole family is absconding, a case has been registered against them under section 304B of IPC (Dowry death).
While Anjum's body has been handed over to her family following post-mortem, Viji remains imprisoned in Panruti. When The News Minute asked the investigating officer if Viji attacked her husband as a form of self-defence against his advance, we were told, "No, no. They were married, why will she attack him for demanding intercourse?"
(Note: This narrative by no means attempts to justify this murder. But many married women in India cannot say no to their husband's demand for sex and this is a grave concern in the country.)
(This article was first published on The News Minute.)