No human word can explain the pain of being raped by the person whom we love and trust most. Unfortunately, almost all of the Bangladeshi women live through this painful reality, and when I say women, I literally mean our sisters and mothers.
A gruesome picture was found in 2011 by a study carried out by the United nation’s population fund and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. According to the study 87% of the surveyed women have admitted that they were sexually assaulted by their husbands. Considering the nature of our social and legislative structure, I regretfully accept the outcome of the study. This is a fact we always knew and tried to hide for generations.
Because of our attempt to cover the institution of marriage under a mist of divine sacredness, it now has become difficult and quite uncomfortable for us to have an adult conversation about marital rape. Despite knowing that it is cruel and inhuman our general tendency is to keep this matter untouched, fearing it might destroy the traditional family structure and put stress on long hold traditional beliefs.
Even these age old superstitious social norms are reciprocated through our justice system which is ironically, 166 years old as well.
Bangladeshi legal system does not recognise marital rape as a criminal act unless the victim is 13 years old or less which is of course contrary to universally accepted definition of rape.
The section (375) of the Penal Code of 1860 which still remains as the backbone of our criminal justice system states, “Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under thirteen years of age, is not rape.”
The Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000 also has a similar loophole under section(9).
There is a vague provision of “ sexual Abuse” in section(3) of the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act 2010. But this is no use for the marital women because of the penal Code 1860 indemnity granted to the criminal husbands.
However, the unjust and inadequate legal protection has not constituted the rape epidemic of our society. As I mentioned earlier the legal system is just a reciprocation of our societal norms. Therefore, a change of legal attitude is pivotal but it won’t protect women from being raped. We already have quality laws for other rape victims but that didn’t change the ground reality. It’s our social attitude towards woman including religious norms which must be examined entirely.
Whenever, a rape is reported to the community our first response is to convince or to force the rapist to marry the victim. I have witnessed this heinous practice quite a few times. The pressure on the victim becomes so intense that instead of justice she actually ends up marrying the criminal even against her will.
No wonder why only a little over 1% of the total rape incidents ends up being reported to the authority.
Now from this perspective, imagine the situation of a married woman with children who relies on the husband completely for an income. On top of that imagine her social bindings and the vague notion of honour.
The greatest social threat to married women in Bangladesh is religious norms. Religious beliefs are actually a relief for the rapist husbands. It allows them to justify their action. Every married woman in Bangladesh from Hindu and Muslim background is familiar with the rulings, “When a man calls his wife for sexual intimacy and she refuses him, thus he spends the night in anger, the angels curse her until morning.”
“When a man calls his wife for sexual intimacy, she should come, even if she is (busy) in the cooking area.”
“By the one in whose hands is my life, there is not a man who calls his wife for sexual intimacy and she refuses him except that Allah becomes angry with her until her husband is pleased with her.”
” it is unlawful (haram) for the wife to refuse her husband for sexual intimacy without a valid reason. Menstruation will not be considered a valid reason, for the husband has a right to enjoy her from above the garment (on top of cloths).”
“Do you know who created you, and do you know he is the same God who expects you to freely give sex to your husband? Stop the excuses.”
“For a wife to defraud her husband of this vital need that God has instilled in him should cause her to tremble in fear of the consequences.”
“If you are not interested in sex, then at least be interested in him enough to give him good sex.”
Women in Bangladesh learn and leave these rulings their entire life. We taught them to be submissive to the husband and to satisfy his sexual desires.
The fact is even in 21st century our women are considered as property. Men are supposed to protect them according to social norm, beat them but not so severely ( Act of kindness perhaps) according to Islamic norm. And the society’s norm is to deprive them from rights.
Rape is rape. It’s not Madame and Mademoiselle or Senorita and Senora issue. It’s serious. There can not be discriminatory different set of rules for the victims of marital rape.
Marriage is not a licence to rape. Neither it allows ownership over wife’s body. We must realize it and adjust our attitude accordingly. It may not change the situation dramatically, but a change of attitude will definitely allow our mothers and sisters rights to justice.