From the Editor’s desk: A man is not entitled to sex with his wife. And women should know that.

What a busy week it has been for the news cycles. Having consciously decided to pull back from news some time ago, I was surprised when I found myself pulled back into it this week because I realise that while it is good for my peace of mind to not know what’s in the endless, shrill cycle of news, I also understand that a lot of what’s in the news today affects me as not only a citizen but also a woman and a mother.

Take the marital rape issue for instance. The Centre has appealed to the Supreme Court to disallow the criminalisation of marital rape because it will threaten the institution of marriage. If the institution of marriage is based on the sole right of a man to able to rape his wife when she denies him sex, then I argue let the institution of marriage fail. When did it become that a man was exchanging his capacity to earn or provide a roof over a woman’s head with sex? As far as I know, all ancient cultures treat marriage as a partnership of equals where men and women both have their duties carved out. As a society, we are now increasingly moving towards collapsing traditional gender norms as more and more women find their feet as well as economic freedom. A big argument in favour of not criminalising marital rape is that it is against “Hindu culture” (whatever that means.) A quick reading will tell you that many Hindu texts refer to equality and friendship in their treatise and guides for living an ideal life. The Aranya Parva from the Mahabharata narrates Yudhishtira’s answer to one of the several questions posed by the Yaksha, one of which was who is the closest friend of  householder. To which Yudhishtira responds, “The spouse is a householder’s best friend.” Similarly, in many such texts, there is reference to partnership and symmetry as cornerstones of a marriage. If that is so, then how is it that Indian men feel entitled to sex, even if their wife is unwilling?

There are a few things that every Indian — man or woman, grownup or child — needs to understand clearly. One of them is the idea of consent. The other is the idea of agency and autonomy over one’s own body. Consent is something we all need to teach our kids, boy or girl, from the time they are able to understand that others can touch their bodies. We need to teach our children that no one, but no one, is allowed to touch them without their permission. Be that a teacher, a friend, or even a grandparent. It might seem like a cold thing to teach a child but I’d rather be safe than sorry. And if we don’t teach them within our homes the idea of consent then how is it fair to expect them to pick it up outside the home? Moreover, it is not enough to teach that no one is allowed to touch them without express permission. What is equally important is to teach them to be vocal about it. Say no firmly, threaten to complain, respond aggressively if need be. Similarly, boys in particular need to be taught that they cannot, under any circumstances, touch a girl if she has expressly told them she doesn’t like it. Be that your five year old boy pulling his friend’s hair or giving her an innocent kiss on the cheek. Ideally, even if she hasn’t created a fuss, a boy must learn to ask if it’s okay. Anything less is unfair to both of them.

While it may not happen all the time, this awareness leads to kids being aware of the idea of agency over one’s own body and will come to fruition when they are older and are faced with situations that adults face. As a younger woman, there were times when I was touched without my consent and I didn’t know what to do about it. All I had was a sense of discomfort. This is not what I want my children to grow up with. There have been heated debates about the marital rape issue on my Twitter all of this week with even seasoned government employees such as Sushma Swaraj’s husband saying ridiculously tonedeaf things like, “There’s no such thing as marital rape.” The number of men who are fighting tooth and nail saying it shouldn’t be allowed alarmed me. It made me wonder how many women were refusing to have sex with their husbands and how many of them, therefore, were being raped. And then I read this chilling HuffPost piece that says 97 percent of Indian women surveyed face sexual violence at the hands of their husband. Ninety seven percent. Let that sink in. That number is unnaturally high and shockingly scary.

Many of the arguments equated taking care of a woman and the children as a barter for having sex with the wife. It boggles my mind that men think they can behave any way they want and the wife will put out for them. The solutions are so simple to me. If men were to actually woo their wives, do the things they need to do as human beings, treat her with respect and tenderness — I am not even saying love here — that’s more than enough for a woman to be warm to a man, most times, if she is in a marriage with him. And if she doesn’t, then a man has the option to go to court. No sex is a very valid ground for divorce. But to actually force a woman into sex — how much hate would a man be harbouring for a woman if he wants to enforce what he thinks is his right on her and have sex with her at the cost of hurting her physically and scarring her mentally? I think at this point, every woman is hoping when it does come up in court, the verdict for criminalising marital rape will be unanimous.

At this point, I have a request for all of you: If you have had experience of marital rape, and you didn’t know it was wrong, I suggest you get counselling, or talk about it. Till the time that we have no laws in this regard, you must, if you have experienced it, gain strength and courage from those who can help you.

Moving on to lesser grim things, let me give you a roundup of last week’s stories that I think you should read. Here’s the wonderful Lakshmi  Menon who is doing her bit to help the world from destroying itself. She creates paper pens that grow into plants! A true inspiration. Staying on track to eco friendly methods, this week, we stepped out of many comfort zones and discussed the menstrual cup. If you’ve been considering it, then here’s the lowdown on the ideal menstrual cup and how to use it. We continued to talk about menstruation this week, except we decided to go sexy: here’ how to handle sex during periods (hint! You can have period sex!)

You know how you  never get being a daughter in law right? Something or the other is always wrong. Here’s Suchismita’s fool-proof guide on how you can genuinely be a good daughter in law. Knock yourself out! And finally, this horrific video of a woman teacher in a Lucknow school slapping a poor little boy nearly 40 times for failing to answer roll call. The severity of this woman’s reaction makes me worry for her sanity. I greatly doubt she should be around kids.

Festival season has now officially begun. From here on, expect lots of exciting content from us that will help you ace your festival socialising. For those of you who are celebrating, here’s wishing a very happy eid and, later in the week, happy Onam.

Till next week.

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