A woman sits, surrounded by concerned family members, who urge her to tell them what drove her to come back home. “Only we women will understand your pain,” they tell her. She asks them if her consent means nothing just because she is a woman. A classic example of mansplaining follows, as a gregarious uncle makes a joke out of the issue and sits back satisfied. When she says she is raped, the whole family is up in arms, ready to kill, with cudgels and pistols. But when she says, that it is her husband who does the raping, the effect is immediate : their faces become a blank wall of incredulous incomprehension, and they ask the question that is still asked far too frequently : How can he rape you if he is your husband?
Marital rape has only recently been registered in India’s socio-political radar. Girliyapa, a video channel seeking to spread awareness about under-the-radar issues women face that are often dismissed, through satire and dark humour, presented a take on marital rape : “How I Raped Your Mother.” From the very onset, the video is jarring. The cheerful theme music, the incongruity of a family discussing rape with hoots of laughter and jokes, and the no-holds-barred terminology show the extent to which marital rape has been normalised in India. The video captures very well the age-old frustration women have faced : the knowledge that their experiences have no authoritative discourse to validate them. The contrast between masculine authority and actual experience has been shown brilliantly, as the uncle shows her a book which lists all the types of rape that are supposed to exist, but as marital rape is not in the book, it cannot be counted as rape.
That is the crux of the matter. Marital rape is barely recognized as rape. This is because of several reasons : marriage is seen as synonymous with ownership, which means that the husband has the right to do whatever he wants with the wife. Like with all other forms of rape, it is about violence and an assertion of power, not about sexuality. The economics of marriage is also brought into the video. The husband believes that he is entitled to do what he wants because he earns, and discounts the wife’s work at home. All of this ties together and marital rape becomes “intense love-making that should be enjoyed.”
The video then seems to succeed in what it sets out to do. By using humour, and bringing into the living room of a family, and having them discuss what happens in silence and shadows, it portrays the harsh reality of marital rape. One cannot imagine a father actually telling his daughter to “deal with it”, no more than one can imagine a mother giggling to her daughter “your father does it to me too.” One cannot imagine a father-in-law and a son-in-law swapping porn on the family Whatsapp group after a conversation on marital rape. And yet, this is the microcosm of reality, and is no more unnatural and worse than ignoring marital rape and dismissing how traumatic it is.
However, if we truly recognize that marital rape is traumatic, even more so, because of its prolonged nature and unrecognized status, would it be possible for us to satirize it? Patriarchal attitudes, masculine discourses, hypocritical behaviour and the double standards of society have all rightly been targets of social satire. But rape and molestation have always been seen as the realisation of our collective worst fears, and beyond the pale of humour. Rape jokes have been heavily criticized for normalising the brutality of rape, and yet, the makers of the video engage with humour drawn from marital rape. The video unknowingly highlights what it set out to prove : We as a society do not see marital rape as a form of rape as brutal and appalling as it is, and it is yet to be a part of the “Book of Rape.” There are then two traps in this video, one, into which society falls, and the second, into which the video falls itself.