Monday, July 22, 2013

Marital Rape in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: Why We Need To Talk About It?

I watched Bhaag Milkha Bhaag after more than a week of its release. While the movie was gripping (though long, with some scenes and song sequences that could have been easily done away with), what has been surprising for me is that even though, for a very brief moment, the movie shows about marital rape (though all behind the curtains), in this one week, I haven't come across a single article/opinion piece in any of the media houses/blogs that used this opportunity to talk about the issue that people still don't want to even acknowledge - Marital Rape.

The movie of course is about the life story of Milkha Singh, so the scene in itself is of a few minutes. For the brief moment where it touches upon the issue, a young Milkha Singh is shown to have finally been united with his sister, and now stays in their tent in the refugee camp. Her sister (played by Divya Dutta) is called upon by her husband at night, who has drawn makeshift curtains at his end. As she goes there, she is she is first slapped by him for not coming on his first call, and then, what follows are a series of sounds - of the husband panting and reaching orgasm as the wife's cries are heard. The noises wakes up the young Milkha, who is feeling angry even as 2 other teenaged boys sleeping there look at the drawn curtain and chuckle. Divya Dutta finally comes out of the tent and splashes water on her face continuously to ease here trauma, and then hugs Milkha (who had come out, unable to bear it all) and cries.

Of course, neither domestic abuse nor marital rape were elaborated, but the scenes were pretty clear about what they conveyed. Yet, in a country that was left outraged by rape just around 6 months back, not a single article is carried by any media house on what could have been a good starting point to talk about the "untalkable". Or is it that as always, when faced with the most uncomfortable truth, we would rather not talk about it and turn our face? For if we don't talk about it, it means that it doesn't exist!! Or is it that marital rape brings the whole issue too closer to us, and we might have to face ourselves in the mirror, for rape is something that the "other" commits, how can a married person "rape" his wife? Or is it that our outrage is only for certain kinds of rape? Probably rape of a working woman in an urban area, or of a child, but other kinds of rapes- of dalit women, of poor women in urban areas, of the maid working at the home, of women by the Army personnel under the protection of the AFSPA are not much of a rape and has its own justification or cause?

Strangely though, the Justice Verma Committe formed to look into the malaise of rape and gender violence that has set in the Indian society, also recommended criminalising marital rape, and cited various narratives and instances of the same. Yet, the government very conveniently shelved it. Why just the government, much of the discussions and articles surrounding the recommendations in the media concerned more about gender neutrality of the law and the age of consent of sex, totally ignoring the other important issue of marital rape. But then, would it have passed the parliament is itself a question, given how leaders of political parties proudly talked about how women cannot be wooed without stalking and displayed their full misogynist side during the debate on the rape law (irony, isn't it?).

Yet, the reason why the movie should have been used by activists and feminists as a starting point to talk about this important issue with the wider public is that for many, that scene hardly signified marital rape (for the possibility of such a thing itself is non-existent because marriage in itself is a stamp for having sex with wife, consensual or otherwise), or at best, marital rape in a bygone era. As it is, the moment you talk about marital rape, men start playing the victim and you get to hear all kind of weird and hysterical responses - from how it would be misused, to how a wife is supposed to satisfy the husband, otherwise where will the poor husband go if not to a prostitute or have an extra-marital affair!! And yet, another person on by Facebook list easily dismissed the whole scene and issue as "the incident was circa 1947.. I guess at that time, in a marriage, it was always deemed consensual?" followed by, "On a lighter note, how did you make out that it was one? There was a makeshift screen."

And that is why we need to talk about the scene, and point it out, for far too many people may have just failed to read the whole scene correctly, and worse still, as always, assumed there is no such thing as marital rape and any kind of sex- forced or consensual- within marriage is OK. And when you do come across it, you just chuckle (like those boys) or better still, pretend that you didnt hear/see anything. 

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag should have been used as an opportunity to talk about marital rape, given that we are still trying to figure out why rape incidences are going up in the country, and banning and blaming anything - from porn movies to internet to clothes to item songs. But, in all this, we fail to blame ourselves, for the truth is too close to home than we would like to acknowledge!!

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