It is not unusual to hear people talk of fighting fire with fire, but is it appropriate to recommend fighting crime with crime? Former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala apparently thinks it is. Endorsing the regressive views of some khap panchayat leaders in his State, Mr. Chautala suggested that the growing incidence of rape be addressed by relaxing the laws relating to child marriage (an offence under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006). This is a rape of reason, based on a dangerous and completely false idea that masks the distinction between sexual desire and rape. While the first is a natural human desire, the second is a violent act borne principally out of an aggressive urge to dominate the victim; power and humiliation are integral to this act of violence rather than sexual fulfilment. The belief that there will be a radical reduction in rape incidents if men and women were allowed to marry before they turn 18 is easily disproved by some basic facts about this and other forms of sexual assault. It is stupid to assume that only single men are perpetrators of this crime; married men are rapists as well. Similarly, married women are frequent victims of rape. Finally, the idea that rape will be dissolved by marriage ignores the fact that it can — and does — take place within marriages as well.
There has been a spate of rape incidents in Haryana recently — as many as 17 in a month — in which a number of victims have been Dalit women. Already under pressure, the Haryana government and the Congress party at the State and the Centre must also contend with the ridiculous statement of a State minister explaining away most rapes as the outcome of consensual sex. Apart from taking action against the minister for making light of a serious problem, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who visited Haryana, ought to have led from the front in condemning the child marriage ‘remedy’ for rape. It is hugely ironic that this argument is raised in a country where child marriages frequently take place. Recently, four U.N. agencies estimated that more than 40 per cent of the world’s child marriages take place in India; also that in eight States of the country, over 50 per cent of young girls are married before they reach the age of 18. Mercifully, the Jat Mahapanchayat, which comprises khap panchayat leaders from across Haryana, has distanced itself from the demand of some members that the marriage age for girls be brought down to 16. Child marriages are a violation of fundamental rights and a major impediment to the empowerment of women and the establishment of gender equality.