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Rape within marriage is nothing but rape

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar  

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A recent film treats it as a silly mistake by a man, ignoring the trauma that the wife undergoes

Something is horribly wrong with a Malayalam film I watched recently in a crowded cinema. Though my friends and I got only front seats as the show was heavily booked, we consoled ourselves that it was going to be a good entertainer. Why else would it be a full house?

But midway through the film, I felt shaken to the core. Some in the audience, however, were heard praising the “romance” between the lead characters and the acting chops of those essaying the roles.

The story is of a man who rapes his wife to prove his manhood and to get over his diffidence with women. The film’s take on such a serious issue is disappointing. The issue of marital rape is trivialised when the limelight falls on the perpetrator and his “dilemma”.

Flatly ignored

The victim does not even get much screen space or narrative prominence. Everyone treats the rape as a silly mistake by a man, arising out of his unfamiliarity with women. The light-hearted way the issue is handled is highly disturbing. It ignores the emotional roller-coaster that a rape victim undergoes and how traumatic it must be for her to live in unfamiliar surroundings with her attacker and his close relatives and friends.

A man’s ignorance does not justify the intense trauma that a wife is subjected to. The film suggests that men need to have sex education to be gentle with their wives. What it fails to remind people is that in preventing sexual violence, sensitivity, love and respect towards one’s partner do more good than sex education. It should be kept in mind that awareness without mutual respect is no guarantee against sexual violence.

The film vainly tries to put in an element of romance into the rape narrative by harping on the fact that his wife is the first woman he has known and loved, apart from his mother and sisters. It tries to sugar-coat the bitter pill for the victim and the audience alike. But it totally ignores the emotional scars and mistrust that will be present in a real life situation.

Many people struggle to be in touch with their bodies after a sexual assault. They find it difficult to connect with the body of another person. In the film, the victim in question did not even resist on being touched again by her rapist-husband. The shots depicting their intimacy show that they are having a happy, healthy relationship, irrespective of the traumatic past. And the film’s title ingeniously refers to the wife as the husband’s angel. What better way to placate aggrieved wives!

The film seems to suggest that all wives need to be the Woolfian “angel in the house”, forgiving and forgetting their husbands’ follies, even something as grave as rape. All for the sake of marriage!

It’s still rape

Some may argue that the film simply portrays a reality. What they do not realise is that the film trivialises and ratifies that reality. Marriage is about togetherness and accepting each other. Rape within marriage counts as rape, even if not legally.

The film which touts itself as a family entertainer should have been more careful while treading on such sensitive topics. Because cinema is not just about stories. It is a powerful medium which could subtly influence and culturally condition people across generations.

The film, however, mirrors the attitude of society in general. The extent of social and cultural conditioning was evident in the response of an acquaintance of mine: “But ma’am, couldn’t she accept that it was her husband [who committed the act]?”

indub284@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:16:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/rape-within-marriage-is-nothing-but-rape/article30367968.ece

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