Recently, Congress MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor introduced a private bill titled Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill 2018, in the Lok Sabha.
The Bill aims to make marital rape a crime, by deleting the Exception 2 to Section 375, Indian Penal Code, which makes sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, consensual and thus, a wife cannot be raped by her own husband, despite lack of actual consent. The Bill also proposes to add a provision to the Explanation which explicitly states that unrelated facts like the woman’s ethnicity, clothing, social circle etc will not be a presumption of her consent.
Decriminalisation of marital rape is rooted in patriarchal beliefs. Usually, one of the main arguments against criminalising the act is that upon marriage, a woman gives her husband an implied consent for sex, for the entirety of the marriage. This only propagates the idea that the woman herself has no identity and is merely the property of her husband. Another argument is that it would break down the institution of marriage. However, a kind of marriage where the wife has no bodily autonomy and the husband can rape her whenever he wants isn’t an institution of marriage but an institution and bye product of patriarchy. The Bill, if passed, will be the first step in giving women a basic bodily autonomy.
Distribution of Sanitary Napkins: It has been suggested that every public authority shall make available free sanitary napkins to individuals in the premises of the authority. If enacted, this provision will go a long way in destigmatising menstruation in the Indian society and would open up dialogue and help in creating awareness about the natural process.
Abortion Rights: The Bill has also proposed to make amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 and grant women an absolute right to terminate pregnancy merely on their request until the 12th week of pregnancy. Further, the woman gets the conditional right to terminate it until the 20th week as well as a limited right of abortion until the 24th week. This again is with the aim to grant women the agency over their sexual and reproductive rights.
The Bill, at first glance, seems like a very progressive step for an otherwise patriarchal society. However, it is important that if granted, this Bill is made inclusive and provides these rights to transgender and non-binary persons as well. Further, it cannot be ignored that the Bill is proposed by the same man who received a lot of criticism (and rightly so) on his remark on the Sabarimala temple issue (only recently, by a Supreme Court judgment, women of menstruating age have been allowed to enter a temple) In his statement, he had remarked that the entire issue isn’t one of equality but of rituals and beliefs. Further, the proposal is very close to the 2019 elections and many have called it political propaganda to sway voters.
Only time will tell if the Bill is progressive or only political in nature- that is if it is actually passed in the first place.
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) January 6, 2019
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This article is written by Aditi Garg, our intern.