This is the second in a three-part series on gender and the 2019 general elections I wrote for IndiaSpend
She may be the head of her village, but making rotis for her extended family of 22 is still her responsibility.
Hunched over the small chulha (earthen stove) in the family house at Hussainpur village in Haryana’s Nuh district, her hands efficiently slapping a small piece of dough into a round roti, Farhuna (she uses one name), smiled when she recalled the circumstances of her marriage–and election.
It was early in 2016. The panchayat elections were around the corner and the Haryana government had recently introduced a new eligibility condition. To contest the elections, women needed to prove that they had cleared their eighth standard exams; men had to be matriculates.
That year, the seat at Hussainpur was reserved for women. The problem: No woman in her husband’s family had ever been to school.
So Farhuna’s father-in-law began looking for a bride for his son. His only condition: Education. “He didn’t even take any dowry,” grinned Farhuna, proud holder of a bachelor of arts degree.
The family has a gas stove over which the vegetables and dal are made. But rotis taste better when they come out of a mud stove, and that is how they are made–some 70 of them for the afternoon and an equal number for the night meal–said Farhuna.
There are many words — cheat, lowlife, scoundrel — that describe men who lie to women just in order to have sex with them. Rapist is not one of them
If rape is about consent — or the lack of it — then can consent obtained on false information truly be consent? And if it’s not true consent, then isn’t it rape? This past week, the Supreme Court weighed in and said it was indeed(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
He was a doctor, she was studying pharmacy. They met in 2009 and fell in love, or so she thought. They lived in different cities. He said he wanted to marry her. In April 2013, she boarded a train to come and meet him. They had sex.
He dilly-dallied about marriage. In June, she learned that he had married someone else. She accused him of rape; he was arrested; and a long trial began.
If rape is about consent — or the lack of it — then can consent obtained on false information truly be consent? And if it’s not true consent, then isn’t it rape? This past week, the Supreme Court weighed in and said it was indeed.
As many as 70-80% of the rape complaints received by Delhi’s Rape Crisis Centre fall in this grey category, says Zeenat Malick, a lawyer who was with the centre until October 2018 and now has her own practice. “We need to have some kind of separate provision for these types of cases where adult women agree to sex only because men have promised to marry them,” she says.
But the judgment is troubling on several counts.
The first is to do with obtaining consent on false grounds. Disgusting as it is, is it rape? What if a man says he is a graduate but in actual fact failed his exam? What if he has lied about his income? And what if he has every intention to marry but later changes his mind?
By equating cheating with rape, we trivialise rape, which remains a horrific crime reported with depressing regularity from Kathua to Unnao.
The judgment also makes an unstated assumption that premarital sex is not ok — unless accompanied by intent to marry. But sex is not a reward for marriage and every instance of premarital sex need not end in marriage.
Above all we have to ask: What do women hope to achieve when they file rape complaints against such men? Revenge? Marriage? Typically, says a criminal lawyer who asked not to be named, these cases end in a settlement — either money or marriage. But what is the value of a marriage conducted under the threat of jail?
India is changing, and a new generation of aspirational, assertive women dream of careers before marriage, according to a Naandi Foundation survey. It is likely that many of these women believe in their agency, including their right to choose a sexual partner. There is an underlying patriarchy that assumes that all women who have sex are gullible innocents in dire need of protection by the law. Or that a woman who has sex with a man other than her husband, or intended, is ruined for life.
There are many words — cheat, lowlife, scoundrel — that describe men who lie to women just in order to have sex with them. Rapist is not one of them.
Nuh in Haryana is India’s most backward district. It is also where Rakbar Khan and Pehlu Khan were lynched on suspicions of cattle theft. I travel to Nuh to meet their families.
Lying on a string cot beneath a row of pale green prayer beads that hangs from the wall, Asmeena Khan holds up a frail hand and says softly, “Please pray for me.”
There is no electricity and Asmeena cannot summon the strength to wave away the flies that settle on her face. She has been bedridden since being in a car accident four months ago. Her brother says the doctors have said she is paralysed from the waist down, and will never walk again.
Asmeena is the widow of Rakbar Khan, the dairy farmer who was killed by cow vigilantes on the night of July 20, 2018. After the murder of 28-year-old Rakbar, Asmeena, who has never been to school and is unsure even of her age, was left to raise her seven children. The eldest, 14-year-old Saahila, dropped out of school to help her mother with household chores and add to the family income by working as a daily wage labourer; four younger children were enrolled at a residential school in Aligarh run by a charitable society. The youngest two, aged six and three, have stayed with their mother in Tapkan village in Haryana’s Nuh district.
When the accident happened. Asmeena was on her way to visit her children in Aligarh in a taxi. A truck collided with the car she was in. The driver and a 19-year-old niece accompanying Asmeena were killed. Asmeena was first taken to the medical college in Nuh and then referred to a hospital in New Delhi, as her injuries were serious.
Bedridden and bereft
Four months later, she still lies on a cot in her parent’s home. Rakbar’s parents have refused to take her in, says her brother Irfan. But, reasons Asmeena, “Rakbar’s father is an old man who barely makes ends meet by keeping a few goats. Rakbar’s brothers add to his income, but he can barely feed himself.”
Asmeena got married when she was about 13. Three of her brothers work as drivers, two work in a poultry farm, and the youngest has dropped out of school and is learning to repair tyre punctures. Seventeen family members live in the two-room house at Tapkan. Two married sisters are visiting; they have come to find work as daily wage labourers, harvesting the ripened wheat in Nuh’s farms.