Thursday, April 30, 2015

Marriage as a sacrament of love, care and consensus instead of a religious seal for rape

A statement has come from a section of the legislature in India explaining that rape within marriage cannot come under the preview of rape because marriage in India is different from other parts of the world. Due to this any United Nations observation and recommendation in this regard cannot be implemented in India it is being argued. The second argument being put out is that marriage is a holy sacrament and therefore what happens in such a relationship cannot be rape.

One needs to think whether marriage in India is indeed different from other countries? To consider one’s tradition higher than others is very parochial and high ended. Which culture can we refer to in India? Is it a male dominated culture and tradition or is it a marriage of equals which also exists within the Indian tradition? Indians across the board migrate to different parts of the world. When they live in other parts of the world they have to adhere to rules which give importance to equal partnership in a marriage. Will their marriage become less sacred by being in a different culture and adhering to rules which are now being labeled as anti-Indian? Will their economic clout and foreign exchange be less acceptable to the government which thrives on such NRI support?

In many churches the understanding and basis of marriage is played out as the relationship between Christ and the church. Husbands are therefore supposed to sacrifice their lives for their wives just as Christ did for his church. This understanding in some form or the other is prevalent in all religions. What is being proposed by the U.N. is not anything new but what all religions are supposed to do anyway. This is not a foreign imposition of any new law or understanding but what hasn’t been done because of continued male leadership and females adhering to patriarchal leadership norms.

Marriage is an important step in the life of a couple. The religious rite or sacrament is an institutional step which welcomes the couple into a community and makes them take a public decision and commitment in front of elders, women, men, youngsters and children. The main step of the couple is not just a sacrament but the commitment they make to one another.

This mutual commitment goes beyond everything else and despite or in the absence of any other thing, the couple will try and be committed to each other and stay with each other. Such human to human contact and commitment is not forced but is voluntary, mutual and even equal to an extent. Our relationship with God should also be natural and not forced. By saying that what happens in a marriage cannot be brought under the purview of rape, people are questioning the sacredness of mutual love of a couple, their commitment to one another and the love in their marriage. Marriage is not a slave of the state. The state ensures that those who enter a marriage have their rights safeguarded. Religion makes sure that this coming together is blessed with the presence of God in the witness of the particular community of family, friends and well wishers.

Fr. George Morelli puts it such “St. Paul explains this beautifully (the essence of marriage) when he compares the love a man should have towards his wife in terms of the love that Christ has for the Church. "Husbands, love you wife," St. Paul writes, "as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her ... " (Ephesians 5:25). Therefore any type of sexuality, which is self-centered, manipulative and degrading, is impure because it is not based on self-emptying, self-giving, committed, and creating love. Love always has as its center the good and welfare of the individual. It is for our good and welfare that we were created by God, our Father, redeemed by Christ in His act of "Extreme Humility" of embracing the cross, and sanctified by the Spirit whom He sent. As Christ took on our flesh, a man and woman in marriage " ... shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh" (Matthew 19:5-6). Thus the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians have so much meaning: "The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." As God's love is not casual, crude, rude and self-centered, so too, sexual love should not be this way. As God's love is giving, emptying and creative, so too sexual love should be this way.” This does suggest clearly to us that love and sexual relations cannot be seen from the perspective of how it has been explained recently in India.
Both religion and the state ensure that the people are given their rights and grow up in an environment of trust, love and equality by using religious texts, tradition, theology and the constitution as guiding principles. Religious texts, traditions and the constitution give enough and more pointers on how a marriage should be and how the relationship between a wife and husband should be. Despite this there are attempts within the legislature and the church to oppress certain groups for some benefits.

In the paper “Marital rape: A Legalized Sin”, Anjali Shrivastava, Devanshu Jain and Ayan Hazra identify the short comings of an archaic law which has limited scope for women who are married. The law says that punishment for the spouse can only come about if the wife is under 15 years of age or if the couple are separated at the time of the non consensual sex. The Justice Verma committee constituted after the gruesome rape in Delhi in 2012 proposed that this should be changed and domestic rape has to be brought under the purview of rape. Recommendations made by the Verma Committee include
“i.The exception for marital rape be removed.
ii. The law ought to specify that:
a. A marital or other relationship between the perpetrator or victim is not a valid defence against the crimes of rape or sexual violation;
b. The relationship between the accused and the complainant is not relevant to the inquiry into whether the complainant consented to the sexual activity;
c. The fact that the accused and victim are married or in another intimate relationship may not be regarded as a mitigating factor justifying lower sentences for rape.”
‘Though the committee had recommended the removal of the exception for marital rape, no steps have been taken by the legislation regarding it.’

The query whether India is not on par with other countries brought up the reply on the specific culture and sacredness of marriage in India. Sana Shakil writes that “Marital rape is illegal in countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Israel, France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Russia and Poland. It is also an offense in 18 states in the US and three in Australia. A survivor of marital rape in the country (India) can get some relief by filing a case against her husband under 498A IPC (husband subjecting his wife to cruelty). However, the section doesn't clearly define the term cruelty and carries a maximum punishment of three years and fine.” India in this sense does need a clear definition of law and amendment of the law.

The statement on rape within marriage should be seen as a statement against married women and a lack of interest in bringing out real development in the country. Marriage is not a license to rape. Marriage is a commitment to live together in love, mutual respect, sharing and harmony. The only option for a woman who is raped within the perceived sacredness of marriage should not be limited to separation and divorce but also to file a case against the injustice meted out to her. This is what religion and the state should stand for. Anything else will be a blot on our fragile religious harmony and democracy.

Picture courtesy
Poussin's Rape of the Sabines, painted in the 1630s and today in the New York Metropolitan Museum, may well be the rape image most familiar to American art historians. It illustrates an episode from the early history of ancient Rome. The Romans, unable to obtain wives peacefully, staged a festival, invited the neighboring Sabines, and, at a signal from Romulus, each violently seized a Sabine woman.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday: Our small steps of commitment and faith

Maundy Thursday is celebrated the world over as a time for Christians to come together and partake in the communion of the body and blood of Christ. People who have confessed their short comings and have taken the decision of being at peace with one another flock to church to receive the communion set in motion by our Lord Jesus Christ. But what is indeed the significance of this communion or the Holy Qurbana (o) in church?

Jesus commits to his disciples and says that he wanted to have this meal with them before he suffers and that he won’t do this again till the fulfillment of the Kingdom. He then says the formulaic sentence followed by many churches up till today and announces that he is giving them his body and blood as a sign of the new covenant between God and human beings. We are all under this new covenant of commitment that Jesus makes to us. It is a commitment to suffer for the cause of many and to fight for all. As we partake of the body and blood of Christ we are also coming under this covenant and commitment to do good. For that we have pursued a tough time of cleansing ourselves of all things which are anti Christ. Today we then come forward in that commitment that as God has made a covenant with us we also make a covenant with God that we will do what God seeks of us, which is to be Christ like.

What could be the good expected of us? Isaiah 58:6-9 offers us a splendid idea. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.” We are bound to a commitment of doing specific things which are expected as part of our fast and commitment to God. It is a clear call to do good like Jesus chose to do. Fight injustice, let the oppressed go free, cover the naked, share our bread with the hungry and the Lord will hear our cry and say “Here I am.” Allowing the body and blood of Christ to work inside us is necessary as otherwise we only partake and nothing seemingly happens out of that. The wonderful opportunity to partake and to effect change brings about a true commitment from God to hear our cry and reply Here I am.

The partaking of the body and blood of Christ makes us enter into covenant with God and gives us the unique opportunity to be co-workers in God’s kingdom. The partaking is not a simple act of dealing with our short comings and coming forward to accept communion but steps of commitment and faith saying that I will heed to the wish of God to correct injustices in society and open my life to the poor and let the oppressed go free. Those small steps towards communion that we take are big steps of a commitment that I will contribute my bit to change the world that I live in. What a beautiful thought it is and what a wonderful commitment we share. Amen.

Praise to Thee, O Lord, To Thy Father Praise,
Worship, glory be To the Holy Ghost.
Grace and mercy be on us sinners all,
Opened be to us Zion’s gates above
May our pleas be heard at the throne of Christ.
Praise to Thee, O Lord, Praise to Thee, O Lord,
Ever praise to Thee, Our hope. God bless.

(Excerpts from a sermon preached in St. Ignatius JSO Church, K.R. Puram, Bangalore during Pesaha service yesterday night.)
Picture courtesy