By Siddharth Srivastava
NEW DELHI: The Madras high court in a recent judgment has equated the mere act of sex between two adults to marriage needing a “decree’’ of divorce to annul the same. A one-night stand, time with a prostitute, pre-marital sex or even an extra-marital affair could translate as legal commitment to be wife or husband, as the case may be, should one party choose to exercise the option.
In urban liberal India such a view is preposterous. It is like saying match fixing in cricket is a thing of the past or that an Indian politician works for the welfare of the nation. By extension of the sex is wedlock logic, should a sexual exchange like a kiss or holding hands be construed as proposal for marriage?
Too many young, old, middle aged men and women in India’s cities make out without the faintest notions of extending such a consensual act to marriage.
It is about getting to know each other, pleasure, fun or commerce. Should there be an aggrieved party, no definitive conclusion is drawn by the legal system without studying the context of the relationship – the duration, duress, abuse, betrayal, age, children or sexual harassment if one person happens to be in a position of power.
However, the simple act of a man and woman agreeing to copulate cannot be interpreted as the signing of a marriage certificate. Many men and I think even quite a few women will literally run for cover.
As a matter of fact, going by recent trends, it seems when a couple is really serious about each other, sex actually becomes secondary.
In the cities high profile personalities such as Aamir Khan and reportedly even Shahrukh Khan have opted for surrogate kids without impregnating their wives. Many more are opting for the more convenient route of hiring a healthy womb. In cricket, many are making money and having fun with girls, by losing, bowling no balls and giving away more runs, due to match fixing.
In the rural conservative milieu the situation is different. Sexual behavior that applies to Bombay or Bangalore or Delhi may not pertain to Bihar or UP or West Bengal. In the villages sex is not sport, it is often an instrument of subjugation, leads to honor killing and a means of producing more males as the girl child is believed to be a curse and killed before she is born.
Women are not empowered economically. It is only men that wear the pants here. Sartorially, the inferior position of the ladies is apparent as they need to cover their heads, inside their homes and outside. Millions of girls are killed in the womb. If lucky to be born, they are ill-treated, starved and not sent to school. Males call the shots. Sex is used for domination, revenge, lust, incest, imprinting caste superiority, power or patriarchal mindset.
In such a context, men need to be reigned, their zips locked by law and sanctioned only by marriage. Women require the protection of the state and the judiciary to be able to keep their lives and dignity intact. The problem is that statutes that need to reflect the differing contexts of the country are applied uniformly on Bharat and India. It results in misuse by men, women and even the authorities.
A recent instance was the debate about age of consensual sex. Sixteen seemed fair for urban India, not for the other India, where even 18 could be considered too young, given exploitation, including illegal trafficking, that adolescent girls face.
The confusion is not only in the laws of the country. It extends to politics. Parties and leaders have devised different strategies depending on the voters they seek to cultivate. The Congress under Sonia Gandhi sees the rural poor as its biggest constituency, thus extending freebies and other largess financed by the more affluent tax payers. BJP’s Narendra Modi, however sees the urban middle classes as the big support base. Modi’s message is thus governance and growth, in keeping with the aspirations of his backers. Regional parties rely more on caste and communal equations. Only, a confused Mamata Banerjee does not know which way to look. She sees a conspiracy everywhere, rural or urban.
If you ask me, I think it is best to devise laws that protect the poorest, weakest and the impoverished first. The rest can try to fit in. If they cannot, they have the choice of flying away to America, Europe, South East Asia or Australia to lead fruitful and complete lives there. Millions have done just that.
(Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)