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Published on January 4th, 2013

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“Marital rape is tantamount to sexual slavery”

Shibani Bathija, award-winning film writer, will give her take on marital rape through controversial play ‘The Vagina Monologues’, on Sunday.

Come Sunday, January 06, 2013, a special show of The Vagina Monologues will be held at the Comedy Store in Mumbai. In attendance will be Eve Ensler, Tony Award winning playwright, performer, and activist, who is the author of The Vagina Monologues. Eve will be in the city for the launch of ‘One Billion Rising’, a global movement to demand an end to violence.

Taking part in the readings will be screenwriter Shibani Bathija, whose last film was My Name Is Khan. Shibani spoke to Salil Jayakar on her participation in the special show, what she hopes it’ll achieve and whether it’s time for the film industry to do some introspection.

Excerpts from the interview:

Shibani, you’re reading a piece you have written on one of the ongoing debate areas on rape. Could you tell us about it? 

I have taken on the issue of marital rape to draw attention to the fact that women are not protected from it under existing Indian law. So, potentially a woman can be raped over a lifetime and have no recourse. It is tantamount to sexual slavery.

Why marital rape? Do you know of any personal instances? 

By and large women don’t talk about rape, and often in the case of marital rape they are given to understand that it is ‘duty’ and not rape at all, so no, I don’t personally know of instances but these are some stats I found. In the present day, studies indicate that between 10 and 14 per cent of married women are raped by their husbands: the incidents of marital rape soars to 1/3rd to ½ among clinical samples of battered women. Sexual assault by one’s spouse accounts for approximately 25 per cent of rapes committed.

This is a benefit show. Whom will the proceeds go to?

The beneficiary of all our fundraising around Eve’s visit and launch of One Billion Rising is largely SNEHA (www.snehamumbai.org) which works in Dharavi and across five other centres in Mumbai.

Do you think that a show like The Vagina Monologues can really highlight this sensitive issue? 

Yes, I think it can, as the first step is awareness and through fiction and even humour, a bright light can be shone on issues that are often avoided or then misunderstood by more people than we imagine.

A section of media and society has been clamouring for a ban on item songs in films. Your take? 

I think the issue is first violence, then sexualised violence. The thing that needs to be cut out is a portrayal of violence without reason or consequence. When we get inured to violence, then all kinds become acceptable. Rape is about violence. As far as item numbers are concerned, getting rid of ‘sexy’ dancing is putting the onus on women again, i.e., if you show and or enjoy the movement of your body you are asking for rape. Have you seen traditional belly dancing? The ultimate item number and it is / was often part of spiritual rituals.

As a screenwriter, do you think Bollywood also portrays women in a bad light? Does the industry as a whole need to do some introspection?

Well yes, the moment women are incidental to a plot they are indicated as incidental to life in general, and then who bothers about how someone incidental is treated? The moment women are front and centre and forces to be reckoned with, everything will fall into place.

What do you hope to achieve through this reading? 

I hope to highlight this most common and most ignored form of rape and in the best case scenario raise some voices for an amendment to the rape laws to include marital rape. Marriage is a social contract based on trust, respect and partnership. When it becomes about coercion then it is a breach of contract and the law should acknowledge that.

The special show of The Vagina Monologues will be held at the Comedy Store, Palladium, High Street Phoenix, on Sunday, January 6 at 6 pm. Other speakers include Chitrangda Singh, Suchitra Pillai and Manasi Scott.

(Picture courtesy firstpost.in)

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