Shree Paradkar: Sex assault trial in arranged marriage about removal of female choice

Shree Paradkar: Sex assault trial in arranged marriage about removal of female choice
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Instead of a village of Punjab, it’s Canada’s largest city. Instead of a Khap Panchayat or village councils dotted across India that often dish out their own extrajudicial brand of social justice, it is the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

On Monday and Tuesday, a woman, we’ll call her Sakhi — her name is under a publication ban — testified in harrowing detail of her experiences during her three-month marriage to Rajinder Gupta. He has been charged with 10 counts of sexual assault, three counts of assault and one count of uttering threats and has pleaded not guilty.

His mother Sheela Gupta is charged with one count of assault and one of uttering a threat. His father, Vinod Gupta, is charged with one count of uttering a threat. They both pleaded not guilty. There is no jury on this trial .

The following is based on Sakhi’s testimony:

In 2015, Sakhi and Gupta saw each other’s profiles on — an Indian matrimonial website — and after Gupta’s father approved, the two families met in Gupta’s house. It was more like a social call during which the couple got 10 minutes of privacy, after which they both agreed to get married, and were engaged. Her family had come prepared with a ring for this eventuality.

The settings for arranged marriages unfold in a variety of ways. From the restrictive ambience described here to situations where couples, vetted by parents, meet in bars and go out on a few dates and then decide whether to get married or go their separate ways.

Sakhi’s account was an indictment — not of arranged marriages, but of the disempowerment of her as a female, the removal of choice and agency at every step of the way and the expectation to appease and put up with what her in-laws threw her way.

On their way back from meeting him and being engaged, Sakhi said, Gupta’s mother called and said the two should not meet, that they could only speak on the phone until they were married, implicit in this is an expectation of modesty.

There were other red flags, or what would be seen as red flags for women with choice.

He told her he didn’t like her going out on a school trip, she said. And when she couldn’t turn back because she was already on the bus, he handed over the phone to his mother saying in the background that he didn’t like her.

There was a moroseness to the wedding that she described. It was simple by any standards, but particularly so for Punjabi weddings that tend to be hearty celebrations. Gone was the big party and the groom on the horse and a big guest list. In its place there were “20 to 25 people” and a quiet wedding at a Hindu temple. The court heard they had both been married previously. Did that contribute to the quick and subdued affair?

It’s not clear if their marriage was officially registered.

The portrait she drew of a petulant controlling man grew menacing very quickly. Hours after they wed, they went to his house and after a quick ceremony there, went up to their bedroom to change. He wanted to have sex, pushed her on the bed. “I said I don’t want to do that,” she testified in Punjabi. But he insisted.

His clothes were off, and he pinned her arms down, opened her legs and forced himself on her, she said.

She describes being numb. “I was in pain,” she said. “I had a feeling someone was doing wrong by me.” When they went downstairs for a meal, even sitting was painful, she said.

Then, on that wedding night, they made a trip to Walmart for groceries. And when they came back, once again, she says, he began squeezing her breasts hard and “forcefully” penetrated her although she said she didn’t want it.

And she says when she told him she was in pain, he simply said, “don’t worry, let the pain happen.”

A week after their wedding, Gupta took her on a day trip to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon, she says. They checked into a hotel only long enough for him to force sex, despite her saying no, she was bleeding heavily from her period and suffering from menstrual cramps.

Until she left that house he insisted on sex every day, she says, sometimes more than once or twice a day.

Their marriage lasted three months. Sakhi drew a story of escalating violations, of being choked, of being raped multiple times, of being controlled in every aspect of her life. I have often heard women share stories of possessive, controlling men insisting on branding ownership on their wives, of being upset if they didn’t wear the symbols of being married. A friend of mine was married to a man who insisted she sit dolled up in her house in her bejeweled bridal finery, every day.

In Sakhi’s case, wearing a bindi — a decorative dot on the forehead sometimes used to signify marital status — ended up with him yanking her by her hair, flinging her on the bed and slapping her, she said. Gupta had previously said he didn’t want her to display signs of being married.

In that house, she said, she wasn’t allowed to wear what she wanted, wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, not allowed to eat her choice of food, not allowed to speak to her friends, not allowed to call her sister and eventually not allowed to call her parents.
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