This is the story we never tell. It hovers like a question mark at the back of bad divorces. It lurks behind the screams you hear coming from the neighbour's house, when you know you won't interfere because 'it's a domestic matter'. It's the darkness in the eyes of certain women, the kind whose bruises never show, who never walk into doors, whose hurts go deeper than that.
Before we get to their stories, a question: what do you think of when you think of rape' The images we're fed turn the rapist into a dark stranger, the wolf prowling in the forests of our imagination, the barbarian warlord. The truth is different: most rapists are weak men, exerting a power they do not really possess. They are ordinary: they are tutors, or family friends, or minor officials. And sometimes, for far too many women in India, the rapist is the man they see at breakfast every day.
In Indian law, there is no such crime as rape within marriage. A man or a woman may be prosecuted for mental or physical abuse of his or her partner, but no man can be held for raping his wife. Justice is blind for the worst reason of all: it does not want to see the truth.
Which is that there are two models of marriage in perpetual conflict. The Victorian model admits that men have sexual needs that must be met, while reasoning that 'good' women have no desires. In this model, it is a woman's duty to service her husband, regardless of how violent he might be. Property does not have a voice; property may not complain of being struck, or forced, or terrorised. The other model is the one that women like me signed up for. This is the one where you believe that marriage is a meeting of minds, an institution built on respect, that women and men have an equal right to ask for sex, an equal right to respect the refusal of their partners.
But the law does not want to go behind closed doors. It doesn't want to see what we can all see: the pain of women who live with fear where they should be the most safe, the terror of women whose abusers are licensed to do what they please, to ignore the will and desires and needs of a woman. It doesn't want to see, either, how insulting this is to any ordinary, decent man ' to implicitly accept that he is some kind of monster with brutish needs that must be met, through violence, if necessary.
But the law only mirrors the responses of Indian families. Who will say, 'Your place is with your husband,' when a woman comes seeking help; who will stop their ears rather than listen to a woman's story of being violated by the person she should most trust; who will explain, patiently, that a man has needs, a woman duties.
One of Margaret Sanger's truisms was: 'No woman can call herself free till she owns and controls her own body.' No man can call himself free until he respects that ownership. The refusal of the law to admit the existence of marital rape is a slap in the face of any woman or man who believes in their personal freedom. The saddest stories ever told are the ones that we don't want to hear spoken aloud.