Dubai, Mar 12: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep." - Robert Frost
The above quote aptly describes film maker Deepika Narayan Bharadwaj and her mission of bringing about gender neutral laws in India. An encounter with the misuse of 498A IPC compelled Deepika to delve into the stories of persons who were victimized under this draconian law. Her journey is detailed in the 90 minute documentary titled "Martyrs of Marriage". After screening at 10 cities in India, its first international debut at Dubai was met with a rousing reception of a crowd numbering around 170 persons. A majority of the crowd was victims of this arbitrary provision that has led to a source of heartbreak, mental agony and endless litigation for them.The event was hosted at the Indian Consulate, Dubai.
The event was graced by prominent businessmen and philanthropists Vasu Shroff, Bharatbhai Shah, Ram Buxani, Bhagwan Kalwani, James Mendonca, Sarvotham Shetty and Sundar Shetty. A small number of prominent lawyers including Dr G M Vajpayee and Binoy Sasi were also present.
The event started out with an opening speech by prominent men's rights activist Subu Subramanium who stressed on the sanctity of the 5,000-year-old Indian culture and the importance of strong family values in sustaining those cultures and values. He expressed agony at the way the current laws were tearing apart Indian families and causing irreversible destruction in their wake. Later Deepika took the stage to tell the audience that she was speechless when she first received a summons from the court which contained patently false allegations against her and her family making them an accused under section 498A. She stressed on raising awareness about this dangerous situation and compelling the government to amend the laws in a bid to save the upcoming generation.
The documentary told the stories of Syed Makhdoom Ahmed, Aavadesh Yadav and Manoj through the eyes and voices of their teary-eyed family members. The loss of these otherwise brave and overachieving men still caused overwhelming heartache to their family members. Many more victims were interviewed and commented at the biased nature of these laws that persecuted men just for contracting a marriage. They spoke about the years of litigation and torture by the police that had cost many of them jobs, money and an overall sense of peace and happiness that existed before their marriages. A pertinent point was driven home by one of those interviewed when he said that he would win the cases but eventually at some point his son would have to fight on his behalf. This exposes the arduous delay in litigation by those victimized to prove their innocence. This was one of the primary reasons why men chose to settle litigation with their spouses in lieu of exorbitant amounts of money.
The documentary also interviewed eminent personalities like Justice S N Dhingra, Mumbai high court advocate Mrunalini Deshmukh and feminist activist Madhu Kishwar. They were synonymous in their view that the well intentioned provisions of 498A and Dowry Prohibition Act were being grossly misused and that an amendment of the laws were the need of the times. Justice S N Dhingra suggested that all the laws related to matrimonial issues be brought under one overarching statute. They were also candid about the fact that these laws were being used as leverage to extract huge amounts of monetary settlements from the husband and their families.
The evening ended on a high note when at the end of the documentary the audience thanked Deepika with a standing ovation. This was followed by a vote of thanks by chief guest Vasu Shroff who expressed surprise and anguish at the misuse of laws that were meant to protect a section of the society. He said that the stories of the victims shown in the documentary were but a mere drop in the ocean and that there were many more victims out there with stories untold. He mentioned that the misuse of 498A had affected a member of his family and an exorbitant claim of money was also made. He encouraged Deepika and the audience present at the venue to make efforts in screening Martyrs of Marriage in the parliament. To the same cause he said that himself, Bharatbhai Shah and Ram Buxani would continue being supportive.
Deepika mentioned that she would strive to get her documentary shown to as many judges and police personnel as possible and that she would continue screening her documentaries across various Indian and international cities. She requested people to visit her website http://www.martyrsofmarriage.com/ and continue to support the cause of screening the documentary at the Indian parliament.