By John Monteiro
Nov 19: Today, November 19, is International Men's Day (IMD). Inaugurated on February 7, 1992 by Prof Thomas Oaster, the project was re-initialised in 1999 in Trinidad and Tobago. IMD finds support from a variety of individuals and groups in many countries. The objectives of celebrating IMD include focusing on men's and boys' health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. It is an occasion to highlight discrimination against men and boys and to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular for their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care.
But, for many men IMD stands for International Mourning Day. They seek to turn IMD into Justice for Men Day. There are many male malcontents or grievously aggrieved. Laws, ostensibly enacted to protect women from predatory men, have made men like Prometheus, the legendary Greek Titan who was chained to a massive rock by a curse of Zeus, for stealing fire, and birds pecked and ate his flesh. He was eventually unbound and his story is retold by Percy Shelley in a four-act lyrical drama titled Prometheus Unbound – first published in 1820..
Many men in India feel that they are bound and tortured by laws on divorce, domestic violence, marital rape, maintenance and child custody and more. These legal cobwebs ensnare and enfeeble them to the point of desperation and despair – and in some cases even driving them to suicide. But, like the proverbial ‘even the worm turns’, these suffering men being driven to the wall are banding together to fight with their back to the wall. But,first the facts.
According to a report in Deccan Herald (13/11/15) there is a helpline to rescue men framed in rape cases. According to the report, a love break-up almost ruined the life of a Delhi IIT graduate. The girl lodged a rape case against him with the police after learning that he was getting married. The IITian was on the verge of a complete breakdown when help arrived. His ordeal has not ended yet but the only solace for him is that he has the helping hand of Paritran, a group which assists those who are framed in heinous crimes like rape and molestation..
Started by 20 youth in 2013 in Bengaluru, Paritran has now 71 counsellors across the country. It has also set up a helpline (08882498498). The group has offered assistance to many high-profile people, including models, singers, film actors and software engineers. Chandra Shekhar Agrawal, who works for a multinational and is a founder member of the group, said there was a systematic attempt to destroy the social fabric and many youth were unknowingly falling prey to that. “Instead of contributing to the GDP, many youth are fighting false cases,” said Agrawal, pointing out that false cases of rape and molestation are being increasingly filed when pre-marital sex, live-in relationship and marriages go awry. Women then decide to take revenge on their partners. Criminal law in India has been drafted in such a manner that it unduly favours women whereas men do not have any say, he suggested. The society at large assumes that women do not lie, especially when they complain about offences of a sexual nature. “Tragically, law-enforcement agencies have a similar belief. Since sexual offences are generally a matter of shame and a social taboo, the agencies take the accusations at face value,” he said.
In another report, published in the same daily on the last IMD titled “‘People don’t believe men can be abused” wrote about the laws and enforcement of child custody biased against men. To mark IMD last year a non-governmental organisation called Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP) released a documentary film in Kannada called “Moustache” in Bangaluru, in an effort to spread awareness about how men suffer from gender bias in society. CRISP president Kumar Jahgirdar explained, “Men are just expected to give and not take, make sacrifices, and then everything they do is tagged as his ‘duty’. People don’t believe men can be abused, despite phrases like ‘be a man’ or ‘don’t cry like a girl’ being thrown at him when he seeks help for emotional distress.” Jahgirdar, who has been advocating for men’s rights, explains that the aim of CRISP’s efforts is gender neutrality. “There’s a ministry for women and children, and even one for environment and forests. Where is the ministry for men?” he asks.
There was another recent report from Hyderabad by Times News Network titled “Fathers say child custody law ‘lopsided’” When the entire country celebrates Children's Day on Saturday (Nov. 14), hundreds of fathers will take to the streets demanding equal rights over parenting their kids, in the tragic event of a divorce. While doctors warn that parental alienation due to divorce or separation has an adverse effect on a child's psychology, divorced fathers say the law is lopsided towards the mother, and have called for sweeping reforms in existing laws.
Then there is a law, Domestic Violence Act, that got Presidential approval on October 25, 2006, which for the first time introduced the concept of “Invisible Violence” at home – physical and verbal abuse, withholding of financial rights and sexual cruelty. Denial of company, indifference and abstinence from sex are legal grounds for divorce. The woman can cite “marital rape” as ground for divorce. In other words, she can turn round and say that she had not consented to have sex which she has had with her husband. This is the intrusion of law into the marital bedroom. This might lead to the farcical situation of having consent forms, like condoms, stored in the bedroom. Sexual foreplay may have to start with signing of consent forms and keeping them safe from subsequent destruction. If you think that all this is in the law books and in the realm of the mind, there is enough evidence to show that women are very conscious of their rights and are moving in the direction of enforcing them.
This Act is preceded by a succession of Acts and court rulings that have made life miserable for men. They are now vulnerable to blackmail by wives threatening to take recourse to the anti-male laws. There has been strong reaction to this trend and men have banded together. In Kolkata there is an organisation called Forum of Oppressed Husbands to take up the cases of battered husbands. The Forum, which has got 1500 members, takes up the cause of men who suffer mental and physical torture at the hands of their wives and offers help ranging from counseling to fighting cases in courts. Ironically, the President of this Forum is a woman lawyer, Aruna Mukherji, who explained the rationale of forming a body to fight against women by men. She said: “Incidents of men being on the receiving end are gradually on the rise specially in the urban areas. For women there are many laws to deal with such problems and many bodies like Women’s Commission and Women’s Grievance Cells while there is no facility for men who face problems from their wives." Still more ironically, 30 % of the Forum’s membership is accounted for by women who have come forward for the cause of suffering men. The Forum demands the amendment to Section 498-A of IPC (Punishment for subjecting married women to cruelty ) which is loaded in favour of women. According to Aruna, there were several instances when women have taken undue advantage of this law. The Forum wants that charges under Section 498-A be made bailable or a new Section be added wherein males would be able to lodge complaints of domestic torture against their spouses.
Fortunately the courts and police have given some relief to the males. In a judgment delivered in November 2014, the Supreme Court held that filing false criminal complaints against one's spouse amounts to "matrimonial cruelty" and creates sufficient ground for the aggrieved to seek divorce. The court said that the legal position on this issue has been dealt with comprehensively in previous judgments. "It is now beyond cavil that if a false criminal complaint is preferred by either spouse it would invariably and indubitably constitute matrimonial cruelty, such as would entitle the other spouse to claim a divorce," the bench said. The bench allowed a plea for divorce made by a man from Hyderabad, whose wife had filed false complaints against him and seven of his family members, which led to their incarceration. In such a situation, the marriage could be dissolved under Section 13(1)(ia) of the Hindu Marriage Act, the bench reiterated.
There have been corrective move on this front. According to a Bangalore-dated report in The Times of India (7-7-12), men falsely accused of demanding dowry can breathe easy. Checks and balances have been put in place to handle dowry harassment complaints that have often led to accused husbands and in-laws being arrested. Police officers in Karnataka have been told to exercise restraint while making arrests on plaints relating to offences under Section 498-A of the IPC. A circular has laid out guidelines to handle such complaints. "An arrest under Section 498-A should be made only with a written order from a police officer of the rank of superintendent in the districts or deputy commissioner in commissionerates. Arrests should be resorted to only for acceptable reasons," the circular said. The police officers have been instructed not to accept dowry harassment cases at face value, and study them well before pressing ahead. This could spell the end - or, at least, reduction - of false and trumped-up cases.
The police initiative comes because of the sustained nudging by higher judiciary while handling divorce and dowry harassment cases. It may be recalled that Bombay high court judge had famously said that wives should be like Sita and follow their husbands even to vanvas. In this case, the judge was telling the wife to follow her husband to Andaman (originally meant for life convicts) on his transfer to that remote island.
So, are men angels or saints to be put on pedestals? That is another story for another time. For now let us conclude a grim story on a light note.
He must pay
Husband and wife have a tiff. Wife called up mom and said: "He fought with me again. I am coming to live with you."
Mom said: “No darling, he must pay for his mistake. I am coming to live with you."
Today’s short reading from the Bible
From Genesis: "And God promised men that good and obedient wives would be found in all corners of the earth".
Then he made the earth round ...and he laughed and laughed and laughed!