MEN’S RIGHTS- A CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE:
In India, where crimes against women are rampant, a female activist and documentary filmmaker stands out for the opposite. She is trying to explore and look into the concerns of “men who are abused by women”. It is a rare issue but Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj is trying to put forward a new perspective on men’s right.
WHEN HALF OF INDIA IS GRUELING WITH ANGER FOR THE ENDLESS RAPE INCIDENTS:
Rapes, domestic violence, female infanticides and other such incidents cover almost a major portion of our news articles that make us think about the disturbing gender ratios in our country.
Girls and women also have to battle lifelong discrimination, prejudice, violence and neglect.
In a climate like that, 31-year-old Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj knows how to respond against such situations, but she has some questions that are reasonable enough: “Are men not vulnerable? Do they not face discrimination? Can they not be victims?”
And she goes on to add: “Just as you don’t have to be a woman to fight for women, similarly, you don’t have to be a man to fight for men. I don’t talk about atrocities against women because there are millions who are talking about it.
Her fight at the moment is against the misuse of Section 498A of the Indian penal code. Ms Bhardwaj is travelling across India, screening Martyrs of Marriage, her first feature-length documentary, in an attempt to persuade the authorities to re-write the law.
India introduced Section 498A in 1983 after a spate of dowry deaths in Delhi and elsewhere in the country.
Reports of new bridges being burnt to death by their husbands and the murders were mentioned as “kitchen accidents”. Angry protests by female MPs and activists forced Parliament to bring in the law.
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“It was a law made with very noble intentions,” agrees Ms Bhardwaj. “But a law that was made to save lives, has taken many lives.”
Ms Bhardwaj is not alone in her criticism. Coming years, Section 498A has acquired the reputation of being the “most abused law in history of Indian jurisprudence”.
Rise in case of divorce, campaigners say that disgruntled women, aided by unscrupulous lawyers, routinely misuse the law to harass their husbands and their relatives.
It has also been questioned by the Supreme Court with one judge describing its misuse as “legal terrorism”.
The National Commission for Women expressing concerns over its misuse.
There has been arrest of 2.7 million people including 350,000 women and 27,000 children in 1998 and 2015.
The accused in some of the cases were young as two years old and, in a particularly bizarre case, a two-month-old baby was hauled into a police station.
Perturbed by such reports, in July 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the police to follow a nine-point checklist before arresting anyone on a dowry complaint.
Ms Bhardwaj, a former journalist, says she began researching the subject in 2012 after “a very personal experience”.
“In 2011, a cousin’s marriage broke apart, his wife accusing entire family of beating and demanding dowry from her. She filed a false case against us. I was also named as an accused, as someone who beat her and tortured her regularly,” she says.
The family paid “a large sum of money” to buy peace, only the case was closed. They did not get peace.
“The law has become a tool for extreme blackmail and extortion,” she says.
Her research took her to police stations and courts, and put her in touch with the Save Indian Family, an NGO fighting for the rights of wronged men and fight for men’s right.
The documentary, which took four years to complete, has powerful first-person accounts from men who have been falsely accused under the anti-dowry law – from husbands who spent years in jail only to be acquitted later by courts; from the parents of young men who killed themselves unable to bear the harassment and ignominy of being labelled wife-abusers; a tearful video message from a husband recorded minutes before he hanged himself; and a suicide note from a young banker questioning the “one-sided law”.
We also hear from a retired Delhi high court judge who says the law is often “used as a leverage to settle scores”; a former Indian law minister who admits to the failure of governments to deal with the “abuse of this law”; one women’s rights activist who believes the law must be amended; while a second insists that “cases of misuse are few” and the law must remain unchanged to protect women from dowry abuse.
Ms Bhardwaj, however, insists that laws must be gender neutral.
“You cannot deny it saying the number of such cases is small. In the few years, thousands of people reached for help and I’ve referred them to Save Indian Family. In Delhi, I’m told that 24% of calls to women’s helplines are from men in distress.Lives are being destroyed. People are killing themselves.”
She now wants to organise a screening of Martyrs of Marriage for Indian MPs.
“I have shown the documentary to judges, police officials and magistrates, activists and the general public, men and women impacted by the law. I have received a tremendous response from the viewers. Now I want to take it to the Parliament, to lobby for a change in the law to stop its misuse.”
In recent months, Ms Bhardwaj has also been speaking out against false rape cases. After the December 2012 gang rape of a young woman on a bus in the Indian capital, Delhi, and her subsequent death, India introduced Section 376, a tough new anti-rape law.
Since then there has been increasein registration of cases, amid reports from courts that many are filed by women after a consensual relationship has gone sour or to settle disputes.
Ms Bhardwaj, too, has often taken to social media to speak up for men accused in false cases, attracting a severe backlash –
she regularly gets trolled on social media, feminists. Women’s rights activists accuse her of bias, also named as “pimp for rapists”
Even her two year old niece feels sorry for her aunty for being dragged on internet trolls
But Ms Bhardwaj remains unfazed. “Some feminists believe to fight for men and want justice for everyone, regardless of their gender. My work is not against women but for injustice.”