Author: Ankita Maji
UPES, School of Law, Dehradun
The major reason for starting any movement in a country is the oppression and the unfair treatment that the particular group faces. The movement is a way of bringing about balance in the otherwise unequal system that is prevailing in the society. India witnessed a number of movements which have evolved over the years trying to make a change in the society. One of the prominent movements which began in the early 2000s and has assumed the anatomy of a political movement is the Men’s Rights Movement. It started out in the form of local support groups in which men, particularly husbands talked about the grievances that they faced regarding the misuse of dowry related provisions which were enacted for protecting women in India, after a rampant increase in the number of deaths due to dowry and cruelty against them. The law that sparked the growth of such a movement is Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code- the fight against which continues even today.
WHAT IS 498A OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE?
A surge of protests started in the early 1980s by a number of organizations supporting women to raise their voices against the torture they faced by their husbands and in-laws in her matrimonial home. As a result, 498A of IPC was introduced in 1983, for protecting women from the cruelty imposed by their husband and his family members and imprisonment extending up to three years along with fine was awarded as punishment. The word ‘cruelty’ means any kind of harm, physical or mental, which may drive a woman to commit suicide or pose injury or danger to her life and body, inflicted upon her as a way of forcing her to pay a hefty sum of money as dowry, an age-old custom in India, which was prohibited in 1961, but sadly, the practice of dowry continues even today in many parts of the country. This provision was non-bailable, non-compoundable and cognizable in nature, which made this law quite strong to protect the women.
498A IPC- THE MOST MISUSED LAW OF THE COUNTRY?
489A was introduced with the noble intention of protecting women from harassment, cruelty and other forms of abuse. However, when investigations were conducted after filing of complaints, it was noticed that the percentage of acquittals was much higher as compared to that of convictions. In the case of Preeti Gupta vs State of Jharkhand, the court said, “It is a matter of common knowledge that exaggerated versions of the incidents are reflected in a large number of complaints.” It has been found that a large number of cases under 498A are dispersed at the investigation level itself as most of the complaints are based on facts which have been amplified to a great extent. The Law Commission in its 243rd report stated that Section 498A of IPC was the most misused legal provision of the country and the Supreme Court has termed it as ‘Legal Terrorism. Terrorism has no face or gender, yet it is capable of causing immense fear in the society, and destabilizes the existing peace and harmony. One can only think about the suffering of the old parents, the fear in the minds of the married sisters and other relatives who are falsely framed under this law. In fact, there have been cases where even remote friends, match makers and priests have been booked under this law. Women who tend to implicate false cases under this law have an intention to harm the reputation of the whole family and show that everyone joined hands in abusing her.
498A empowered the police to arrest the husband and their family members against whom a complaint has been filed instantly, without evidence, where the accused was held in custody before appearing in front of the Magistrate for their hearing. Ram Prakash Chugh, who is widely known as the father of men’s rights movement, saw this as an attack on their gender, and felt that this law placed too much power in the hands of women. In Inder Raj Malik vs. Sunita Malik It was held that 498A stood in violation of Article 14 and Article 20 (2) of the Indian Constitution. As a result of their lobbying against this law, the Supreme Court in 2014, struck off the automatic arrest provision and instructed that the arrest should be made only after following a nine-point checklist. The Supreme Court took note of cases like Savitri Devi vs Ramesh Chand & Ors and Saritha vs R. Ramachandran, where there was a visible reverse trend of this law, and thereby directed the Parliament to make this offence a non-cognizable and bailable one.
MEN AS VICTIMS OF ABUSE
Any person can be a victim of cruelty or domestic abuse, it cannot be made gender specific. In fact a research conducted by the U.K government shows that in matters of domestic violence about 9% of males have experienced some form of physical abuse which counts up to 1.4 million men. Also, an U.S based research states that male intimate partner victims (IPV) are often “choked, grabbed, punched and kicked” by their partners. Yet another research states that men and women have similar amounts of intimate partner victim encounters, as “equal proportions of men and women reported being victims of spousal violence during the preceding 5 years (4% respectively).”
Out of all the male victims in the above mentioned surveys, only a very small percentage of them are likely to report these abuses to the police or talk about their victimization in front of a health professional because they feel no one will believe them and they will be laughed at. The fear of being mocked or ridiculed is actually far greater among men, than the abuse itself, thanks to the Indian stereotypes. Most of the time, male victimization of abuse is not taken as seriously as women abuse because researchers in this field deny that such men exist, and even if they do, the extent to which they are victimized is nothing compared to women victims of abuse. One of the main reasons could be traced back to the patriarchal society that has been dominating the Indian culture for ages, and the deep rooted belief that women are the weaker class in the society and are always victimized, while men who enjoy an upper hand, are seen as perpetrators.
A survey conducted by the United Nations in 2016 ranked India to be the third country where men experience domestic abuse by their wives. Mr. Amit Bhandari, an advocate from Pune, wrote his book, ‘I was alive but 498A killed me’, after being falsely booked under 498A, which highlights the manner in which the system can be easily influenced by women, where the police along with the judge have a pre-conceived notion of the accused being guilty even before the trial is held. Surveys have also been conducted by VICE Media Company and Khulke Bol India, where a lot of husbands were also grieving fathers who were forcefully separated from their child and were not even allowed to see them. Some of them have gone as long as four years without meeting their children. They feel that this country offers them no shelter or place wherein they could go and demand for their rights as fathers. Also their reputation in the society takes a blow, where many lose their job and their career hits a hard end. “It took me 30 years to build my reputation and it took just 3 years for everything to end. I have no job today, and have to manage advocate fees, and other court charges”, is what a person had to say about his experience with this law. The number of suicides committed by men on account of false allegations cannot be ignored. We all know the famous case of Syed Ahmad Makhdoom, who committed suicide on account of a false dowry allegation and the humiliation that he suffered as a result of it. He had also been separated from his son and everything took a toll on him. Abuse and torture is not really considered a reason for suicides among men, and people just try to explore other possible reasons such as family problems or work pressure.
NGOs like The Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), Vaastav Foundation and Men Welfare Trust have been tirelessly working to fight for the rights of aggrieved men of the country, who feel that the law of the country has become biased and failed them. These organizations have raised their voice against the prevailing gender biasness which has reduced them to mere second-class citizens. Women activists in India like Deepika Bhardwaj and Indu Subhash have also raised their voices against the misuse of 498A and the discrimination that is being faced by men in the country. Over the years, many women have joined this movement on account of personal encounters with this law. Barkha Trehan joined this movement after a false case of harassment was filed against her male friend, who became so depressed that he couldn’t go about his usual activities. “Women have 40 to 50 women-centric laws...Not even a single law for men,” said Trehan. “This is disgusting”. Organizations have also demanded the setting up of a welfare ministry of men which can address the issues faced by men and work to resolve those.
‘Martyrs of Marriage’ is a documentary directed by activist Deepika Bhardwaj which tells us stories of men who were driven to commit either suicide or who suffered because of false allegations under 498A. Ignorance and denial of existence of such instances is no longer acceptable. Violence against men is not something new, and the dynamics of violence against men should be studied more. More conversations and discussions should be taking place so as to spread awareness and support. Apart from imposing strict punishments for false cases and having helpline numbers exclusively for men, the society needs to start seeing them as humans who can also feel pain.
This research has not tried to overshadow the fact that crimes against women are very much prevalent and is an important issue, but it has merely tried to uphold the fact that men face similar problems too. What is needed is the creation of safe space for both the genders where they can fight for their rights equally. Movements supporting men should also realize the fact that this is not a war against the womankind but a war against the evil that prevails in the society. It’s not about who is more abused, rather it’s about why such abuses are happening or why are such false cases cropping up. What is important to keep in mind is that the purpose of law is to provide justice and maintain peace, and it should be used as a means to establish harmony and not as a weapon.
 AIR 2010 SC 3363, (2010) 7 SCC 667
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