Traumatised by the “misuse” of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, the anti-dowry law, men’s rights activists in India are demanding a separate ministry for men and gender neutral laws. Among them is 35-year-old Manav Mishra, who narrated his story of marriage and a turbulent divorce.
“It was an arranged marriage. Things were initially fine, but it didn’t last too long,” Manav said. “We got married in 2008. By 2011, I had become the husband who molested his wife for dowry,” he said.
He said his ex-wife’s mother kept pestering the couple to live in a separate home. “They are my parents. They are old. My mother is a diabetic. But I was fine with living in a separate house. I never said no to it. Still, it wasn’t enough,” said Manav. Due to tension in his home, his parents decided to give some more space to the couple to sort their issues and went to live with relatives.
“Things weren’t improving no matter what. She was heavily influenced by her mother. She decided to live with her parents. That separation lasted a year. That was when I filed the Restitution of Conjugal Rights (RCR). They replied with imposing Section 498A on me. Her father is a lawyer,” said Manav.
Swarup Sarkar, one of the founders of Save Family Foundation, which supports men who have been victims of biased laws, said, “We are not against women or the rights of women. We are fighting for gender neutral laws. Be it dowry or rape, laws are written with the assumption that the victim is always the woman and the culprit always the man. This is unfair. Men, too, are raped. Men, too, suffer domestic violence. The rate of suicide is higher among men than women,” said Sarkar.
“If the law is made for justice, how can it discriminate between genders?” Sarkar asked. “Look at the facts. The male-to-female suicide ratio increased from 2.05 in 2013 to 2.10 in 2014. In India, one male commits suicide every 5.9 minutes, while the figure for women is one in every 12.36 minutes (2014). Every 5.9 minutes, a man commits suicide in India with family disputes being the single largest reason. These are National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) statistics. It is ironic that the Ministry of Women and Child Development, in its own report in 2007, had said that of every 100 children sexually abused, 53 are boys, but still the rape laws in India or other laws do not cover men as victims.”
“The dowry case against me was quashed by the High Court after the allegations were proven false. I got divorced. I have to pay no maintenance,” Mishra said.
“It is one of the major objectives of our organisation to motivate men not to agree to a forced settlement, but fight the case with whatever you have. We target for ‘zero maintenance’. Also, if the accusations are proved wrong, there should be a ‘misuse clause’ in the law to punish women for leveling false charges,’’ said Swarup.
“Women can victimise men. And there should be laws to provide the sufferer with refuge. The prejudiced structure of our society is forcing our men to live hollow lives,” he said.
“Even though I have won the case, the accusations that were made have scarred me for life. My identity among my people has gone through the harsh test of time and I cannot do anything about it now; while she was told to stay in court only for 10 hours as punishment,” Mishra said.