Protection of Indian Women
India is a vast country with various cultures, languages, religions, and traditions. There is one common thread, though, that unites most of the country. Apart from a few minor communities, most of the country is deeply rooted to a patriarchal form of social life. One look at the skewed sex ratio of the country, the levels of girls’ education, the poor women’s healthcare system and it is not difficult to discern which gender has traditionally faced neglect – neglect that often translates into cruelty, harassment, and torture. Married women have traditionally been bearing the brunt of this cruelty in the form of domestic violence, dowry harassment, torture etc. But then, almost 7 decades into independence, much has been done by our legislators and by the government to improve the lot of the women in this country. Laws specifically designed to protect women in their marital homes, to dissuade husbands and in-laws from making dowry demands at the time of the wedding and many years thereafter, have been implemented with much zest. Women’s education has found much encouragement and awareness of the severe punishment that gender discrimination could attract is almost universal.
In all the clamour to champion the cause of the women, it seems we have collectively failed to protect the interests of the men. With increasing number of husbands claiming torture and harassment by wives and in-laws, it is perhaps time to pause and re-evaluate the prejudices we harbour. It is time for us to consider seriously the dual jeopardy negotiated by harassed men. On the one hand, Indian society expects men to be strong. Any form of weakness, including admission of being physically or mentally harassed at the least, is regarded with contempt, mockery, scorn, or worse – with pity. The stereotype of Indian men is that of a bread earner, the epitome of strength, a commercial success, a great father, the head of the family, a guide. And the list is unending. Amidst all this, raising an alarm that the wife is abusive and torturous may itself cause a stigma. Most men prefer to suffer in silence rather than come out in the open.
Harassment of the Husband
There is a very thin line between fighting for the cause of women and misandry. Rising cases of husband harassment in the country are outright alarming. According to the Government of India statistics, in 2005, 52,583 married men committed suicide. In 2006, 55,452 married men took their own lives, while in 2007, 57,593 married men killed themselves. Even without going into a breakdown of the reasons, it is clear that cases of husband harassment and abuse is on the rise. It could be about the rising levels of independence and education among women, however, it is also a fact that in almost 70 years of independence not much has been done to protect the rights of the men in the country or to look into their welfare.
Misuse of 498A
The one term that is often heard most in conversations with harassed husbands and their families, the term that is spoken of in hushed, often fearful tones is “Section 498 A”. This section of the Indian Penal Code was initially introduced in 1983, the period when the country witnessed an unprecedented number of cases of dowry harassment and even murders. Section 498 A states “Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine”.
The section sought to empower women by making offences under it non-bailable (only courts are empowered to grant the accused bail), and by making it mandatory for the police to arrest the husband (and at times his family) of the woman lodging the complaint.
With the passage of years, though, it seems that Section 498 A has become a potent tool for subjugation and oppression of a husband in the hands of manipulative women. Over the past years, misuses of 498A have perhaps, far outdone any benefits of relief it may have brought to the women of the country. So much so that the Supreme Court of India instructed the legislature to revisit the law and observed, “It is a matter of common experience that most of these complaints under Section 498-A of the IPC are filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues without proper deliberations. We come across a large number of such complaints which are not even bona fide and are filed with oblique motives.”
Harassment and torture of husbands is not merely physical or financial. Child custody battles in the country have become commonplace. While according to current Indian child custody laws, the father is the natural guardian, women take to creating impediments for separated/divorced husbands to meet and associate with their children. The child custody laws in India also require a complete overhaul.
Helpline for Tortured Husbands
Till not long ago, tortured husbands could do nothing but put up with their nightmarish harrowing lives or end it by taking their lives. The establishment of AIMWA – All India Men’s Welfare Association – comes as a lifeline to such men. The AIMWA is a self-help group which aids, advices, and helps harassed husbands in all possible ways. A 24*7 helpline is listed for each state where one may call and find assistance.
Save Indian Family Foundation is another organization that routinely assists men who have been abused and tortured, either by their spouses or by the in-laws. The organisation runs two helplines for men – 9410217409 (North India) and 9902210641 (South India). Apart from these, a website called 498A is also run by men who have been victims of misuse of this section of the IPA. The group runs a daytime helpline for men who are victims of 498A misuse or are threatened by wives with imprisonment. This helpline is 782-709-0270. The Men’s Rights Organization also works in this field. A number of NGOs these days have also started to take up the cause of the battered men. This in itself is a hearty sign of gender equality and empathy in the country.