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SCARLET AND BLACK

Laws protecting women from domestic violence are sometimes unjust to men. This can be corrected only with great care

Men hate to admit they have been beaten up by their women. That the desperate desire to hang on to notions of muscle-flexing masculinity makes them so vulnerable could have been funny. But it is not, because the statistics of intimate violence perpetrated by women on men is now compelling all countries to rethink solutions, both legal and psychological, to domestic violence. The habits bred by patriarchal modes of thought make man the natural aggressor, woman the suffering vehicle. This is more than conditioning, in life it is more often the case than not. A large part of the success of the women’s movement, in India and elsewhere, must be located in the changes it has wrought not only in the laws pertaining to domestic violence, but in attitudes and awareness. But the overwhelming measure of injustices against women in actual life has, at the same time, created a set of almost automatic responses to episodes of domestic violence. All this has contributed to an imperceptible imbalance, by which men as victims, of physical abuse or mental torture, of frame-ups and other forms of exploitation, have fallen by the wayside.

This, of course, is the larger picture. Each country has its own specific statistics, its own customs and social attitudes, and in India, there can be no doubt that women suffer all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation far more than men. The changes in law and the protections offered to women have therefore been all the more welcome here. But the law, which should ideally be non-discriminatory and impartial, does put men at a disadvantage. Cases of dowry-death and torture, for example, are so numerous, that a complaint is enough to put the husband and his immediate family behind bars. It is also a non-bailable offence, and may therefore cost the man his job even if he is later found not guilty. The situation, given the disadvantaged position of women in Indian society, is truly difficult. So the Centre’s recent move to correct the imbalance in the laws to give men some protection must be welcomed as a necessary one. It is a harsh truth that it has become easier for women, if so minded, to accuse men of violence or violation, or claim self-defence after being violent themselves. The guidelines against sexual harassment in the workplace, again, allow for such loopholes.

Unfortunately, the first suggestion coming from the law ministry is not inspiring, since it proposes to make a non-bailable offence bailable. This is again going overboard in the other direction, because the occasional misuse of a law should not allow real offenders, immeasurably greater in number than victims of frame-ups, to be bailed out the very next day. It will also weaken deterrence. Some other way has to be found to give men a just hearing. Whatever the situation in everyday life, there should be no assumptions in law. The Centre has also suggested the promulgation of a law for the protection of men, similar in spirit to Section 498A of the criminal procedure code. This is certainly more promising. It increases the possibility of justice to the rare male victim while preventing killers and torturers of women from getting away.

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