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Equality blow to men’s meet

New Delhi, June 24: The Centre has changed the agenda of its first-ever meeting with men’s groups that are seeking a review of India’s allegedly anti-male marital laws.

A day before the event, the women and child development ministry has turned it into a discussion on gender equality, provoking allegations that the exercise is an eyewash.

A Calcutta-based men’s group has threatened to boycott the event, organised by the ministry in collaboration with the United Nations Development Fund for Women.

Top ministry officials confirmed the change in agenda. “We do not want to convey the impression that we believe the existing laws are flawed or need changes. That is why we have changed the agenda,” an official said.

Minister Renuka Chowdhury had called the meeting after a sustained campaign by men’s groups who say the laws against dowry and domestic violence are one-sided and open to misuse. The men also feel the proposed legislation against “sexual harassment at the workplace” is discriminatory.

The new agenda — a copy is available with The Telegraph — does not mention any review of either the dowry law or the domestic violence act.

Instead, it speaks of “the urgent need to broaden interventions to include young boys and men to promote ideas of gender equality and justice”.

“The fact that the government has decided not even to discuss reviewing the existing laws is shameful. The entire exercise now appears an eyewash,” Vineet Ruia, president of the Calcutta-based Bharat Bachao Sangathan, said.

“The change in agenda has prompted me to reconsider whether we should even participate in the meeting.”

Men’s groups argue that the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, and the proposed sexual harassment at the workplace law can be made gender neutral.

Section 498(A) of the IPC, which bars dowry and punishes those guilty, is frequently misused, they say. In its current form, the section makes it mandatory for police to arrest all the accused named by the woman or her family even before starting investigations.

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