You must have read about cases of domestic violence shooting up during the lockdown but how have you visualised this? Is it a man beating his wife? Did it occur to you that women too can hurt their husbands?
During the lockdown, a men’s helpline called Save Indian Family would receive about 70 calls a day, each seeking respite from tormenting women.
One case was from a Salt Lake man who got his parents to come live his family. His upset wife gave him cigarette burns.
Another woman kicked her 80-year-old mother-in-law, yet another tried to smother the aged lady with a pillow.
A Tollywood technician, out of work during the lockdown, was being hounded for maintenance money by his estranged wife, failing which she threatened to have him arrested.
All Bengal Men’s Forum (ABMF) held an event at Nazrul Tirtha to raise awareness on the fact that men are not always predators and women are not always innocent. “Our laws are skewed towards women, who mostly get the benefit of doubt in a dispute. Countless women lodge false cases or misuse laws to ruin men. These men lose their jobs, their respect in society and are even driven to suicide,” said Nandini Bhattacharjee, president of ABMF.
A resident of New Town’s Jal Vayu Towers, Bhattacharjee said they receive three to five cases of men being harassed every day. “There are lots to fight for the rights of women but most people don’t even acknowledge that men can be victims,” she said.
Come to think of it, many of us know that International Women’s Day is on March 8, but do we know when International Men’s Day is? November 19. Today.
Bhattacharjee says most of their cases these days are from men against whom women have filed false cases of 498A (this section of the Indian Penal Code says that if a woman is subjected to cruelty by her husband and his family, they may be jailed and fined), false rape, false Pocso (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) and maintenance money from estranged husbands.
The activists say that the conviction rate of the above cases is low, implying that many are fabricated.
“We get fake corporate sexual harassment cases too but they are comparatively less. Many cases are about child custody in case of divorce,” she says. “Courts usually give custody to the mother and sometimes even if the dad is allowed to visit the child on certain days, she lies that the child is sick and cancels the visit. Most cases now are coming from urban and semi-urban areas where women have become so-called empowered.”
Radhikanath Mallick of Pirito
Purush Poti Porishad talks of a case where a woman never went to her marital home after marriage. “After four years when she suddenly wanted in, the husband’s family refused. In vengeance, she filed false rape cases against all the men in that house,” he says. “These days women are finding even 498A to be too lenient so they are going straight for attempted rape or murder cases,” he notes.
Activists point out that our domestic violence laws protect only women. “Why leave out men and transgenders? They are also human and feel pain when attacked,” says Amartya Talukdar of the men’s rights group Hridaya. They fund the Save Indian Family helpline with donations they get from across the country. “We aren’t misogynists but when people talk of gender equality they shouldn’t mean partiality towards only one gender.”
Cry rape in revenge
Mallick recalls a Salt Lake case of a lady who filed a molestation charge against her interviewer after she failed to land the job. “The interviewer’s innocence was proved only as his room was under CCTV surveillance else he would have been ruined,” he says.
In another instance, a landlady was unable to get her male tenant to vacate her property, so she allegedly filed a sexual harassment case against him. A Delhi girl who did not want to pay for her app cab ride did the same against the driver. “When a Calcutta man lost his job during the pandemic and was unable to buy the flat he had promised his fiancee, she cried kidnap while they were together in a moving car,” Mallick cites.
Students aren’t spared either. When a boy from a reputable city college broke up with his girlfriend and started dating another girl, the ex and her mother hatched a plan. The girl made a quick call to the boy and then shut her phone and left town. A few days later her mother lodged a missing case with the cops, blaming the boy.
“To be grilled by the police, that too at such a tender age, affects these boys psychologically. Countless such youths are getting framed by vindictive women who know they can get away with murder as everyone thinks women are victims and men are predators,” says Talukdar.
Of late, women have been using social media for support, but often for the wrong reasons. Mallick recalls the 2014 videos of the “Rohtak sisters” that went viral.
“The girls were seen beating three men with belts on a bus in what was presumably a case of harassment. The sisters were praised and awarded for their bravery but later witnesses and even a polygraph test revealed the case was false,” says Mallick. “But by then the men got blacklisted from the army jobs they were applying for.”
Kids as bait
Bhattacharjee says false Pocso cases are rampant and hence the conviction rate is low.
“Parents misuse the law for personal vendetta. False Pocso cases are most common in property-related tussles. A father writes his will in favour of the elder son so how does the younger son take revenge? Why, he claims his brother abused his four-year-old daughter,” she says. Since such a small child will not be able to testify, usually it’s her parents’ words that are recorded.
Mallick recalls a case where a man was booked for harassing a 15-year-old slum dweller. “In court, the girl’s conscience awakened and she confessed it was fabricated. Her mother had framed him since he refused to marry the girl,” he says, also citing the case of a teenage girl who booked her teacher for harassment. “It later turned out that she was paying him back for scolding her for shoddy schoolwork.”
Equality or partiality
Another activist, Abhijit Ghosh, talks of two Gavit sisters of Maharashtra and their mother who were convicted of kidnapping and killing multiple children in the 1990s. They would use the kids for robberies and kill them once they were no longer productive.
“The courts sentenced them to death and even their mercy plea to the President was rejected in 2014. But they still haven’t been hung and there is no explanation why. The nation came together to demand death for Nirbhaya’s killers but is this crime any less cruel?” Ghosh asks.
Boys are trafficked too
The activists want more awareness and action to be taken to prevent trafficking of boys. “Trafficking doesn’t only mean girls forced into brothels. Boys are forced into begging, killed to harvest their organs, sold to Central Asia where they are forced to be jockeys for camel races or for bachcha bazi (male child prostitution),” begins Talukdar.
“They are frequently forced into child labour or brain washed, handed weapons and groomed to be mercenary soldiers. There is also a huge market for child pornography where little boys are exploited,” he says.
Change from the top
More boys drop out of school than girls as they are under pressure to join the workforce and start earning, activists say. “Then why aren’t scholarship and grant schemes like the state’s Kanyashree Prakalpa extended to male students?” asks Talukdar.
It is men, he says, who have to do dirty work like manual scavenging and dangerous work like construction work on skyscrapers. “Women don’t seek job reservation there,” he notes.
Men have unique problems and the activists demand a men’s commission to address them. “Ageing men can’t make new friends and when they no longer see themselves as protectors and providers they find no sense of purpose. Many turn to suicide. Many more men commit suicide than women,” he says.
Bhattacharjee says the bias towards women is global. “Think of adoptions. Why do most people want to adopt girls and not boys? I’m part of a global movement called African Boy Child Network that cares for boys born to women in prison. Such kids are allowed to stay with their mothers till six years of age and thereafter sent to homes. Many NGOs come forward to take such girl children but the boys languish in jail and are drawn into the world of crime and criminals,” she says.
Help at hand
The first thing the men’s rights groups do is to hear out these men.
“Unlike women, men aren’t comfortable speaking about such troubles. They are ashamed to say they get beaten by their wives. Even the police laugh at them,” says Talukdar.
“The other day, a bachelor went to the cops to complain about his spinster sister making incestuous advances at him and they roared with laughter and drove him out. Where do these men go?” he asks.
The various groups provide emotional support and legal guidance. Some are even free of cost.
Women stand to lose
Men who are aware of the rampant misuse of the law live in fear and soon, activists feel, they will no longer help women in distress on the streets.
“There have been countless cases of women taking lifts from men and threatening to scream rape unless he paid her a ramson,” Mallick says. “Even on public transport, if a woman falsely accuses a man of misbehaviour he’s had it! In such cases the public blindly sides with the girl.”
Counselling and legal guidance on false cases of dowry demand, molestation, rape, domestic violence, regarding maintenance money of estranged spouse, child custody problems etc
• Save Indian Family 88824 98498
• All Bengal Men’s Forum- 70036 24865, 70036 09269, 90075 57333
• Pirito Purush Poti Porishad 94330 94337
Have you faced a domestic situation where a man was the victim? Write to The Telegraph, 6 Prafulla Sarkar Street, Calcutta 700001 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org