Editor’s note: This article is also available in Romanian.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.—Desmond Tutu
Seeing my uncles leave their parents and set up separate homes no matter how much they loved their parents and wanted to keep them along was normal for me as a young girl. I never bothered to think about it. Though I saw the pain in the eyes of these old and ailing parents, I thought that it was probably more important for a man to listen to his wife than to those who had brought him up in this world, taught him how to walk, and made him the man he is today. I grew up and saw a few of these men completely snapped from family ties, but once again I never bothered to inquire much.
Three years ago, I was forced to THINK.
A very dear friend of mine was on the brink of a divorce a year after his marriage and two months after his parents had started living with the couple. His wife gave him two options: leave his parents forever or divorce with a huge sum. He chose the latter. I still remember endless drives where he spoke less and cried more for that decision. He never wanted to break his marriage but was forced to. He was also forced to pay a price that was worth his and his parents’ life’s savings. This time, though I did wonder to myself why he was paying so much, I did not get too much into the reasons.
Two years ago, I was forced to ACT.
It happened again, this time very close to me. A young boy (my cousin), who had fallen in love with the “innocence” of this girl, was cheated—and cheated beyond explanation. She was a dream to him; he was a tissue for her. He married her to make a home; she married him for society’s tag. She loved another man, and this marriage was just part of the plan! He felt humiliated. She felt victorious. He did not want her to go. She wanted a divorce. He consented to an amicable separation. She cried, DOWRY! My cousin was given two choices: divorce with a huge sum or a dowry case and his family behind bars!
I accompanied my cousin to meet a retired judge and seek guidance. There had been no dowry demand and the girl was lying. “Truth has no significance,” the judge said. “As a husband, you can do nothing to save you and your family if she wants to file a dowry case. It doesn’t matter if you are right or she is wrong. What she says is right.” I was enraged. I told him that we had evidence! He laughed, saying, “A woman isn’t punished for adultery in this country. However, she can file endless false cases against you, get you arrested under 498A, and make you run around courts for years until you satisfy her demands. She’s a woman.”
My cousin was also extorted. I saw his family’s trauma and his transition from a cheerful boy to a shattered man. I still can’t forget his screams. That’s when I understood why my friend had paid, why my cousin had paid, and why men compromise.
After my cousin’s case, suddenly I saw it happening everywhere. Or perhaps what I had ignored for years was now staring me in the face. I started researching dowry cases and realized that what the media had told me wasn’t the only truth. The deeper I went, the uglier the reality was behind these cases. The other side of 498A left me utterly confused as a woman: How can I use a law when I am wrong? How can it allow me to play with anyone’s life? How can it be used as a weapon? How can “she” always be right and he “always” be wrong? How can it allow a woman to get away with so many lies? One night I stumbled upon a suicide video of Syed Ahmed Makhdoom, in which he described false 498A and his ordeal as the reason behind his death. It changed my life.
I could no longer ignore. I could no longer be neutral and side with the oppressor. That’s when I decided to raise my voice against the misuse of laws by women and fight for those who have never been considered victims: men.
Increasingly, men in India are becoming victims of systematic abuse through gender-biased laws. Laws in which a man’s innocence doesn’t matter, where he is presumed guilty, and where a mere verbal accusation by a woman makes him a puppet in the hands of the police and judiciary for years to come. Laws in which he is humiliated, abused, extorted, and pushed to the brink for being a man!
In the past two years, I have come across thousands of these cases—cases where broken marriages have turned into dowry cases, failed affairs have turned into rape cases, appraisal rejections have turned into sexual harassment cases, property disputes have turned into outraging modesty, and street fights have turned into molestation—just because a woman now has the power to “feel” like a victim any way she wants and her words are enough to nail a man.
The misuse of laws isn’t the only issue. Another problem is the absolute apathy toward the problems of men. There is no law in India that recognizes violence toward men by his spouse/partner. There is no law in India to analyze the abuse of men by women. There is no law in India that clocks murders/burnings/suicides of married men by their wives or in-laws (like dowry deaths of women). India’s domestic violence act—which recognizes emotional, economical, physical, and sexual violence—doesn’t accept men as the victims of any of this violence. Despite the fact that the number of men committing suicide in India is twice the number of women, there is not a single helpline dedicated to men. And forget about having any laws for married men; if a married man who is abused uses his only option—divorce—he can rest assured that his wife will launch a dozen similar cases against him. So from being a victim he becomes an accused!
Women’s right activists often argue with me that the number of abused men is much lower. I ask, When there is no law to assess their abuse, how can there be numbers? Moreover, numbers is not my game, nor is holding placards with statistics my bread and butter. My fight is against the injustice toward men in the name of justice toward women—even if it’s for just one man. I wish to help every man who is a victim of this systematic abuse and hope to fight until justice stops looking through the eyes of gender.
Editorial note: Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj is the filmmaker behind “Martyrs of Marriage.” Here are two important promotional videos for the film:
The text of the above article first appeared on thenewsminute.com. –Eds