Counselling psychologist Salony Priya recently shared a case with us about a married woman who was having an affair. The woman was upfront about not wanting to give up on the extramarital relationship even after the husband found out and confronted her. The woman’s parents defended their daughter and the in-laws were deeply embarrassed because it was a matter of social prestige for them.
The family became the talk of the town because the wedding had been a flamboyant one with the entire city in attendance; and now, after a year and a half the bahu wanted to walk out. The husband couldn’t come to terms with the truth, because he had chosen an arranged marriage; his mother went into depression because she had arranged the marriage and knew the family, but the woman continued to manipulate the situation in her own favour. She wanted to walk out of the marriage by blaming the husband and everybody chose to believe her. “Does she gain the power to ruin me and my family just because she happens to be a woman?” he questioned whilst desperately trying to understand what went wrong.
Related reading: It had all started with innocuous flirting on WhatsApp
With cases like these becoming common, on this International Men’s Day, we decided to speak to celebrity divorce lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh to understand how men are becoming victims of skewed laws and the need to safeguard men in our country as much as our women:
Q: Are harassment cases being filed by men? What’s the rough percentage of such cases being filed, and what are the kind of harassment cases that you come across in your practice?
All around us, relationships are breaking down. Anyone can be a victim of violence and harassment, but if a man complains he is either not heard or laughed at. Suicide rate among men is rising. Men are being implicated in false rape and dowry cases. Charges of violence, fake molestation and attempt to rape by the husband’s family are becoming frequent in an attempt to get men to the bargaining table or to extort money. However, many cases go unreported, as men feel too ashamed to report abuse, or fear false accusations against them in reprisal.
In my experience, a large number of husbands are filing cases for divorce on the grounds of mental harassment and at times physical cruelty by the wife. There are also cases of grief and anguish caused to the husband in certain extreme cases of paranoia or highly suspicious behaviour by the wife. Unfortunately, there is no recourse to them in criminal law, unlike for women, who have an option of filing a complaint and pursuing proceedings under criminal law, like the most abused section 498A of IPC (that protects married women from cruelty by their husbands or his relatives). I would say that at least 50% of the cases filed in the Family Court by men are based on mental cruelty or harassment caused to husbands by their wives.
Mrunalini Deshmukh is a renowned lawyer with over 15 years of practice with special expertise in Family Law.
Q: Men’s rights activists claim that anti-dowry laws in India are frequently being misused in harassment and extortion of husbands, and linked this to the high suicide rate among married men in India, which is almost twice that of women. Would you agree?
It is true that that the laws to prevent social evils, like dowry, sexual exploitation, etc. have been abused by a certain section of women in the society who have access to money and the best legal brains. However, courts have taken cognizance of the fact that innocent husbands and their family members have been wrongly arrested in cases and put through humiliation and agony despite not having committed any offence.
In some cases, men have resorted to taking extreme steps like attempting to commit suicide. However, it is also true that many women have been compelled to attempt suicide due to harassment, monetary demand from in-laws, etc. and hence it works both ways.
Q: Has the frequency of domestic violence against men increased in recent years?
A: I would put it as an equal number of harassment cases by both genders and neither of them hesitates to seek legal recourse these days.
However, while there are several platforms for women, there is little that is available to men if they are harassed, abused, subjected to violence by their female partners or office colleagues. Although lately, many men are overcoming their male ego, stigma and conditioning and coming forward alleging and admitting that they were harassed, abused and victimised by women.
Q: Keeping in mind that men are being equally ostracised, what are the measures being taken (by law) to ensure that men are equally safeguarded in our country?
The intent of legislation was never to harass men. And hence, to curb these false allegations, there have been several directives when cases are filed against men and their families. The police have been cautioned against arresting a husband and his relatives without a thorough investigation into the woman’s complaint. It’s imperative now that the previous history and records of families are examined and a thorough medical investigation is done before FIRs are filed for domestic violence.
Related reading: A dreamy love story that became a real-life nightmare
As a country, in the past, we had only heard of and seen majority of Indian women getting oppressed and being given secondary status in comparison to men. In order to prevent crime against women, the Judicial System of the country created several laws in favour of women and rightly so. The idea was to ensure physical safety of women and give them legal and property rights. However, over a period of time, the same laws created to empower women have somehow ended up victimising men. Hence it’s crucial that we collectively work towards gender-equal activism and gender-neutral laws, to make India a truly equal society where rights of women and men are equally safeguarded.