Egalitarianism, a political ideology hinged on the belief that everyone is equal, forms the nucleus of feminism.
In wake of the recent rise of feminist thought, one may wonder – has the Indian Constitution failed to safeguard men’s rights? Imagine this: What if you were convicted of a crime you never committed?
Taking legal recourse is necessitated in such a circumstance, but what if the laws with which you defend yourself are either gender-biased or even worse, non-existent?
The above case-scenario is representative of the male gender’s plight in the current legal system.
The Indian Constitution, which guarantees fundamental rights to every citizen of India and performs the function of upholding the spirit of democracy, finds itself in a legislative crisis with respect to laws for the protection of men against false dowry cases, child custody, sexual harassment, extortion, and rape.
Let’s look at the grounds on which the Indian Law has failed to deliver –
The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 criminalizes the act of demanding or accepting dowry.
Two decades later, in 1983, section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which dealt with matrimonial cruelty towards a woman on grounds of dowry, was brought into being.
While this section proved instrumental in curbing the ancient evil of dowry, frequent cases of its misuse have been reported.
Several Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) outlined its drawbacks and contended that the laws which were meant to protect women were being used to harass and extort men.
According to data obtained from the National Crime Records Bureau, around 1,00,000 cases are filed annually under IPC 498A of which only 10-20% of the accused were convicted between the years 2014-2015.
A majority of dowry-related cases end in acquittal.
MRAs have argued that the low rate of conviction points to the high percentage of false dowry allegations levelled against men. However, notable Indian lawyer Indira Jaising attributed this to prosecutorial deficiencies.
Its blatant abuse not only stands in conflict with the objective of the criminal justice system but also puts one’s professional and personal life in jeopardy.
The misuse of the 498A is also linked to the high-rate of suicide among married men.
Until 2014, Section 498A sanctioned the immediate arrest of the accused without carrying out any investigation. On 2 July 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the police must follow a 9-point checklist to determine the legitimacy of the claim and then make an arrest if necessary.
MRAs have also voiced their concern over section 498A being non-bailable and non-compoundable. However, a proposal to make a comprehensive amendment to this section by the reform committee is underway.
Recently, in a major setback, the Supreme Court withdrew its earlier ruling that required the grievances under 498A IPC to be scrutinized by Family Welfare Committees before proceeding with further action.
Thanks to mainstream media, the mother-child relationship enjoys an exalted status in India. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the male counterpart whose role in a child’s development is often unacknowledged. This mass-misconception has contributed to the gender-bias nestled in the legal system.
Custodial grievances are often ruled in the favour of women. A shared parenting arrangement, which accounts for the holistic growth of the child, takes a blow as the law grants child custody to the father only if the mother is deemed mentally unfit or has left the household.
Divorce Laws and Alimony
One of the most debated topics of political discourse remains: Should a woman be entitled to alimony if she’s already financially secure?
Until the Supreme Court issued a ruling against it, those women who were already well-off were granted alimony as well and a man’s net assets were to be taken into account while calculating alimony.
Strangely, a woman in a live-in relationship can also claim alimony under the Domestic Violence Act of 2005.
In the setting of a divorce, a woman is permitted to oppose the termination of a marriage if it threatens her financial security according to the Marriage (Amendment) Bill of 2010. Several MRA organisations protested against the bill.
When we hear the phrase domestic violence, we automatically assume the perpetrator to be male and the victim female.
Since when did social evils become genderized?
It’s about time we realized that domestic violence isn’t exclusive to one gender. Men being subjected to domestic violence is as ignominious as women being subjected to the same.
In recent years, domestic violence against men has been on the rise. Several cases go unreported as men feel ashamed to come forward to report harassment due to social stigma.
While this may be true for women as well, there are hardly any legal provisions for men to protect themselves against domestic violence.
Satyamev Jayate, a show which was lauded by the general public and critics alike, misportrayed domestic violence as something that only affects women.
The statistics shown in the show were sourced from National Family Health Survey (NFHS) which only surveyed women, thus perpetuating the fallacy that it is only unique to women.
The highly publicized case of Jasleen Kaur is a prime example of gender-biased legislation. When Jasleen Kaur initially came forward with her story, everyone, including Arvind Kejriwal, the CM of Delhi, applauded her for her ‘bravery’ without paying heed to Sarvjeet’s side of the story. In such cases, the accused is guilty until proven innocent. This runs counter to the principles of criminal justice and reveals the cracks in Indian Jurisprudence.
How Can It Be Dealt With?
The simple solution would be to amend existing laws and introduce gender-neutral legislation.
The not-so-simple solution would involve probing deeply into the core of the Indian consciousness and determining the root cause(s) of gender stereotypes. Only after its identification can we work toward its allieviation.
Gender-neutral legislation is the need of the hour, because patriarchy has affected both men and women by painting a very black-and-white picture of their roles in society.
This has led to gender stereotypes being reflected in the law.
If necessary legal provisions for men are not made, it will translate into the violation of Article 14 of the Constitution – Right to equality.
Whether the change in law comes first or the change in mindset, one is sure to follow the other.
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