Men Who Cry

The men’s movement in India has gathered speed. Time to look at who they are and what they are about.
Backlash
RP Chugh: Known as the ‘Father of the Men’s Movement in India’. He started it all with his launch of the Patni Atyachar Virodhi Morcha. (Photo: ASHISH SHARMA)
Sachit Dalal: A project manager with an infotech firm, he is a member of the Save Family Foundation, Delhi.(Photo: ASHISH SHARMA)
Virag Dhulia: A Software engineer, he is a member of the research team of the Save Indian Family Foundation, Bangalore.(Photo: MANJUNATH KIRAN)
MR Gupta: An engineer from IIT, he started Protect Indian Family Foundation (PIFF) in Mumbai.(Photo: ALIEFYA VAHANVATY)
Durga Kollu: A software engineer, he started Sahana, a Hyderabad-based NGO for aggrieved husbands.(Photo: ANIL KUMAR)

Nine hundred newspaper articles in 2009. Phew! That is a lot of media attention given to husband organisations and their grouses. Organised male victimhood seems to be catching on. Last heard, members in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa have started local chapters and are waiting by their mobile phones to take calls by husbands who need to vent. Women’s groups are reporting gatecrashers from groups of men who want to be represented in their programmes. 

Blogs, Yahoo groups, weekly meetings, radio and television programmes, telephones, websites, posters, no media is being left unused to galvanise male oppression into a mass movement. 

In the 198os, a lawyer who came to be known as Comrade Chugh had a similar idea. It was a turbulent decade, a time when the anti-dowry movement was at its peak and had succeeded in making itself felt. RP Chugh, a Marxist who began his activism ironically with the Nari Raksha Samiti and the women’s movement of the communist party, changed tack to launch the Patni Atyachar Virodhi Morcha. Chugh might be last century’s news, but he is not without next generation followers.  

“If you go on the internet today, you will find that crores of people are with me,” says the 65-year-old Supreme Court advocate and President of the campaign now rechristened Man Cell. At his residence in New Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh, the walls of the front room are covered with newspaper and magazine clippings featuring him, some of them dating back 30 years.  The media loved him. 

“Take a look at the infotech professionals today. Many of them have started similar groups at my insistence. They used to be with me. I told them to start their own organisations. If you stick with one group, there won’t be any impact. They are coming up now,” he says. 

Indeed, the decade that witnessed the passing of the landmark Domestic Violence Act is seeing a second wave of sorts of a campaign against “women and women’s laws which are abused”, as Chugh puts it. 

Bangalore, India’s hugely successful brand in the West, is the headquarters of “the men’s organisation,” to quote one of its members. The Save Indian Family Foundation (Siff), an umbrella group, has activists and helplines in over 50 cities in 20 states. They also have NRI helplines. 

Started in 2005, Siff claims on its website to have ‘30,000 members on the ground and over 3,500 on the internet who are fighting this legal terrorism with vigour and passion like commandos’ and that its members include ‘most educated, qualified and talented (intelligentsia) people like engineers, management gurus, bureaucrats, media personalities...’ (the list goes on).

Then there are smaller, independent organisations that have mushroomed in the last couple of years in different cities. Lets list a few for effect. 

Gender Human Rights Society, New Delhi, Protect Indian Family, Mumbai, Bharat Bachao Sangathan, Kolkata, Sahana, Hyderabad, Asha Kiran (not related in any way to the NGO in Delhi), Bangalore, Protect Men’s Rights, Orissa, Pati Pariwar Kalyan Samiti, Lucknow, Association of Protection of Men’s Rights, Chennai, Gujarat Gaurav Raksha Samiti, Purushak Sangrashan Sanstha, Nasik, All Kerala Forum For Social Justice and Legal Studies, Kerala. 

There are 28 such organisations, some of them all-women groups (comprising mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law). 

Says Wasif Ali of the Safe Family Foundation, the New Delhi offshoot of the online community that began in 2005 and eventually gave rise to local groups: “Before we started this campaign, talking about problems of men was considered politically incorrect. We had to create an awareness campaign. Things are beginning to change now. The men’s movement is still in its infancy.” 

Why then call themselves ‘Save Family’ or ‘Protect Indian Family’ instead of, say, ‘Save Man’? To which Wasif says, “Family means husband, his mother, his sister. This is Save Indian Family, the husband’s family. It is not about saving marriages”. What about the wife and her family? “For that, there are 20,000 NGOs.”

SATURDAY MEETINGS

Every Saturday evening, members of the Safe Family Foundation (SFF) meet at Delhi’s Patiala House Court Complex, where incidentally some of them are fighting charges under, among others, Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code that refers to ‘cruelty by husband or relatives of husband’, a section that was inserted in 1983 to combat dowry killings. 

Meetings are seen as being vital to the campaign. “This is what we call group therapy. Just like Alcoholics Anonymous, where people meet to share their problems, we find that when we share our problems, they somehow get diminished,” says Niladri Shekhar Das, a civil engineer, also secretary of another group called Gender Human Rights Society. 

“We teach them how to fight the cases, how to file counter-cases, how to use the RTI Act (Right to Information), and we refer them to others with similar problems,” he says. So there are legal provisions that husbands can use to pre-empt and counter allegations by their wives.     

The RTI Act has become hugely popular in these circles and is used quite regularly by members to seek details on police investigation into their cases, information about in-laws, government statistics and so on.

Das says “gender-biased laws are breaking up families in India” and believes that “they are hurting women”. He has a theory on why so many cases end up in court. “In most of the cases here, the wives have psychiatric problems. It can be medically proven.” Surely, all wives who take recourse to the law can’t be mentally ill? “These girls think that some serious injustice has been done to them. Therefore, they go to the policeman or lawyer instead of going to a psychiatrist. These kind of girls have low-self esteem issues. And they also try to alienate the husband from his parents.” 

It certainly must be a theory that sells. From a three-member online community, SFF in New Delhi today has over 200 volunteers, dedicated to the media and internet campaign. 

Sachit Dalal, a project manager with an infotech firm who has been with SFF since its inception, has recently filed for divorce after six years of marriage. “Today women are expecting to command the house. If she wants to do that, then she has to prove herself. That is going to take five years, ten years. My mother did it.” Sachit believes women have been given “unnecessary legal power”.  

The shared sense of being socially persecuted has to be heard to be believed. 

Allegations by members at such meetings fly thick and fast. Crime statistics on women are rubbished. Women’s groups are dismissed as money-making rackets. Laws to protect women are judged counter-productive, even harmful to women. The Dowry Prohibition Law is declared a tool for extortion. The Women’s Reservation Bill is declared violative of the rights of men. 

And then the question of dowry. “Who says dowry is about money? Dowry is for security,” says Shoni Kapoor, a regional manager with a software company.

The “urban elite” and “educated middle-class” women come in for a lot of flak. “In urban areas, especially among the middle-class, the law is more prone to misuse. If the same woman did this in Bulandshahr, she will be a social outcaste. We are fragmented in bigger cities, and so the law gets misused. The law has lost relevance in most parts of the country,” wails Kapoor. 

There is talk of what Wasif refers to as “male disposability”. Men, he says, are born to suffer. Wasif offers an analysis. “You want to know why women are doing this? The roots are in feminism. 

The second wave of feminism influenced a lot of women. Divorce is now seen as a sign of liberation.” 

A backlash to the post-liberalisation ‘urban, educated, professional woman’ and her expectations of marriage seems to have arrived in all its fury. Madhu Kishwar, well-known for her role in the anti-dowry movement of the 1980s, is today one of the strongest critics of India’s anti-dowry legislation (‘Destined to Fail’, Manushi, 2005) and the Domestic Violence Act (‘Well-intentioned but Over-ambitious’, Manushi, 2006). What does she make of these groups? “These are anti-feminist NGOs... I see this as an inevitable backlash to the callous insensitivity of the feminist movement in India. You will see that if there is anyone they (anti-feminist groups) are willing to talk to with a measure of respect, it is me. They represent a well-deserved backlash.” 

Pulitzer prize-winning American journalist Susan Faludi, in her groundbreaking book published in 1991, Backlash: The Undeclared War on American Women, writes, ‘The anti-feminist backlash has been set off not by women’s achievement of full equality but by the increased possibility that they might win it.’ Faludi talks about this backlash as being ‘at once sophisticated and banal, deceptively ‘progressive’ and proudly backward. It deploys both the ‘new’ findings of ‘scientific research’ and the dime-store moralism of yesteryear; it turns into media sound bites both the glib pronouncements of pop-psych trend-watchers and the frenzied rhetoric of New Right preachers.’

MORE VOICES

Conversations with members in other cities, from other organisations, excite similar sentiments. There is no missing the overwhelming nostalgia for the pre-liberalisation idyll, for joint family traditions, for life in small towns.

 

For the aggrieved, this campaign is a highly emotional affair that has won their unwavering commitment in terms of time and resources. Ananth Ram, 37, a government employee, has been fighting a 498A case for six years now. He, his father and brother, spent a month in jail. 

“The judicial system in this country is third rate. Six years of my life is gone. I am sorry to have to say this, but it is unfortunate that I was born in India.” The legal battle exhausted Ananth Ram. To him, this has become a “movement for justice”. At Asha Kiran, where he first went for advice, he now counsels. “We advise couples to adjust with each other.” 

Durga Kollu is a 32-year-old software engineer based in Hyderabad. He started Sahana in 2005. The majority of those who come to him, he says, are between 25 and 30 years, and have been married for not more than three years. “Pressure from the wife and her parents to start a separate family without the in-laws, control over money, pre-marital affairs, constant threat of 498A, suicide threats by the wife—are some common problems men face these days,” he says. 

Kollu got married in 2006. He and his wife and daughter live with his parents.  He says, “The problem is, all those who start these organisations have in some way or another suffered due to the Indian legal system or at the hands of some women... so they lose all respect for women and create hatred towards them, which is not good for a healthy society.”

In Mumbai, 58-year-old MR Gupta, an engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, started Protect Indian Family (PIF) in 2006. Gupta is now studying law. He says he is not against laws that protect women, but, “Laws should not interfere in a marital relationship. This is a social problem. There should be workshops to help inculcate tolerance. Laws break marriages.” The legal scrutiny of marital relationships has stripped the Indian middle class home of its privacy like never before.

And the backlash has been swift and widespread. Vocal and unapologetic, these platforms make no pretence of what they stand for. They are the ultimate reality show on the great Indian middle class marriage.

FEMINIST ANALYSIS

Nivedita Menon, professor of Political Thought at Jawaharalal Nehru University’s School of International Studies, who writes on Indian politics from a feminist perspective, says, “Politically, it is good to have this voice because it very clearly reveals what the family is about. It articulates the violence and the core of the family so clearly, and, in doing so, exposes it.”  Menon sees the emergence of such groups as a regrouping of patriarchy and a sign of the success of legislation.

Vrinda Grover, a Supreme Court advocate and director of Marg (Multiple Action and Research Group), a legal advocacy and research group, says these laws are bound to unsettle some precisely because they are “meant to counter an entrenched interest, an entrenched discrimination, an entrenched violence”. What is interesting with these groups, says Grover, is the level of righteousness with which its members put forth their views. “That comes from their perception of a culturally subordinate and socially subservient position of women, which the law is trying to challenge and overturn. Therefore, these groups come across as ‘what have we done wrong?’”

That brings us to the one argument on which this whole campaign has been publicly sold—the “rampant misuse of law”. It is an argument that has succeeded in influencing the mind of many Indian males quite convincingly.

Professor Menon analyses the premise of the ‘misuse’ argument. “These men actually believe they were falsely accused because what they are saying is: ‘That is what a family is supposed to be, as a wife you are supposed to give up everything that you thought you were, we have expectations of you, which you are supposed to fulfill. That is marriage’. And women are refusing to recognise that as marriage. The men are right to say in a sense, ironically, that they are being falsely accused—because all they were doing was functioning as a proper patriarchal family.” 

Grover brings in the legal perspective. “The kind of propaganda that these people do which is based on data and on statistics can be challenged. Anybody who has worked in this sector knows that this data can be torn to shreds within minutes.”

Grover asked a public prosecutor why so many women witnesses turn hostile and why so many cases end in acquittals. “Once you start unmasking the figure, the story becomes clear. The women turn hostile because in criminal law there is not much space for negotiation. Either she has been told to back off or that they will pay alimony, or maybe they have struck a compromise and the husband has agreed to behave himself. They will keep telling you that so many women turn hostile. That doesn’t mean that the women lied in the first place and/or that they are lying now,” she says. 

Should women’s groups be countering the information blitzkrieg that has been unleashed on the internet and in the news media? The campaign, after all, makes no bones about its resentment towards women’s groups and their role in society and politics. Although women’s groups have been directly confronted on occasion, no public engagement or reaction has emerged yet from any of it so far.

Says Nilanju Dutta, project associate at the violence intervention team at Jagori, a New Delhi-based feminist resource centre, “For hundreds of years, women have had no option but to suffer silently. Now that we have been given a law against domestic violence, the men are up in arms? This is unfair. Let them bark. I don’t think we should worry. When there is change, there is always upheaval.” 

Indian anti-dowry and domestic violence laws, says Professor Menon, treat the family as a public institution to which public laws apply. “That is obviously going to create a huge crisis for the family. It is not surprising that the category of people who benefitted from this kind of ordering of society will resist these laws. What is surprising is that it hadn’t happened earlier.”

OLDER COMMENTS FIRST

2 COMMENTS

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These women in the universities don't know the harsh reality of the courts and police stations and seem to have a lot of anger in them. Most of them are spinsters or doormat kind of husbands who lick their feet. One even says of the abused men: "Let them Bark." Wow.

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No self-respecting educated urbane woman would want to enter a relationship which involves a demand for dowry in exchange for getting married to a man.

But almost all of them not only acquiesce to, but insist upon, alimony when separating from their husbands. Rare is the woman who considers the breakdown of a relationship as a mutual tragedy and does not seek to wreak financial or other vengeance upon her husband.

In India, dowry is considered reprehensible because it demeans a woman by considering her as a liability, but by demanding alimony, women are themselves reinforcing the belief that they are unable to live on their own and need the financial support of a man.

Female infanticide is pervasive because a woman is considered a problematic citizen, in various ways. It behooves a modern woman to be less of a problem for her parents and in-laws by not burdening them with her demands of gifts at the time of matrimony, by not discomforting them with her demands of an expensive and consumerist and hedonist lifestyle during marriage, and by not insisting upon a ghastly amount of alimony when separating. The more women try to treat others' hard-earned money as their right, the more will men hate them and the more will society consider them inauspicious.

In a recent conference in India about the dowry menace, a well-respected elderly lady professor wisely commented that though generally it is the wife's in-laws who are believed to be greedy, nobody considers that many daughters, when they get married, themselves demand a lot of things from their own parents.

The culture of consumerism, easy and disposable money, living for oneself, is perhaps excusable if one is working to sustain one's lifestyle. But if an adult woman, despite being an earning member of society, demands crippling financial favors from her parents at the time of marriage, and demands a huge alimony from her husband when she wants to leave him, I consider that to be a greed licensed by society.

Women are generally believed to be weak, oppressed, victimized. But that is becoming less and less true as they acquire advanced educational degrees, get married to a man of their choosing, have better opportunities in the job market, are career-oriented, contribute to household finances, and participate in how the household should be run. In a modern city, parents educate their daughters so that they may become financially self-sufficient and will not need to play a subordinate role once they are married.

But what happens to such women when their marriage turns sour? They insult their education, their parents, and their status as earning, privileged, urban women when they start indulging in extortionist litigation and legal terrorism against their husbands and in-laws. Such women are no better than those men who demand huge dowry and beat up their wives if their demands are not fulfilled. In fact these women are worse, because they rope in the heavily biased machinery of state to terrorize their husbands and in-laws.

If a man or his family is demanding dowry and if a woman is not comfortable with that, she can choose to leave him and start living separately. No such option exists for a man from whom a vengeful wife is demanding alimony. He will be hounded by the corrupt police force, he will be directed to present himself and his entire family at innumerable court dates, and he will probably lose his home, job and more.

Demanding dowry is a crime. Is demanding alimony also considered a crime? It should be, for a financially self-sufficient woman. If a self-sufficient woman abuses the process of law to blackmail her husband just because their marriage did not work out, she should be deterred. Instead, it is all over the place in urban India these days. Read the papers, visit family courts, visit marital counseling and mediation centers, read the annals of matrimonial litigation. A common theme across them is the demand of huge alimony once a marriage has broken down.

Maintenance is understandable when children are involved, but even in those cases, women fight tooth and nail to deny custody and visitation to the father, from whom they have no compunction in taking money for bringing up their common progeny. If democracies all over the world follow the maxim "No taxation without representation", the fathers' rights movement justly demands "No maintenance without visitation." Instead estranged wives alienate the common children from their father, fill their minds with bitter and hateful thoughts about a man whom they could not get along with, and thus scar the children for life by presenting a warped and devious view of humankind.

A leading professor of a US university was abused no-end by his feminist colleagues when he hinted that a father should also have a say in the birth of a child, because he is legally constrained to maintain that child for a very long time. Women want it their way, and want men to pay for it.

Have these women no shame or dignity left? On one hand they decry mankind as full of pigs and chauvinists and patriarchs, and consider their own gender as much more humane and empathetic. But don't listen to their words, observe their acts. When marriages break down, women leave no stone unturned to paint their former lovers and husbands as demonic, vile, utter blackguards who ostensibly do not deserve any leniency and who should be hanged until death, if such women had their way.

All over India, harassed husbands and fathers and their families are uniting in their fight against these unscrupulous women who call themselves modern and liberated, but who abuse the laws made for dispossessed, destitute, victimized, poor women. Laws for maintenance, laws against domestic violence, laws against dowry harassment, laws against cruelty are being misused day-in and day-out by urbane women from whom no dowry was ever demanded, whose husbands never as much as laid a finger on them, whose husbands treated them as equals.

Even the Supreme Court of India calls this unfortunate trend "Legal Terrorism" but claims helplessness in checking it.

The voices of the real victims are being drowned out by the cacophony of these witches. Too many shepherds are falsely crying wolf too many times for anyone to pay attention when an actual wolf is on the scene.

Such women cannot have it both ways. They cannot condemn men, and in the same breath, demand their help. It is one of the bitterest pills for a husband to swallow when he is ordered to pay his hard-earned money to nourish and support a selfish and greedy wife who has nothing but hate and venom for him. If such women had any self-respect left, they would support themselves with the fruits of their own labour, and not become vengeful parasites.

Dowry is considered an evil because a woman is a human being, and an exchange of money for keeping her alive and healthy is uncivilized. But how civilized is her own demand of post-marital dowry (called alimony) from her husband? Is she suddenly in need of being financially supported by men? If it is considered reprehensible for a woman's father to pay her husband or herself for her sustenance at the time of marriage, is it not reprehensible for a woman's husband to pay her (and for the woman to demand so, public fora) for her continued sustenance once he is no longer married to her?

I consider the demand of alimony from working women a crime and a form of extortion. If husbands refuse to agree to a demand for alimony, I have seen women go to any extent of fabricated allegations of dowry harassment, domestic violence, marital rape, cruelty, and so on. The courts are filled to the brim with civil, quasi-civil and criminal cases filed by these legal terrorists.

But the tide is turning against these women. There is a growing awareness of their greed and extortionist tendencies, and nobody believes their stories anymore. The courts and the police are being repeatedly told not to take their allegations at face value. Of course that also means that genuine complaints also languish. These criminal-minded women have done a grave disservice to their oppressed and genuinely needy gender-folk.
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17 July 2010 | nirogi

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The last page tells you how much success family movement has made in such short span of time. The feminist analysis reveals the MOST UNEXPECTED quick backlash...and PRETENDING that they are not worried LOL. They can't beat the statistics so they seek support of IMAGINARY conclusions. A disparate attempt to CONVINCE people that it was what the LEGISLATOR originally intended and trying badly to keep the supporters with themselves!!!

17 July 2010 | Prassoon Suryadas

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