By Sarthak Ahuja:
There is something that I’ve wanted to write about for the past two years, but haven’t found the courage to. I have tried putting my thoughts to words on a number of occasions, but given up mid-way, fearing the backlash they may get; or the disbelief that any story of a man’s vulnerability may invite.
As an urban Indian male, I think I am more scared of the women around me than they are of the men that surround them.
The Delhi Commission for Women has officially stated that 53% of all cases for domestic violence filed between April, 2013 and July, 2014 were false. The Delhi Commission for Women, mind you! There is no such official ‘Commission for Men’ in the country because who thought men could be victims too. Being a Chartered Accountant by practice, I have clients coming to our firm to obtain certificates of income and net worth regularly. While these certificates were taken with the objective to contest in business bids till a few years ago, over 80% of such certificates issued now pertain to cases of domestic violence and dowry demands being contested in the courts of law. We have observed families, who my parents have personally known for over 30 years, break down before us. We have attended their weddings, been part of their celebrations and closely known their family dynamics as confidantes and well wishers for years. It pains us to see how such cases permeate beyond the boundaries of religion, social status and financial strength. While I feel proud that the people of India are now becoming brave enough to stand up for any kind of mistreatment or violence against women, I feel scared to know that a woman holds the power to falsely accuse me of a crime that I may have not committed. I am terrified of the idea that while on the one hand my family could, some day, be making efforts to make a new member of the household feel welcomed and loved, the new lady of the house could be devising ways to cry wolf and threaten her in-laws with false accusations of domestic violence and dowry demands unless they give into her demands of share in movable and immovable property.
The thought may seem silly to most, or to those more medically inclined, as a symptom of paranoia or mental imbalance. I mean, doesn’t this fear seem unjustified? However, would you say that it is silly when a woman confesses of her everyday fear of being raped, especially at a place like Delhi? You wouldn’t, because you know that rape is a big problem in Delhi. We know that women fear going out alone at night. We know that rape happens, and it gets talked and written about. The crime has found a voice in the past few years when society has gradually progressed on the path away from victim shaming.
As we see India progress in support of the survivor, strengthening laws for protection of women in the country, we probably don’t see the regression that is silently gnawing us under the covers. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code provides protection to women from domestic violence. It pertains to a non-bailable, non-compoundable offence, whereby the accused and his family members are put behind bars even before they are proven guilty, only on the basis of a complaint. The law has been misused terribly in the past few years, taking the form of a weapon than a shield. Out of the over 2.3 million people accused under Section 498A of the IPC since 1998, only about 0.26 million have been convicted. While those on one side may perceive it as an evidence of loss of faith in the functioning of the judiciary, which seems to have acquitted almost 85% of those accused; the other side may be yearning for a simpler look at the statistics, for sometimes, it is most objective to not over-analyze.
The reason any such information does not carry with itself the potential to give goosebumps is because a vast majority is still unaware of this practice. Where any mistreatment of a man, when admitted to, is seen as emasculation in our society, how is this any different from victim shaming? Families that have faced these problems in the past few years sit silently, trying not to worsen the consequences of a false accusation that has already marred their reputation in society. They refuse to open up and talk about it because it would show how “less of a man” the son of the family was to have been taken for a ride by a “girl”. They further know that the media promotes stories of women fighting against injustice. And who would believe their innocence anyway? While stories of revolt against traditionally unspoken issues are glorified, without checking their authenticity, the rising concerns leading to another unspoken issue are pushed under the rug.
In the case of Mr. Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed, “Many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bona fide and have filed with oblique motive. In such cases acquittal of the accused does not in all cases wipe out the ignominy suffered during and prior to trial. Sometimes adverse media coverage adds to the misery. As noted, the object is to strike at the roots of dowry menace. But by misuse of the provision, a new legal terrorism can be unleashed. The provision is intended to be used a shield and not assassin’s weapon. If cry of ‘wolf’ is made too often as a prank, assistance and protection may not be available when the actual ‘wolf’ appears.”
These cases and their first hand narration traumatize my parents, who are worried about having a son that they may have to get married in a few years. The same fear, I naturally inherit.
I fear being in a relationship, where the woman may hold the power to accuse me of rape in case the companionship may not progress as she may have planned. Or more simply, I fear giving a genuine compliment to a lady lest I may be accused of being a superficial prick, who has tried to “make a move” on her. I fear cracking a joke that may be labeled as “sexist”, and not an exaggeration of gender stereotypes that could be innocently intentioned to not be taken seriously. I also fear letting my fears known because they may “seem” to be against the interests of women.
I think of myself as a man respectful of women. But I may be wrong, for what is right or wrong still seems subjective in this age of online public shaming. A respectable and well intentioned lady like Charlotte Proudman may not agree with a respectable and well intentioned man like Alexander Carter-Silk (Charlotte Proudman has alleged that Alexander Carter-Silk has harassed her on LinkedIn). I probably have no right to comment on the matter. Neither do I have the right to comment on the Rohtak brave-hearts case or the recent Jasleen Kaur – Sarvjeet Singh episode. However, I think I may have the right to speak about a fear that I strongly feel.
I may not fully understand the terms ‘feminism’ or ‘misogyny’. I may be uneducated in these areas and may be publicly shamed for being so. But I understand ‘fear, a feeling that I do not need an education to feel, and an emotion that is not the prerogative of a specific gender.