In August 2016, a National Conference for Men’s Issues was held in Hyderabad, drawing sizeable crowds, and Partha Sadhukhan, one of the participants in the event, told Vice that “Feminists are doing certain things that are breaking our society and our world”, and as a result, “the condition of men in India” is suffering.
Men’s Rights Activist groups like these have been springing up around India ever since the dowry law (or Section 498A) of 1983 came into being. The law not only made the act of asking for dowry a non-bailable offence, but placed more emphasis on the woman’s testimony. This made these men’s groups see this as ‘unfair’, because, according to them, it gave women enough leeway to wrongfully implicate innocent men. Of course, what they never realise is that it’s not the men, but the women who are being oppressed in the first place, and that cases of false accusations will always be outnumbered by actual cases of dowry harassment, or other forms of discrimination.
But it has become the standard modus operandi for Men’s Rights Activists in India to constantly discredit women and women’s issues, to blame feminism for the ‘victimization’ of men, but not actually address or combat the issues that affect the “the condition of men in India”.
Patriarchy doesn’t just affect women, but men too, because it furthers toxic notions of masculinity and stigmatises all male behaviour that goes against such notions. It bars men from showing emotion, and ends up limiting and constricting male sexuality. Men who do not adhere to these notions often face violence and bullying from their male peers (which often starts in school), and this has severe effects on their mental health and body image. On multiple occasions, this has even driven men to commit suicide – but Men’s Rights Movements completely fail to acknowledge that this is even an issue.
Another issue that Indian MRAs fail to address is that of male sexual violence and child abuse, which is a grave reality in India. Because of the deep stigma surrounding the subject (fostered, again, by toxic notions of masculinity), so many cases go unreported. In fact, Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (which addresses assault survivors), does not include male survivors of rape in its purview, and the only way a male survivor can seek justice is through the homophobic “anti-sodomy law”, IPC Section 377 (and that too, only if the perpetrator is also male) – which is inherently messed up. This is what MRAs should be raising awareness about, and trying to actively reform, but instead, they hardly ever even bring up male sexual violence unless it is to derail discussions on violence against women.
However, what’s worse is that Indian Men’s Rights Activists want to protect and uphold only one kind of man – he who is heterosexual, and cisgender.
Queer and trans men are under constant threat in Indian society, what with our rampant homophobia and transphobia. A recent study even found that nearly 52 per cent of the gay men in India suffer violence without adequate peer support. But MRAs hardly ever talk about giving them this support, and in fact, are often bigoted and queerphobic themselves, engaging in discriminatory behaviour by using anti-gay slurs on social media, spreading transphobic hate and fostering harmful stereotypes.
The Men’s Rights Movement, hence, does not stem from a need to protect the rights of men, but from a deeply patriarchal fear of women reclaiming their rights and raising their voices – and that’s where it goes wrong. To really uplift the “condition of men”, MRAs need to stop seeing feminism as the enemy and try to understand the balanced perspective it puts forth – that of fighting against patriarchy at large, including the adverse effects it has on male psychology and sexuality. In fact, if MRAs start working with feminists rather than against them, they can, perhaps, actually help the “condition of men” who are suffering – not from ‘unfair’ dowry laws, but from the ridiculous expectations of behaviour traditional ‘masculinity’ imposes upon them.