This Female Filmmaker Is Voicing The Pain Of Harassed Men In Dowry Cases
- IWB Post
- May 19, 2017
Dowry in India is still a grave social issue and our judicial system has been long fighting to end this ill-practice.
A stringent anti-Dowry law was introduced in 1983 to safeguard women from abuse and sometimes death in the hands of relatives. IPC Section 498(A) states, ‘Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.’
In layman terms, if once such a complaint is registered by the victim or any of her relatives, a non-bailable warrant is issued and the police are bound to take the necessary step against the husband and his family.
Of course, there’s a lot of inequality amongst women and men in India and women have been chained by patriarchy in our country for too long. But, does that mean that men are never victims of abuse and harassment at the hands of the women?
Well, if you believe so then you cannot be more wrong.
Supreme Court and other courts in the country have time and again ruled that anti-dowry laws are now being increasingly “used as weapons” by the wives to harass their husbands.
To bring in light the plight that men have to endure because of the anti-dowry laws in our country, one woman has raised her voice.
Independent Journalist and a Documentary Filmmaker, Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, has documented first-person accounts of those who have suffered at the hands of abuse of IPC Section 498(A). A one and a half hour long film, Martyrs of Marriage delves deep into the problem, the reasons behind it and the consequences of the same.
In an insightful chat with IWB, Deepika shared her personal story behind the film and said, “Around four and a half years back, I myself observed the ill-consequences of this law, up, close, & Personal! One of my family members was trapped in IPC Section 498(a) and it was then that I realized the feeling of helplessness. The marriage in question broke down not because of dowry demand by the boy’s family, or because of any sort of abuse. However, the woman’s family alleged and filed a complaint stating that she was harassed by her husband and his family for dowry.”
“I went to the police station and observed that the law in such case is one-sided and biased. It makes you feel so helpless because no matter how much evidence you have that can prove you innocent, your case wouldn’t be heard and considered,” she continued.
Working as a journalist then, Deepika thought to give a voice to the atrocities suffered by men due to the biased anti-dowry laws in the country.
For the compilation of her documentary, Deepika told me that she had conducted an extensive research which included countless visits to police stations and courts.
“I would study the dowry cases and analyzed the judgment of the court in such cases. I also read many research studies online on the subject and talked to more and more people to gain a broader perspective of the section and its misuse. One of the research papers, ‘Silent Tear of Shattered Family,’ aptly compiles the extent of abuse of the anti-dowry laws. Hon’ble judge Sushil Kumar said in one ruling for such the case that the law has been designed to shield the women, but its abuse will give rise to another kind of legal terrorism and so, it must be strictly controlled.”
Deepika also met many officers, mediators in such cases, women cell officials, detectives, stakeholders, and counselors while compiling the content for her film.
“In the process of making this documentary, I turned into an activist and spoke for the issues that the men in India are facing and spoke openly about them at various public platforms including TedTalks.”
While the abuse and the harassment faced by women are discussed and talked at length, seldom do we discuss the abuse faced by men at the hands of the women. Revealing the extent to which the men are harassed at all levels in such cases, Deepika said, “First, the lack of empathy and the feeling of helplessness break them down. No matter how right they are, they feel defenseless as their side of the story is never heard. They also endure insurmountable emotional pressure where they start blaming themselves for the broken marriage and the havoc that it has created in his family members’ lives. IPC 498 (A) not only hits the husband but also strikes the family like his mother, father, sister, brother, etc., who have been invariably mentioned in the FIR by the wives. So, the entire family gets entangled and suffers.”
“Recently, I came across a case in which the man was beaten so violently by his in-laws in the women cell – and he couldn’t do anything. So, when an innocent man is charged with this anti-dowry law, he, too, goes through physical, financial, and emotional abuse but have no choice or option as all the laws are to protect women and there are none for men,” she continued.
“You see, Jayati, a lot of such cases are settled by money where the wife’s side asks for huge amounts and share in the property. Imagine how difficult it is for the man to arrange for such obscene amounts of money in a short time. In many cases, they go bankrupt or give up their property. During my film’s screening in Hyderabad, a family came up to me and told me the horrors they had suffered due to it. They were threatened by the son’s in-laws for giving the money and were given the ultimatum that if they didn’t pay it, they would throw acid on them. Husband and their family had no choice but to agree to settle the case with the money.”
However, the case where the couple has a child together is the most difficult, said Deepika.
“Most judgments give the custody of the kids to their mothers and the father is left at the mercy of the mother to even meet his kids. The attachment of the fathers for his kids and his alienation from them really tears them apart,” she confided.
Probing into the “why” factor, I asked, “What’s the real reason and motive behind misusing the IPC 498 (A)?”
Deepika replied, “A marriage can fall apart for any reason. It is not only due to some kind of abuse or harassment, every time. A marriage may not work because of incompatibility issues, or because both the partners want something different from their lives, or any other reason, too. However, in many cases, as the women are well aware of the biased laws, they misuse the law out of vengeance and to extract money from their husbands.”
“I’ll explain it with an example. So, I met this senior judge who was previously a lawyer. He told me plainly that whenever a wife came to him against her husband, I would tell her to first file a dowry case against him. In my documentary, too, I have represented how a lawyer is asking a woman to rehearse the filed complaint. Most of the false complaints have a very standard allegation format. They are vague and not in detail and are very mechanical.”
The filmmaker also threw light on the responsibility of media in such cases by saying, “Whenever the woman is the victim, media has a very humane approach towards reporting it, but, I don’t see the same empathy for the harassed men. So, a little sensitivity on the part of media is also required to change the mindset.”
Talking about the most moving moments while documenting the film, Deepika shared, “Loss of life is what shocks me the most. In so many cases, the husbands commit suicide or one of the family members give up on their lives due to the hopelessness of their situation. One guy reached out to me and wrote, “I am alive but I am living as a corpse,” and I cannot forget this line to this day. It’s been an emotionally draining journey and whenever I come across such cases, I cannot control my tears.”
Deepika advocates that while the onus of judgment still remains with the court, most people including lawmakers feel that the existing anti-dowry law should be amended to become more gender-neutral and impartial.
“The laws are to protect the people, irrespective of their gender and it’s high time that IPC 498(A) is amended and a strict provision to punish the people who abuse the law should be included.”
Deepika urged people to not give hope and said, “You can reach out for help. Save Indian Family organizes meetings across cities in India on the subject. There’s a men’s helpline number too, where people will listen to you without any bias or judgment and will help you. Call them on 8882498490 and never feel that you are alone in the fight.”
Deepika Bhardwaj’s documentary, Martyrs of Marriage will be screened at Maharana Pratap Auditorium, Jaipur, at 5:30 pm on May 21, 2017. The screening is free of cost and the seats will be reserved on first come first basis.
P.S. You can also help Deepika to bring ‘Martyrs of Marriage’ to a larger audience by funding to her crowdfunding project here. Know more about the documentary and the filmmaker on their website here.