Balm for men

Several laws have been passed in the name of women's empowerment.
 The All India Men's Welfare Association aims to protect men from domestic
violence and other forms of abuse, reports Nivedita Choudhuri

ASK someone about the problems of women, and a list would emerge that would never seem to end. Ask about men's problems, and you see only blank faces. Does that mean that men do not have any problem? Or is it that there is no awareness amongst the general public? Or is it just that men are simply taken for granted? If Uma Challa had her way, she would strive to bring in changes.

The All-India Men's Welfare Association wants laws to be enacted to protect men from harassment
The All-India Men's Welfare Association wants laws to be enacted to protect men from harassment

The president of the newly-formed All-India Men's Welfare Association (AIMWA) says the welfare of men and boys has been seriously neglected in India over the last few decades. While championing the cause of women's rights and empowerment, the government and society tacitly approve of the propagation of anti-male sentiments, condone the resultant diminution in value of men's lives and support the blatant violation of men's rights through discriminatory laws and policies.

Challa says several laws have been passed since Independence in the name of women's empowerment. However, there are no laws to protect men from any form of abuse or harassment within and outside the home, and a man is always thought of as an aggressor, and a woman as victim. Challa focusses on the "legal terrorism" in India unleashed through laws such as Section 498-A, IPC, and the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA).

Section 498-A, for example, deals with matrimonial cruelty and allows for immediate arrest of a woman's husband and in-laws on the basis of her complaint. Challa says this law is being grossly misused by women for their selfish ends. AIMWA was launched in October, 2009, which was observed as domestic violence awareness month. Four organisations Save Indian Family Foundation, All-India Forgotten Women, Rishtey and Children's Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting launched a month-long campaign in Hyderabad on October 2, International Day of Non-Violence.

Challa says the campaign aims at educating Indians about how the problem of domestic violence has been misrepresented, and how laws claiming to prevent domestic violence are actually promoting human rights abuses against men, women and children. An association member cites the example of 58-year-old Aneek, who claims to have invested all his money in his wife's name. He is now on the verge of retirement, and his wife is showing him the door. She has filed a case under the Domestic Violence Act against him, and her lawyer has threatened him with a view to extort money.

Aneek also claims to be a victim of domestic violence himself, and says his wife has slapped and punched him on many occasions. Or, take the case of Gaurav, who has been booked under Section 498-A along with his parents and mentally-challenged sister. His disabled sister and mother, a kidney patient for over two decades, managed to secure bail. However, his father lost his secure government job after he was arrested and spent more than 48 hours in the police lock-up. The family is now in dire financial straits as there is no earning member. Gaurav has started studying law in a bid to understand his rights better.

He is worried about the loan his father had taken out to fund his estranged daughter-in-law's studies. Gaurav has no idea how he will repay it. The founders of AIMWA say the helplines that were set up for male victims have not stopped ringing since October. More than 40 calls are received each day from distressed husbands. The association also conducts counselling sessions for men who develop suicidal tendencies due to the mental anguish they face. The pain and agony that men go through when subjected to domestic violence is much like what women face when ill-treated, adds another member. However, while people sympathise with women, men find no listeners.

While society is applauding more and more women getting educated, entering the job market and challenging their traditional roles within the family and society, men are still being shackled to their traditional roles of protecting and providing for women, children and the aged. AIMWA
members claim the growing disregard against males in India is forcing more than 50,000 men to end their lives every year.

Challa says domestic and social harmony will prevail only when women and men are ensured their rightful place within and outside the home.