Author and Former Academic, Delhi University
How many of us know that November 19 is the International Men’s Day (IMD)? It was inaugurated in 1992 on February 7 by Thomas Oaster, but was revived in 1999 by Jerome Teelucksingh, a Caribbean, who chose November 19 and promoted it as the International Men’s Day — a day when issues affecting men and boys could be addressed. He stated that IMD was for gender equality and to remove the negative images and stigma associated with men in society. It was conceived to balance out gender inequality created by Women’s Day (March 8) which was adopted by the UN in 1977. The broader aim was stated to promote basic humanitarian values. Although International Men’s and Women’s Days are considered to be ‘gender-focused’ events, they are not ideological mirror images because each highlights issues unique to men or to women. IMD has caught up and now is being celebrated in over 80 countries.
This idea arrived in India in 2009, when a menswear brand sponsored the first IMD. This was followed by a TV channel, deciding to screen male-positive movies on November 19. By 2014, the movement had spread to New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. On this day in 2014, even as an International Men's Day function was held in New Delhi, in Kolkata, protests were held to mark this day and highlight men’s human rights. In Chennai, the All-India Men’s Welfare Association submitted a memorandum to the government, demanding the constitution of a men’s welfare ministry, national commission for men, and that all laws be made gender neutral.
Several protests followed these activities. An important one was that of Avijan (a welfare and charitable trust for men) held last year on November 19, that organised a protest in Kolkata. They demanded gender-neutral laws, the creation of a men’s commission in India, a change of the draconian anti-dowry law, specially its application of Section 498A of the IPC which deals with the violence inflicted on a woman after marriage by her husband or in-laws or other relative of the husband, for which it prescribes a punishment for three years and a fine. Stating that women misuse this, they demanded action against those who do.
IMD was also immensely strengthened by a ‘MeToo’ movement among men, called ‘#MenToo’ which was born immediately after the women’s #MeToo movement. For example, in response to the #MeToo movement, a Bengaluru-based NGO, called the Children's Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting, had started the #MenToo initiative in October 2018. The protesters said that their movement was not only against false cases registered against men/husbands, but also against the standing order for the custody of children given to the mother after separation/divorce.
Several allegations of sexual harassment which were declared false after the investigation gave a further flip to the movement. The MenToo movement specially caught spur after Bollywood actor Pooja Bedi made an open appeal to bring gender-neutral laws as well as their investigation. She stated this after actor Karan Oberoi was arrested on May 5, 2019, on a sexual harassment complaint, which was filed by his ex-girlfriend who claimed that he had raped her on multiple occasions and had also extorted money and gifts from her. He denied this charge and stated that it was a consensual affair. The movement and the protests in its wake made headlines. The activists declared the MenToo movement as important as MeToo. Men were declared as 'human' as women and their rights also as important.
The proponents of men's rights belonging to different organisations support the introduction of gender-neutral legislation and repeal of laws that they consider are biased against men. They are unanimous in claiming that laws like the anti-dowry law are frequently misused to harass husbands and extort money from them, and attributed this to the high suicide rate among married men in India, which was declared to be almost twice that of women. According to them, the frequency of domestic violence against men had increased in recent years, and that many cases go unreported as men feel too ashamed to report abuse. They similarly consider rape-reporting laws and sexual harassment laws to be unfair to men and claim that the divorce and child custody laws are biased against them.
Interestingly, men’s right activists have a considerable following among women. One notable woman among them is Deepika Narayan Bhardawaj. An independent journalist, documentary filmmaker and human rights activist based in Gurugram, she became one of the major voices of the men’s rights movement after her documentary film Martyrs of Marriage was made on the abuse of the anti-dowry law. The men’s movement also got support from the dismissal of the case against then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who was accused by his former assistant for sexual harassment.
But MeToo movement activists dismiss the MenToo movement as ridiculous. Tanushree Dutta, the actor who triggered the MeToo wave, has stated: “If this movement persists, then any woman who raises her voice or files complaint against bullying, intimidation, harassment, rape or gang rape, and does not have enough proof, as 99 per cent of these crimes happen in private or in which witnesses back out due to lengthy and exhausting trials or intimidation, these victims could potentially become targets of these men's organisations and groups as MenToo can put a doubt on any woman putting forth a complaint.” Feminists are apprehensive of this being true. But there is no way out as the MenToo movement is poised to grow.
While the danger of false accusations does exist, the figures for such false cases are not available. A US study of 2010 has calculated these over the past 20 years to be only 2-10 per cent in which rape accusations were proved to be false. Even if it was true for India as well, these figures are nothing in the face of the fact that an overwhelmingly large number of rape cases do not even get reported. A report puts such cases at 65 per cent. Moreover, the number of rapes and sexual assaults which are never reported or prosecuted far outweighs the number of men convicted of rape because of false accusations.
However, the MenToo movement, afraid of the power that women have against them, continues to claim that men have to unfairly contend with life-altering misinterpretations and career-ruining false allegations being made by women. Ignoring the lopsided ground reality, men's tirade continues at the cost of women. The struggle continues.
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