Really, what are these Men's Rights Activists smoking?

Welcome to MRA-land Lonely ex-wives sisters who elope with milkmen and scooter tiresA protest by Save Indian Family in Delhi. Image: SIF via Wikipedia Commons
Voices Gender Issues Sunday, November 22, 2015 - 05:03

By Ragamalika Karthikeyan

“None of us likes to be alone and even the strongest amongst us will feel pangs of loneliness. I believe that men are better equipped to deal with loneliness due to biological factors. It is a completely different issue for the 498A Wives. They are condemned to live alone. They had it all and they blew it and they know it.”

Sounds like the closing lines of a preachy-romantic-parody? Beep! Minus 10 for the reader!

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a sampling from the advocacy and resource documents of 498a.org, ‘a strong team of Indian citizens (all around the world) who have joined hands to fight the evil of 'misuse of 498a',’ in their own words.

Why are we talking about them? For one, they are the online face of the growing Men’s Rights Movement in India. For another, they seem to be the source of inspiration for the recent indiatimes.com debacle.

What is the Men’s Rights Movement? Which disenfranchised group does 498a.org work for? What is happening here, you ask? Well, let me tell you a little story called ‘The Men’s Rights Movement’, starring people called ‘Men’s Rights Activists’. We’ll shorten them to MRAs.

Once upon a time, a few good men called MRAs decided that in a country where there are only 914 girl children for 1000 boy children, where a woman has to be sold to a man at 200% discount (buy one for free, get 1Crore cash back!), where every woman has to choose between ‘career’ and ‘life’ a.k.a. marriage… Where was I? Oh yes, a few good men. MRAs. They decided that the real fight is for the rights of men, which have been denied to them by ‘unfair laws’.

And just in case you thought they were fighting on behalf of gay men, or trans men, or disabled men, or, you know, any group of men who face real issues, minus 10 again! Across the world, the movement is a backlash to feminism, and a fight to take back all the privilege that cruel feminists have snatched away from poor men! (We wish!)

MRAs in India have rallied around what they call, ‘misuse of 498A’.

IPC Section 498A allows women to file a case against their husbands and in-laws for cruelty. According to MRAs, this law, along with the Domestic Violence Act, and the Dowry Prohibition Act, has turned husbands and in-laws into victims of unscrupulous women. According to them, 98% of cases filed under 498A are false (let’s unpack this in just a minute), and statistically, women are big fat liars when it comes to sexual crimes.

498a.org has dedicated its life (or webspace) to fighting this menace by providing victimized men with resources to fight back. Let’s look at one such document, titled, ‘A Guide for Surviving 498A’ – which is a fountain of knowledge, or a treasure trove of lolz, depending on where you stand.

In this document, among their (presumably unasked for) advice for women contemplating filing a harassment case against their husbands, is this pretty direct clue to their intentions: “This is all about power politics in relationships and once it is known that a woman had filed a 498A, she will be treated like radioactive material.”

The nuclear safety watchers also have some predictions for the family of the ‘498A wife’, a term exclusively used for women who have dared to file a case of harassment against their husbands:

1. Her sister(s) may eventually run off with the milkman or something along similar lines may happen as they risk remaining spinsters.

2. Any sisters-in-law she may have will turn against her as time goes by.

3. Her brothers may not get married again.

4. If children are involved, their development will be threatened as fathers play a crucial role in the up bringing of a child.

Where’s the slut-shaming, you ask? “There is also a chance for the 498A wife to start having affairs and neglect the children. There are instances where this is happening.”

Ahem. Well. If you’ve managed to put your eyeballs back in their sockets, let’s talk about 498A, and that statistic they’re bandying about everywhere. “98% of cases filed under 498A are false.”

In other words, according to them, 98% of women who file cases of cruelty by husband and in-laws are liars and villains out to butcher the reputation of upstanding members of society with their vile, vile words. While we don’t know the source of this statistic, let’s look at the numbers actually available in the public domain.

First, the rate of conviction in 498A cases, as per the latest National Crime Records Bureau data, is 13.7%. While that directly disputes the ‘98% false cases’ claim, let’s also take a closer look at exactly what’s happening here.

As per NCRB, 88.4% of the cases filed under 498A are pending in the courts. Over 4 Lakh old cases were brought to trial in the year 2014, along with over 97,000 fresh cases. Of these nearly 5 lakh cases, trials were completed in only 46,853 cases.

Which means, the trial has been completed in less than 10% of the cases. So what is happening in the other 90% cases which haven’t come up for trial?

Next, in the cases that did come up for trial where the defendant was acquitted, or the case discharged, was it always because the charge was ‘fake’? Exactly what’s happening in the cases that are compounded or withdrawn? What is the reason for withdrawal? What about the cases that end in a plea-bargain? If all acquittals equal ‘fake cases’, should all plea-bargains mean ‘true cases’?

The point is, nobody’s saying there are zero fake cases under the law – but there are fake cases under every law. What we should be doing, instead of putting out fake statistics and calling almost every victim of domestic violence a ‘liar’, is to ask more questions and get more data. We need to understand what’s happening at every stage of the case. What constitutes cruelty as alleged by women? And do men defending these cases claim that they have not committed them, or that it doesn’t amount to cruelty?

As I wrap up this piece, I want to quote just one last time from the Survival Guide. “Someday, the dear 498A Wife may find that the wrinkles have appeared and where there was once a slender waist, there is a scooter tire. In the twilight of her miserable life, she may find herself, missing her decent, civilized husband.”

Dear decent, civilized husbands, shaming women for their opinions and their bodies, and shaming their families to get back at said women is neither decent nor civilized. Someday, the dear MRA husband may find that the lies he has helped spread have come back to bite him in the ass, and where there was a gullible indiatimes, there are millions of not-so-gullible thinking humans. In the backalleys of his miserable online community, he may find himself, missing her decent, civilized conversation. Or his whipping post.

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