By Kripa Krishnan Jul. 23, 2016
Men’s rights? Yes, it’s a thing. Ask these angry young men from Mumbai. Their grouse – they are used as ATMs, and often falsely charged with rape.
The barrack smelled of shit. Chandan Samant could not see the source of the stench; some 200 men were in the way. They were all undertrials and this was the holding cell of Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail. He was given a piece of cloth to sleep on, two metal containers to eat in, and was pushed back to the end of the room. Now, he finally saw where the deep funk emanated from: It was an open toilet used by all the inmates.
His head reeled with fear and disgust. He was surrounded by professional criminals – rapists, murderers – and he asked himself, “What did I do to get here?”
The answer was clear to him; he had married the wrong person. He had filed for divorce from his wife a few months ago and he was now implicated in multiple court cases. There was one which alleged dowry harassment, one which accused him of domestic violence, and another which claimed that he had committed caste atrocities against his now estranged wife.
He was arrested on a Friday evening, appeared before a judge on Saturday and was remanded to custody. His parents could not visit; they too were named as perpetrators and were in hiding. He was granted bail on Wednesday. On the Sunday of that week, Chandan went to his first men’s rights activist meeting.
It is a hot Sunday afternoon but the sun has failed to keep the crowds away from Veer Savarkar Udyan, a rare patch of green in Mumbai’s suburbia. The kids are kicking about a ball in a tiled pit, which was once a large fountain, a fighting couple has monopolised the swings, and in the shaded stands a man is preaching about the many injustices faced by his gender.
There are some 20 of them, all wearing the grey and orange tees bearing the logo of their organisation, Vaastav Foundation. “Men’s Rights Are Human Rights”, the shirt announces and they are here to spread the word. Two young men, mere onlookers just a few minutes ago, are now being eagerly recruited: Why is there only a “Beti Padhao” scheme? Why do parents spend their life savings on a daughter’s wedding? Why do women get away with false rape accusations? Why is there not a ministry dedicated to the welfare of men? The answer is clear to them. It is a woman’s world out there and men are the victims of this biased system.
They are doctors, engineers, IT professionals, these weekend warriors who are out to protect their kind. The organisation’s website offers a rather anodyne agenda: “To create a social structure, for preserving and protecting men’s rights, so as to foster a stress-free society.”
But their blog posts are more telling. There’s one which claims that modern women are modelling themselves on porn stars and using the legal system to destroy the Indian family. Another post takes a stand against the criminalisation of marital rape. And then there was the stunt which made it to the papers – members dressed up as ATMs screamed slogans against “money vultures and fake case specialists” when the city congregated for a charitable marathon.
Their flock, this Sunday, is made up of many “victims”. There is the young man embroiled in a domestic violence case who has brought his mother along to hold his hand, the man facing prison time for allegedly raping his partner, the man set to oust his wife in an ongoing divorce. All of them are looking for advice and the most sought after counsel is one: Chandan Samant.
There is nothing in the stature or demeanour of the civil engineer that commands attention but when Chandan speaks, the group listens. The 36-year-old has paid his dues and is now a man on a mission. He has spent the past six years in a continuing battle against an estranged wife. He has multiple cases pending against him in various courts and he claims to have spent over ₹15 lakh in the legal battle against his former wife.
It is a woman’s world out there and men are the victims of this biased system.
Since that Sunday in 2010 when Chandan joined the group after his four-day stint in prison, he has never looked back. He has since become a counsellor for the foundation’s helpline and a spokesman for the group. And at this meeting, he is telling a rapt audience how to gather proof against their accusers, how to avoid arrests, and the best lawyer to get you anticipatory bail.
The conversation is interrupted when a member starts handing out toffee and cake to the gathering. It was Chandan’s birthday yesterday and this group is now like family.
“I started going to the meetings every Sunday because it was the one place where I could talk and there were people who were going through the same thing as me. These were people who had lost everything like me. I lost my job, my house, my family’s honour, just because I married the wrong person,” he says.
The wrong person was a fitness trainer he met at a gym near his house in Andheri. They started talking over the water cooler and just five months later, the two tied the knot. Chandan claims that the honeymoon period ended immediately and after two years, he decided to file for divorce.
Six years later, his estranged wife is still a part of his life. She lives in the house he once shared with his family while he has moved into a smaller apartment in the building across the road. He is still her Facebook friend and keeps a tab on her WhatsApp updates. He is just collecting proof, he explains. The arm around her shoulder in that Facebook post could mean that she is getting remarried and thus cannot claim maintenance from him anymore and he can get a peek at the place which was once home.
“I think she posts pictures to taunt me. Look at this, your cupboard is mine now,” he says, his voice still staccato and emotionless, as he speaks of the woman he blames for everything that went wrong. She filed multiple cases against him after he filed for divorce.
Indian Penal Code’s Section 498 A, Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, all were pressed into action. Chandan lost his job, as his employer did not take kindly to the days he skipped work to respond to court subpoenas. The matter is still sub judice and Chandan is careful when detailing the events which lead up to the moment here: this park bench where he sits every Sunday, talking about the ways women are out to manipulate the legal system to rob men off their money, livelihood, and self-respect.
“My parents or I did nothing wrong. She even implicated my 80-year-old grandmother in the dowry harassment case. How can a woman that old assault a fit thirty-something woman who is a kick-boxing trainer,” he says, his calm voice gathering an angry edge.
He then reels off the statistics. At the National Crime Records Bureau, a total number of 16,351, 4,204, and 531 cases have been registered under the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 in 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively. Out of the 90,000 to one lakh cases investigated every year, nearly 10,000 complaints of dowry harassment turn out to be false. The figure makes the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act (498A) one of the most abused laws in the country.
But there is another statistic too. A more real and pressing one which says that more than 8,000 women lose their life every year to dowry-related crimes. Both numbers are truths in their own worlds, both perhaps valid in their own positions. One gender statistic does not cancel out another. The people at the end of these numbers have real stories, even though Chandan may have a tougher time convincing the world of the validity of this fight.
Chandan does not concern himself with looking deeply silly as a fighter for men’s rights in a world where gender crimes are strongly skewed towards women. He knows that women have their stories of violence, but Chandan has his. The evening is approaching and the park is filling up. The group is heading out together for a snack before they go their separate ways. They will meet here again next Sunday and the battle will continue.
Kripa Krishnan is a Delhi girl living in Mumbai, she is a hunter-gatherer of information and has spent the past decade justifying her love of both Germaine Greer and misogynistic rap.