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Dec 9, 2014

Day of the Man: guarding the china shop

Oommen C.     

“This is nothing but terrorist activity by women’s organizations. I do not know how many Bhagat Singhs, Jatin Dases and Netajis will be born to stop this legal terrorism.”

- Swarup Sarkar of the Save Indian Family Foundation on PWDVA.

 

Gender violence is one of India’s most embarrassing truths. Studies clearly establish that India is one of the worst places in the world for women. Nevertheless, when it comes to women and children, the front gates of the sanctified Indian family are guarded by ferocious little men armed to the teeth, so that no elements of human rights find their way in.

Our courts of law have not been any different: in 1984, a judgment of the Delhi High Court – upheld later by the Supreme Court as well - said that the Fundamental Rights ensured to every Indian citizen by the Constitution were not applicable in the family. These rights have to stop right at the door of the home. Letting Fundamental Rights into the family, said the honourable (male) judge, would be ‘like letting a bull into a china shop’. The Indian Family has thus long enjoyed the status of a sanctuary, protected by what is often called the ideology of privacy, where men have the right to be left alone to oppress women one at a time.

Indian judiciary has not been a willing ally in the fight for gender justice and our courtrooms are notorious for being extremely sexist. However, some of the most crucial battles for gender rights in India have been fought on legal sites. Pushing for legislation that protects women’s rights has been a strategy of Indian women’s movement over the years. The current policy framework is a result of tireless efforts of women’s rights groups, progressive lawyers and different government agencies.

These efforts have provided women with a range of new legal options, and also pushed the Indian government to amend existing laws to protect women from violence and injustice. These legislations are just baby-steps of a society ridden with worst kinds of violence towards a more just future. However, there is zero tolerance for anything that breaches the carefully produced 'natural' order of society, and the resistance to such laws has been phenomenal. Any legal remedy to gender based injustice is automatically read by many as being oppressive to men.

The 16 Days Campaign was launched by Rutgers Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL) in 1991 as an annual campaign that demands the elimination of all forms of violence against women, which happens between November 25 and December 10, with over 2,000 organizations participating from across the globe.

A week before the 16 Days Campaign kicks off comes the International Men’s Day (IMD), on the 19th of November. In India, it is celebrated quite religiously by two broad sets of supporters. First, IMD is played out in all its male glory in the media by the grooming and etiquette industry.

The second group, however, is more interesting and less predictable. With a presence across the Indian urban landscape, the Men’s Rights Movement is a set of organizations who believe that Indian men are an oppressed lot- browbeaten by a set of draconian legislations. The list is long – anti dowry laws, anti domestic violence laws, anti sexual harassment law, alimony laws, 498A of IPC which deals with cruelty against women and so on and so forth.

The Save Indian Family Foundation (SIF), Bengaluru, Gender Human Rights Society, New Delhi, Protect Indian Family, Mumbai, Patni Atyachar Virodhi Morcha ,New Delhi, Bharat Bachao Sangathan, Kolkata, Sahana, Hyderabad, Asha Kiran, Bangalore, Protect Men’s Rights, Odisha, Pati Pariwar Kalyan Samiti, Lucknow, Association of Protection of Men’s Rights, Chennai, Gujarat Gaurav Raksha Samiti, Purushak Sangrashan Sanstha, Nasik, All Kerala Forum For Social Justice and Legal Studies, Kerala- there are many such organizations that have mushroomed across the country over the last decade.

Many have taken this good fight against the “dangerous” feminists all too literally, and militaristic symbols abound in their everyday practice. For example, SIF activists call themselves ‘SIF commandos’, and they have regular meetings in major cities. The way these groups use a shrill equality rhetoric to undermine any law that seeks to address gender-based disparity in the society is reminiscent of outfits like ‘Youth for Equality’ propped up to undercut policies of affirmative action during the onset of the Mandal era.

These can be termed as reactions to any challenge to residues of feudal privilege inherent in the Indian society, be it to upper castes, or to men. Indeed, there is a large overlap between these two movements which is hard to miss. As Susan Faludi, a Pulitzer-winning American writer put it; this vociferous save-the-men campaign has been set off not by women’s achievement of full equality ‘but by the increased possibility that they might win it’.

The high-pitched social media backlash orchestrated by these self styled Men’s Rights activists is intended to deter women from using laws meant to protect gender justice. These urban remnants of our feudal past have cleverly tapped into the prevalent misogyny of the society where any demand by women for their rights in the family is labeled as anti-family. Luckily for the Indian society, such shaming tactics using male anxiety and doubts have not been able to dampen the momentum achieved by feminist legal advocacy. This is no mean achievement as Indian socio-cultural imagination still holds domestic space as an exclusive territory that is incompatible with laws.

It is highly possible that many of these Men’s Rights activists really believe in what they advocate for. What these crusaders of sanitized patriarchy seem to miss is how gender justice can be a win-win for all. Historically, men have been placed at an advantageous position over women. Rationale for this skewed gender relation has been all pervasive and often internalized by both the sexes. Doubtlessly, any effort to change this unequal system generates a range of arguments, mostly driven by denial and fear from men. Many such men view women’s movement and its ideologies as essentially male hating.

It follows that none of these ‘equal-rights activists’ seem to realize that their protests against pro-women laws are nothing but an expression of their overall sense of patriarchal entitlement. Taking away of male privilege will certainly hurt some men. Thomas Oaster, a university teacher who is widely acknowledged as the pioneer of international IMD events, had to resign from his job in the aftermath of six cases of sexual harassment by his students.

Both men and women can be victims of patriarchy and gender justice is a desirable social goal. Addressing denial and fear among men to dangerous ideas such as equality is going to be an important evolutionary challenge. For men.

Both men and women can be victims of patriarchy and gender justice is a desirable social goal.

 

As Nancy Smith’s memorable lines go:

For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong, there is a man who is tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.

For every woman who is tired of acting dumb, there is a man who is burdened with the constant expectation of "knowing everything."

For every woman who is tired of being called "an emotional female," there is a man who is denied the right to weep and to be gentle.

For every woman who is called unfeminine when she competes, there is a man for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity.

For every woman who is tired of being a sex object, there is a man who must worry about his potency.

For every woman who feels "tied down" by her children, there is a man who is denied the full pleasures of shared parenthood.

For every woman who is denied meaningful employment or equal pay, there is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being.

For every woman who was not taught the intricacies of an automobile, there is a man who was not taught the satisfactions of cooking.

For every woman who takes a step toward her own liberation, there is a man who finds the way to freedom has been made a little easier.

 

Written by: Oommen C Kurian, Oxfam India

Photo credit: Oommen C Kurian, Oxfam India

 
Reference from:

Amrita Nandy (2013), Cultures of Violence and Silence, in Maznah Mohamad (Ed), Family Ambiguity and Domestic Violence in Asia: Concept, Law and Process, Sussex Academic Press, London.

Arpan Tulsyan (Undated), Various discussions.

Lucy Dubochet (2012), Protecting Women From Domestic Violence, Oxfam India Policy Brief No 4, Oxfam India, New Delhi.

Nivedita Menon (2012), Seeing Like a Feminist, Zubaan and Penguin Books, New Delhi.

Pallavi Polanki (2010), Men Who Cry, Open Magazine, 17 July, New Delhi.

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