|Men have claimed for some time that they’re abused by women. The lunatic fringe? Not quite.Varuna Verma serves up more evidence that such stories are only too true|
Whenever Bangalore-based software engineer Suresh Chauhan wanted to call his mother, he’d tell his wife he was either going grocery shopping or for a walk. “Chauhan’s wife did not want him to maintain any contact with his mother or sister. She hit him whenever she found him calling home,” says Virag Dhulia, a counsellor at the Save India Family Foundation (Siff), which deals with harassed husbands.
Financial analyst Dhaval Kadakia’s plight was no better. He told a rally Siff organised at Pune last year, where many men related their marital woes, that his wife hit him whenever he refused to do household chores.
And last fortnight, Jayesh Pawar, a driver employed by the Thane Municipal Transport accused his wife of beating him with a broom and displayed a mobile phone camera clip to the police to back his claim. Pawar says he was beaten because he had bought a tenement at a chawl, while his wife wanted a flat in a building.
Believe it or not, women are not the only victims of domestic violence. Siff says it receives about one lakh distress calls from men every year. “A huge number of Indian men are mentally, verbally, physically and sexually abused by their wives,” says Pandurang Katti, who founded Siff in 2005.
Still sceptical? Then read on. Rajat Mitra, director, Swanchetan, a Delhi-based counselling centre, says he sees about 350 cases of men in abusive marriages every year. “The problems range from soft abuse — like wives abstaining from sex or not allowing men to send money to their parents — to serious physical assaults,” he adds.
That’s not all. Siff executive member Swarup Sarkar cites National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics to underline the plight of men. In 2007, 57,593 married men committed suicide, versus 30,064 married women.
In 2006, the organisation, which has held seven protest marches across India against women-oriented laws, conducted an online survey of 1,650 urban, upper middle-class married men who had contacted its helpline. It found that 98 per cent of them had faced domestic violence. “The study looked at economic, emotional, physical and sexual violence. Economic violence was found to be most common,” says Sarkar, who authored the study.
That survey, however, may be flawed. A survey like this is equal to inviting all left-handed people to participate in a study on the percentage of lefties, says Harish Bijoor, chief executive officer of Bangalore-based market research firm Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. “The ground rule of a survey is that the surveyor should find the consumer — and not let the consumer find him. The Siff survey won’t survive scientific scrutiny,” he says.
And Sudha Sundaraman, general secretary, All India Democratic Women’s Association, ripostes, “NCRB figures show that the number of dowry deaths in India increased from 7,026 in 2004 to 8,093 in 2007. The problem is only growing.”
But a survey conducted by Orissa’s State Women Commission found that women were increasingly using dowry-related laws and the Domestic Violence Act to harass husbands. And Mayank Gupta, a management graduate from Calicut, would insist that men are often at the receiving end of marital violence. Gupta married a colleague at the Mumbai-based multinational where he worked. “Six months later the couple started having bitter fights. They both worked long hours and each expected the other to do the household chores,” recalls his father, M.R. Gupta.
“On probing, I found out that my son’s wife beat him whenever the couple quarrelled. This affected his self esteem,” says Gupta. Now a member of the Mumbai-based Protect Indian Family Foundation (Piff), Gupta is helping his son fight for a divorce.
Venkat Ramu, a Mysore-based school teacher, is seeking a divorce too. When he approached the People’s Urge for Rights and Equity (Pure) for counselling and legal help last year, he said he had nowhere to live. “When Ramu returned from work one day, his wife refused to let him into the house,” says Pure founder B.G. Ponappa. “He said his wife would pinch, scratch and beat him and verbally abuse him,” recalls Ponappa.
Most cases of marital violence are seemingly related to money matters. Ramu and his wife fought because she felt he didn’t earn enough, says Ponappa. Thane driver Pawar said in his complaint that his wife was always asking him to buy jewellery, furniture and clothes.
Last month, Bangalore-based software engineer Prakrit Shankar (name changed) sought counselling from Ali Khwaja, founder, Banjara Academy, a Bangalore-based counselling centre. “Shankar’s wife did not want him to provide any financial assistance to his parents,” recalls Khwaja. When Shankar refused, his wife threatened to lodge a complaint with the police on harassment. The couple finally divorced.
Khwaja says he counsels about 25 to 30 men every year who face abusive marriages. Most of them come with problems of verbal and emotional abuse. “Three years ago, the numbers were less than a third,” he says.
Lawmakers say women often misuse domestic violence and anti-dowry laws to punish their husbands. Indeed, B.L. Saraswathi, president of the Bangalore-based Asha Kiran, which specialises in getting anticipatory bail for men facing charges of domestic violence and dowry harassment, says the NGO gets 20 such cases a day.
Pure founder Ponappa has faced this too. Ponappa says his wife slapped a false dowry harassment case against him, his father and mother Gowramma. “My father is the worst hit by the case,” he rues.
Pure, Siff and Piff are just some of the organisations that are now fighting for the rights of men. Supreme Court lawyer R.P. Chugh’s NGO Crime Against Man has 40,000 members, runs a helpline and publishes a weekly magazine. Piff, with 6,000 members, organises motorcycle rallies, dharnas and legal awareness programmes, while Siff, with 50,000 members, runs a helpline, conducts legal workshops and provides counselling.
Yet not everybody is convinced that there is a growing trend of women abusing men. “There is no systematic abuse of men like there is of women in India,” says Ritu Menon, director, Women Unlimited, a publishing house. “As women become economically independent, the privileges and control of men are being challenged. This is making them react adversely,” she adds.
G.K. Karanth, professor of sociology at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, agrees. “Power equations have changed in Indian households. Women have become economically independent and assert themselves. This is seen as oppression by men,” he explains.
The real social change to note, Karanth stresses, is that men are now wearing their “We are the weaker sex” labels on their sleeves. “Ten years ago, a story of husband abuse would never have come out of the bedroom. Today, men are comfortable about not being macho,” he says.
And the fairer sex, they contend, is the unfair sex.