Men make a case for enactment of gender-neutral laws

  • Manoj Nair, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 21, 2014 19:16 IST

On Wednesday, a group of men stood at a busy concourse at CST station requesting commuters to sign a petition against laws that they said discriminated against their gender. At the end of eight hours, they collected nearly 3,500 signatures, which they plan to send to various parliamentary committees that are discussing new gender laws and changes to existing legislations.

Among the ‘discriminatory’ legislations that the activists from the group ‘Vaastav Foundation’ have identified are the adultery and anti-dowry sections in the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The activists also oppose plans to amend marriage laws to give women wider claims to matrimonial property. They call these legislations ‘gold-digger laws’ because, according to them, the sections will be misused by complainants to blackmail and harass innocent men.

One example of a discriminatory legislation, the activists point out, is section 498A of the IPC, commonly called the anti-dowry law. The section was introduced after thousands of women died horrific deaths at the hands of dowry-greedy husbands and in-laws. Women’s rights activists say that since its enactment in 1983, the law has saved the lives of thousands of women.

But the section has also been abused. Earlier this year, the country’s Supreme Court said that conviction rates in cases registered under the section were low. The poor conviction rate can be partly attributed to the fact that many of the complaints were false and could not be proved. In many cases, police were using the law to extort money from the accused.

In July, the apex court directed state governments to instruct the police “not to automatically arrest when a case under Section 498A of IPC is registered but to satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest under the parameters (check list) provided under Section 41 of criminal procedure code”.

“The Supreme Court guidelines say that the police should not to make direct arrests without verifying whether the complaints are indeed true,” says Amit Deshpande, president of Vaastav Foundation. “But despite directions from the Supreme Court, police are unaware about it. Most police stations are yet to get the guidelines.”

Lawyers agree that the section is one of the most misused legislations among the laws introduced to protect women from centuriesold prejudice. According to lawyer Abha Singh, nearly two lakh cases have been filed under the section since its enactment, but a quarter of these are against people whose guilt could not be proved. “I know of cases in which relatives living in the US have been named as accused,” says Singh.

According to Singh, the activists have a point when they say that there are also other laws that discriminate against men. For instance, section 497, called the adultery law, allows a woman to file a case if she suspects her husband of infidelity, but a man cannot file a similar complaint of adultery against his wife. “The law cannot be like this, especially since the section lays down punishment for five year. This is one law that has to be straightened up,” says Singh.

The men also oppose plans to give the National Commission for Women the status of a civil court. The central government plans to make amendments to the National Commission for Women Act of 1990 and give the commission a status similar to the National Human rights Commission.

On Thursday, the Lok Sabha discussed the new ‘Marriage Amendment Bill’ that will add new sections to the Hindu Marriage Act. The changes, according to Chetan S, a scientist who is a member of Vaastav Foundation, will give women a disproportionate claim over her husband’s property, including assets inherited from his parents.

The men agree that correctional changes are needed in a patriarchal society that has discriminated against women for thousands of years but want the country’s laws to become ‘gender neutral’ and discriminatory against men.

Though there is truth in the complaints made by the men, some Indian laws actually discriminate against women. In November 2013, the United Nations World Population Fund said that existing laws, like marriage and inheritance laws in some Indian states, are biased against women.

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