A clutch of Indian men are preparing to mark a "sugarless" Independence Day this year as a symbol of the bitter life they have been handed out by women who harass them and even deny them parenting rights.
To show that even men get hounded in society, men's rights organisation Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF) is organising a 'Sugarless Independence Day' conference Aug 15 at Yercaud in Tamil Nadu, a hill station 32 km from the steel town of Salem.
"Men's rights activists attending the conference have decided to have sugarless tea or coffee on Aug 15 this year and also not to have any other sweets. This is an epitome of the bitterness in the lives of men who are living in a society where there are only expectations from them," said Gaurav Saini, coordinator of SIFF's Chandigarh chapter.
SIFF, which started in Bangalore in 2005, now claims a membership of nearly 30,000 men in India and abroad. It positions itself as a men's rights organisation fighting against the misuse of dowry laws, domestic violence act and other laws perceived as anti-male.
"On Independence Day, when we meet we will abstain from taking sugary foodstuff," Virag Dhulia, a senior member of SIFF, told the news agency.
The Yercaud conference, the third of its kind, will have nearly 200 men's rights activists from all over India, representing about 15 different NGOs working for men's rights and participating to intensify the movement of men's rights in India.
Another Bangalore-based NGO, CRISP (Children's Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting), is among the participants.
"This is a unique way of lodging our protest towards woman-centric Indian Penal Code (IPC) clauses, which are totally unconstitutional," CRISP founder president Kumar V. Jahgirdar said.
But National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records say there were 195,856 crimes against women in 2008, of which 81,344 cases were of cruelty by husbands and their relatives against married women.
"Men continue to dominate every sphere of society. In cases of crimes related to women, they are mostly the tormentors rather than the victims. Some men may have been harassed by women but their numbers would be minuscule compared to women victims," women rights activist Abhilasha Bali said.
But the conference will nevertheless highlight the plight of "harassed" men.
"This men's rights conference is being conducted to discuss and intensify the awareness campaign on various problems being faced by men in India as sons, brothers, husbands and fathers, including skyrocketing suicide rates by men, especially married men," SIFF coordinator Mandeep Puri said.
Puri pointed out that as per the NCRB, nearly 58,000 married men are committing suicide every year compared to only about 30,000 married women.
"From 1996 to 2008, 170,000 married men have committed suicide directly due to domestic violence," he added.
SIFF activists are upset that there is no concern in India about the plight of men.
"Not a single rupee has been allocated for men's welfare in the union budget in the last 63 years of independence even though men pay 82 percent of the taxes. Not a single study has been conducted by the government to study men's issues. Men do not even have a welfare ministry of their own whereas animals have," Puri pointed out.
Gaurav Saini said: "As per the NCRB, from 2004 to 2008, 550,000 men have been arrested without trial or investigation under Section 498-A, merely on the basis of a complaint from their wives.
"The mothers and sisters of men face hostile situations too. As per the NCRB, from 2004 to 2008, 160,000 innocent mothers and sisters of husbands were arrested without trial or investigation under Section 498-A, merely on the basis of a complaint from the wives of their brothers and sons."
SIFF activists say men are often treated as 'unpaid bodyguards' and 'free ATM machines' for the family.
"This time again we will discuss ways to impress upon the central government regarding the setting up of a men and child welfare ministry on the pattern of the women and child welfare ministry," said Jahgirdar, who is fighting for the shared parenting of his 10-year-old daughter with his ex-wife.
CRISP, with its 2,500 members, is also demanding shared parenting and joint custody as a rule in separation and divorce cases.
Delhi-based child counsellor Ekta Singh said: "These days both the parents are working and they are playing an equal role in bringing up the child. For a child, both the parents are equally important and isolation of one of them in most cases leads to mental distress and trauma in the child."
She said the courts should also be more flexible on shared parenting like allowing the children to stay with their father on vacations or weekends.