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Asia

Indian activists claim law weighted against men

Despite decades of female empowerment, India remains very much a male-dominated society. However, a growing number of men are increasingly frustrated with laws they say discriminate against them.

India may be a male-dominated society but, in terms of the law, not everyone would agree that men have it all their own way.

The very same laws that have been used to empower women are now being criticized for being unfair to men, leading to false prosecutions and even suicide.

The most misused of these is the law commonly known as "Section 498a." Amended 30 years ago from an earlier law, it was intended to protect a married woman from unending monetary demands of the groom's family. Such demands can lead to the torture or even death of a bride.

However, in event of a strained marriage or disagreement, critics say the law is abused to make the life of a husband - and his extended family - miserable.

Transgressing the law is a criminal offense, under which the husband and any relatives accused of alleged brutal behavior can be put behind bars on a warrant without bail.

Prison bars

Men may be jailed before they are tried over dowry infringements

Added to this, there are 15 other laws specifically protecting wives and daughters-in-law that campaigners say are being regularly misused.

They include domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment laws for which even being accused carries a heavy stigma. Meanwhile, a growing band of men's rights activists point out that there is not a single law to protect them.

Suhaib Ilyasi, a producer, director and the host of India's first reality TV show, India's Most Wanted considers himself the victim of a skewed legal system, having been implicated in a dowry case after his wife committed suicide.

"The society as a whole believes that it is only the women that bear all the atrocities," Ilyasi told DW.

Ilaysi has produced and directed a commercial feature film inspired by a real life incident showing how certain laws meant to protect women are misused.  "Through film we are asking to introduce a gender neutral law with amendments and provisions," he tells.

In year 2011, the suicide rate of married men was just double that of married women, according to India's National Crime Record Bureau. In the 45 to 49 age group, it is almost three times as high.

A bride looks on during a mass community marriage

The amended dowry law is meant to protect brides

Atit Rajpara, president of Men's Right Association (MRA) based in the city of Pune claims this disparity arises from the misuse of laws against men. The group receives some 15-20 calls per day from aggrieved husbands and unmarried men.

"No one in the world seems to be interested in tending to men's grievances, whereas people are all ears to women's problem," said Rajpara, who has personal experience of the laws being used against him. "This leaves men helpless."

Rajpara says he is in favor of female empowerment but doesn't believe the privileges of men are taken away.

"Empowerment should be through job, education, employment opportunity and certain laws should be made gender neutral," he said. "We want people to understand that not all men are criminal. The prejudice against men should be cleared," says Rajpara. 

Rupee notes

The terms of a dowry can place big financial pressures on a bride's family

Neena Dhulia, member and coordinator of All India Mother-in-Law Protection Forum, agrees with him. She, along with her husband and son, was charged with false cases of dowry and domestic violence by her daughter-in-law.

"It would not be wrong to say that these laws meant to empower women, are more of anti-male laws," said Dhulia.

However, Ranjanana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, told DW that those arguing for "male rights" are failing to take into account the much greater problem of violence against women - often committed to obtain dowry money.

"They forget the reality of all kinds of violence Indian women are facing. They are not looking at 8000 women who are killed every year in India just for the want of dowry," she said.

However Kumari is not denying that the treatment of men is sometimes harsh. She has called for victims of false cases and their families to start a campaign against the system by pledging not to give or take a dowry.