Over a hundred men from various walks of life meet every Saturday from 4 to 6 pm near Patiala House courts in New Delhi. The absence of women is telling but at a closer look, that is perhaps what brings them together in the first place.
In the past years, the National Crime Records Bureau has recorded an increase in the number of suicides among married men. As per recent statistics, 27, 064 married women and 59, 744 married men committed suicide in the year 2014. With little or no intervention from the government, support groups like the one in New Delhi have sprung up across the major cities of India. Save Family Foundation (SFF) is one such movement gaining momentum across India with over 40 non-governmental organisations under its umbrella, each of which deal with prevention of suicide among married men.
According to the founders of the movement, 99 percent cases of suicides stem from the rampant misuse of matrimonial laws like – Indian Penal Code 498 (A) for dowry harassment, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Section 125 for maintenance and alimony. “We observe that the common man is unaware of the cases that can be filed against him and when such charges are made, fear of arrest, of losing one’s job, gives them a sudden shock,” Swarup Sarkar, a founder member of sff tells Tehelka. “Since there is no platform or support system, the situation seems hopeless, pushing people towards suicide.”
Men are more prone to suicidal thoughts since they are relatively less comfortable opening up about their problems. “Men tend to feel ashamed to speak to friends and colleagues about their sufferings,” says DS Rao, sff member and founder of Hridaya, a ngo that is part of the movement. Take the case of Amit, a resident of Delhi, whose life took an ugly turn when his wife allegedly slapped multiple cases against him, including one of dowry harassment. “One fine morning, the police stood at my door waiting to arrest me,” he recalls. Unable to reach out for help to family or friends, he began having suicidal thoughts. “There is always the fear of being taunted by friends for being ‘incapable of handling your woman’; for not being ‘man enough’,” he confides. Amit, like many others, reached out for help to the support group and gradually overcame his suicidal tendencies.
Over 80 percent of the counsellors under sff are victims themselves, which enables them to effectively reach out to men who call for help. “It takes over six to eight months for men to overcome the shock of being arrested and convicted,” says Swarup. The counsellors mentally prepare the men for what lies ahead by acquainting them with the possible cases that might be leveled against them to helping them fight their cases. An alleged victim himself, Swarup questions the perception of society in furthering these occurrences. “When a man is murdered, no one questions the wife, in the case of a wife’s murder, guilt is assumed to be that of the husband,” he points out. Amit agrees that this is a grave problem. “The life of a man is cheap in India. Just because they don’t share their problems, it is assumed that they don’t have any,” he says. The sheer number of cases filed against them, leaves the accused man exhausted and penniless. “Nonsensical multiple legislations force the man to travel 5-6 times to court in a month, adversely affecting his job and money flow,” says Swarup. Men additionally face the trauma of being separated from their children and of seeing their relatives — often elderly parents, unmarried sisters, unwell mothers — being arrested for abetment of dowry or harassment.