Cricketer Amit Mishra, 34, is arrested by the Bengaluru Police on charges of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation on 27 October, based on a complaint filed earlier by a woman. After being grilled for three hours about the alleged incident of physical assault, he is released on bail. If convicted, Mishra, who was part of India’s limited overs squad against South Africa, faces several years in jail. If proven not guilty, his reputation is besmirched and his future clouded.
There have only been a few occasions in India’s history when thousands of people took to the streets for a cause they genuinely believed in. The first big mobilisation against corruption dubbed ‘Total Revolution’ was led by Jaiprakash Narayan in the 1970s. Then, in 2011, came the second anti-corruption wave, in which Gandhian figure Anna Hazare captured the imagination of people from all walks of life.
More unexpectedly, in 2012 came the Nirbhaya movement, provoked by the horrific Delhi gangrape. Men and women, thousands and thousands of them, marched to the President’s Estate demanding justice for the victim and her family. Few might have understood it then, but this agitation changed the course of gender movements in India.
As the streets erupted, demands for justice escalated and put the then UPA government on the backfoot. However, the movement was by no means homogenous. The idea of justice among the protestors varied widely. Some wanted capital punishment for the rapists, while the liberals advocated against it, asking for stringent jail terms and amendments in the criminal law dealing with sexual harassment cases in this country.
The government, then under tremendous pressure from women’s rights groups, formed a commission headed by Justice (retired) JS Verma to suggest amendments in the existing legislation. The feminists who had for long been demanding changes in the law that would be favourable to women, pressed hard for them.
In March 2013, on the recommendation of the Verma Commission, a new criminal law amendment was passed which was expected to satisfy the stirring conscience of the nation concerning sexual crimes and their offenders.
The new laws widened the range of crimes against women from stalking to sharing pictures of a woman on social networking sites, besides redefining rape and announcing stricter, severe punishment for these crimes. The amendments were not gender neutral, as they were but an extension of the age-old patriarchal notion that only a man can rape a woman.
However, a grateful nation was by and large satisfied with the amended laws. There were a few who termed them disastrous and asserted that some of the new clauses suffer from the loophole of easy entrapment of innocent men in false and fabricated cases. These are the people who identified themselves as male rights activists — or meninists.
The term ‘male rights activism’ sounds strange in a country ridden with patriarchal norms and traditions. But it has been lurking in corners since 1988, when Supreme Court advocate Ram Prakash started an organisation called Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Husbands. However, it was a shot in the dark, and could not gather momentum. It has now been subsumed under the Save Indian Family Foundation founded on 9 March 2005. Since then, the organisation has been active in supporting males accused of offences like dowry, domestic violence and sexual harassment.
The male rights body once registered a complaint with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) against Kitply, as the plywood company’s TV ad depicted a wife slapping her husband. According to the organisation, the ad promoted violence against men. The organisation also issued a statement in support of Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik in April 2010 when he was engaged to Indian tennis ace Sania Mirza and was being accused of being unfaithful to her. It demanded that the Indian government return his passport, which had been seized to prevent him from leaving the country while the case was being tried.
This meninist movement gained popularity in the aftermath of the 2013 criminal amendments. Activists associated with these groups claim that the amended law led to increasing fake cases of rape and harassment — hence the need for an organisation to balance the scales. They substantiate their claims with data released by the Delhi Commission of Women (DCW) which reveals that 53 percent of rape cases filed in the 16-month period between April 2013 and July 2014 turned out to be false. They further argue that on many occasions, courts have observed that rape and sexual harassment laws are being used to settle score by females after the relationship turns sour.
In tandem, the rate of acquittal has increased by more than 20 percent ever since the laws were passed. In 2012, while the acquittal rate in rape cases was 46 percent, it shot up to 75 percent until August 2013. And hovered around the same number in later years. According to a report published by The Hindu, out of 583 rape cases decided in 2013, conviction took place only in 133 cases — that comes to 23 percent.
Further breaking up the data, the paper cited that out of 460 cases that were fully argued, 189 cases involved consenting couples. Another 109 of the 460 cases dealt with ‘breach of promise to marry’. So in total, 298 cases dealt with consensual sex.
In a recent judgement, a Delhi court has observed that it is difficult for a man accused of rape to restore his honour and dignity even if he is finally acquitted and asked if such a person can be termed a ‘rape case survivor’. The court stated that when the accused has been falsely implicated, or the prosecution has failed to fully establish the rape charges, the accused “acquitted honourably, be addressed as a rape case survivor”, just as victims are often termed as “rape survivors.”