Breaking the silence against imposed “martyrdom”

During the last few months, there has been a wave of praise in the mainstream and social media for an Indian documentary film on IPC section 498A entitled “Martyrs of Marriage”. The filmmaker, Deepika Bhardwaj, has been extolled not only for technical excellence in filmmaking, but has also been elevated as the messiah for men. Recently, there has also been an expected, well-justified and visible pushback from the men’s movement in India, because the movie is anachronistic, it promotes a feminist lie, misrepresents men’s rights activists (MRAs) and undermines the men’s rights movement (MRM), which provided much support, information and content for the film.

 

The perspective of the men’s movement and the reasons for the pushback require a close look at the history, significance and purpose of the men’s movement, and the factual narrative that Indian MRAs have fought to establish over the last 10-13 years. It would involve learning, in depth, about why IPC 498A is a malicious law and not a law made to save lives as claimed by the film. People who are not interested in this academic exercise are bound to look to the documentary film as an authentic source of information, representative of MRAs and the entire length, breadth and depth of the MRM.

 

I would urge everyone to make the effort to know more about the MRM, MRAs and why they would vehemently oppose the only film which claims to give them a voice and show their side of the story; and why MRAs would oppose a filmmaker, who is sympathetic towards a men’s issue, becoming the face of the MRM and the “voice of men”.

 

To this end, I will direct the attention of the readers towards certain crucial but invisible aspects that do not require you to have any background in the MRM, but just require basic human intelligence to understand.

 

Every person who is arrested and imprisoned based on a false complaint goes through a phase where they are dying to scream out to the world that they are not criminals. They are stigmatized in the society, they are vilified by the media, and pushed into a corner so much so that the only thought that dominates the person’s existence is the need to NOT be identified as a criminal. There are many who experience the need to be identified as victims, and they want their personal narrative to be heard by someone, especially by those who hold the power to influence the social and political narrative, such as journalists, filmmakers, celebrities and politicians.

 

However, victimhood is an affliction suffered by but a fraction of individuals who are implicated in false cases. Unfortunately though, individuals and entities that control the narrative do not understand that a need to “not be identified as criminal” does not automatically translate into a “need to be identified as a victim”. As a result, even sympathetic journalists and filmmakers impose victimhood and martyrdom on everyone because victimhood sells, and is seen as the only way to bring attention to problems.  

 

This kind of victimhood is a state of mind, and it does not have anything to do with what life throws at us, false cases included. MRAs who have counseled hundreds of affected men observe that “men carrying victimhood for long periods of time works like an addiction which eventually destroys them. MRAs also feel that fostering or nurturing perpetual victimhood in victimized people is a feminist recipe and does not bode well for any society”. Over the last 10 years, MRAs have worked very hard to exctricate men from this sense of victimhood, to empower them to stand up for themselves, and to take responsibility for changing not just malevolent laws like 498a, but the overall social mindset which sees males as disposable.

legal terrorism

When a person does not wallow in victimhood, it is assumed that they are either culpable or that they do not experience any pain. It takes much time and struggle to gather the voice to deny criminality, to maintain the resolve, and fight to the finish to establish one’s innocence in the courts of law. Every person who has walked out of the court after hearing the words “acquitted” knows the feeling of taking a full breath of air, walking with their head held high, with the kind of satisfaction and joy that the heart does not seem enough to hold.

 

Everyday, the mainstream media keeps declaring innocent people as criminals without trial for the sake of political correctness and ratings. To those who have experienced it, acquittal means restoring one’s honor and dignity, even though one may have lost many years, dear ones, life’s savings and all the things one has given one’s life to. It is such a profoundly liberating experience, that the voice, which for many years, wanted to scream “I am not a criminal”, now wants to scream “I won” until the sound of vindication reverberates all over. MRAs have always fought, worked hard to empower and encourage others to fight, to demonstrate that we are real people and not mere numbers or data points in the National Crime Records Bureau. However, the voice of the acquitted is never heard because the mainstream media chooses to be deliberately silent about them.

acquitted cropped

As a fellow MRA rightly pointed out to me, given the status quo, “a journalist independently gaining the trust of people who have been victimized by 498A is difficult, and to make them to open up to any publicity via documentaries is even more difficult”. When a journalist comes along, claiming to want to make a film or write about us, members of the movement are always inclined to project individuals who have won their cases to narrate their stories. This is because a person who is still fighting a trial always fears a backlash from his opposition, the police or the court of law. He or she does not want to take the risk of being disbelieved or ridiculed by others because an individual’s story is not considered credible unless their cases have ended in acquittal.  

 

Therefore, when the documentary filmmaker in question approached the Indian MRM for interviews of affected individuals, she was also directed to meet individuals who had been acquitted some years ago. Revisiting profound personal tragedies, many years after the fact and years after acquittal is an ordeal in itself, and not something anybody would want to do. However, MRAs, who chose to take one for the team, reluctantly opened up to the filmmaker who promised to highlight these stories as those of hope and triumph to inspire others to fight. MRAs unravelled personal details to demonstrate that they are normal people, just as vulnerable as anyone else, and traced their own journey to victory, in parallel with their activism in the MRM to inspire everyone to be “that second mouse”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51lFmdChOA0

 

When these detailed accounts of gallant fight are edited, placed out of context and shown as stories of plight, and the filmmaker uses her film and her public image to promote victimhood, to become the face of MRM and the “voice of men” by lie of omission, one is bound to feel violated. The filmmaker silencing MRAs, by playing the victim card against them is an additional violation that needs to be overcome. Under such circumstances, it takes much time, effort and thought to gather the voice to say “I am not a victim”, and to initiate a meaningful conversation around the important issues concerning MRAs and the MRM. The struggle to deny this imposed martyrdom is just as emotionally excruciating as the one to deny imposed criminality.

 

It is important to recognize that there is little difference between journalists painting us as criminals for TRPs and filmmakers misrepresenting MRAs as victims just to make the cut in their career.

 

In this context, it is also important to look at how different individuals who approach the movement identify themselves in very different ways. Many individuals approach the movement for help, but always remain aloof as individuals, see themselves as unique in their hardships, feel entitled to support and help, look for a quick fix and an easy exit. They are the victims looking for a messiah, preferably in female form. In their myopic view, anybody, even a filmmaker, who can offer them a temporary vicarious experience and fleeting hope for change, is a savior. These victims would be willing to let a whole movement and the collective hard work of all the MRAs who dedicated their lives to it, be sacrificed on the altar of their personal desire for quick relief and freedom. Longtime MRAs are usually glad to take one for the team, but everyone must realize that exploitation of personal tragedies, for any reason, is an insult to the dear ones whose honor we fight and win for. It is an insult to the MRM, which gave us life and that we gave our lives to.  

 

While the film, which boasts of highlighting human struggle, ironically, undermines the same, there are some who have been foolish enough to believe and say that MRAs are jealous of a filmmaker’s success. MRAs have much to be proud of because they stand up and fight to restore their own honor and that of their families, and also empower others to fight. With no offense intended, it must be said that there is little to be “jealous” about a victim-turned-filmmaker, who has neither experienced nor understood what fighting means, and promotes victimhood among men.

 

Some MRAs have been demonized for saying that the filmmaker did not duly acknowledge the MRM and MRAs for their earnest contribution to the film, and for stating that the filmmaker is undermining the movement through calculated silence. While I leave it to experts to comment on the technical excellence of the film, I propose a thought experiment and ask the reader to imagine what the filmmaker’s reaction would have been, had someone taken all the credit for her hard work, through lies of omission. MRAs have been maintaining a dignified silence about this issue for several months, but when a filmmaker takes advantage of her popularity to undermine a long-standing movement, and becomes the “voice of men” by lies of omission, silence is no longer an option.

 

Advertisements

Sree Krishna Janamasthaanam

Sree Krishna Janamasthaanam

The state of our prisons and the making of our Prison State

by Uma Challa

(Published by MyIndMakers)

IMG_1254-2

Media sensationalization of crimes against women is not new to India, neither is the diversely vociferous public response. Just within this decade, starting from “youth icon and female role model”, Nisha Sharma in 2003, all the way to “braveheart”, Jasleen Kaur, in 2015, we have witnessed several cases in which the media has held trials and pronounced “guilty” verdicts against the accused as soon as a complaint was lodged or an FIR was filed. We have witnessed the bloodthirsty lynching mob mentality of a sizable section of Indian public. In each instance, we have also heard quite a few sane voices on various forums, pleading the media and the public to exercise self-restraint and to allow the law of the land to take its course.

In the recent times, especially in the wake of the Rohtak sisters’ and Jasleen Kaur’s cases, enough has been said about the perils of media trials and ignorant demands for extrajudicial punishments. However, little has been said about what “law taking its course” means today, how it impacts the lives of the many who are accused, whether or not they are guilty of a crime. Much less has been said about how we have become a prison state by approving virtually every possible draconian law in the name of curbing crimes against women, condoning arbitrary arrests of ordinary citizens, and imprisoning them in deplorable conditions.

Here is the data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) showing the number of arrests made under cognizable and non-bailable offences against women, the number of accused who were pronounced guilty by the end of year 2013 and the number of undertrials under the same laws, in prisons all over India at the end of year 2013.
PrisonData-2

As seen in the above table, a total of 3,90,038 people were arrested and jailed in one year, only under the above mentioned crimes against women.

There have been a total of 15,075 convictions in one year, which is a mere 3.86 percent of the total number of arrests made only within that year, under these specific crimes against women.

Ironically, a large percentage of prison population constitutes undertrials, meaning, they are in prison without being pronounced guilty. Most of them are under detention not because they might tamper with evidence nor because they are convicted (pending appeal or otherwise). Repeated adjournments of bail hearings due to an overload of cases in courts, poverty and the resultant inability to furnish the required surety, illiteracy and ignorance about legal procedures involved in obtaining bail, shoddy investigation and corruption are the main reasons which contribute to the indefinite detention or delays in release of the accused under bail. Every year, the largest number of undertrials spend upto 3 months in jail, and the number stood at 1,05,457 in year 2013 alone. In the same year, the number of undertrials who spent between 3-6 months in jail was 59,344 and the number that spent between 6-12 months in jail was 49,155. (NCRB statistics, 2013)

The total number of undertrials specifically under crimes against women (mentioned in the table above), in prisons all over India at the end of year 2013 is 40,739.

In essence, among the 55,814 inmates imprisoned for these specific crimes against women, 73 percent are undertrials. This is in accordance with the overall picture, whereby 68 percent of all Indian prison inmates, under every crime listed in the Indian Penal Code, are undertrials.

While the total available prison capacity in India is 3,47,859 inmates, the actual total occupancy of prisons in India is 4,11,992. Thus, there are an excess of 64,133 inmates in our entire prison system, and the total occupancy rate of Indian prisons stands at 118 percent. Not only are the prisons overcrowded, but they are also understaffed.

As a result, prisons, which are, in principle, meant for isolation, and if possible reformation of socially dangerous elements, have now become places for confinement of ordinary citizens accused of all sorts of crimes regardless of their nature or gravity. Unnecessary arrests and imprisonment, and overcrowding of jails, combined with insufficient prison staff and unbearable living conditions have made prisons breeding grounds for depression, anger and violence, not to mention infectious diseases too.

Due to the overburdened judiciary, there are thousands of undertrials who stay imprisoned for periods longer than the term prescribed as punishment for their crimes. Here, it would be useful to note that of the total number of cases pending during year 2013 (including cases pending trial from the previous year), only 15.2 percent of cases have been disposed off by courts (this figure includes cases which were compounded or withdrawn and cases which have resulted in convictions or acquittals). A whopping 84.8 percent of cases remain pending at the end of year 2013. (NCRB statistics, 2013)

Under these circumstances, taking advantage of legal loopholes and biases to have men thrown in prison merely based on a complaint, without evidence, investigation or trial, is one of the easiest methods to harass them. Viewed from the perspective of radical feminist masterminds behind women-centric laws, immediate arrests and incarceration provide instant “justice” (read revenge) to “victim” (read disgruntled) women. The widespread and growing tendency to get men jailed by hook or crook probably also reflects the Indian public’s loss of faith in the legal system, the police and the judiciary. In other words, we probably have extreme faith in the slowness and inefficiency of the system, and can imagine that once someone is pushed into a legal maelstrom, they will not get out of it easily, at least not without serious bruises to their spirit if not its complete annihilation.

The viciousness of our gender-biased laws is matched only by the audacity with which they are being abused every single day and the ignorance and apathy of the public, which turns a blind eye to such misuse. While the rampant misuse of laws is being instantaneously hailed as bravery and valour, sometimes even accompanied by announcement of rewards, the misery of many souls needlessly languishing in prisons is considered “law taking its course”, even by some of the most well meaning citizens, officials, opinion makers and leaders of our country.

Here, I must make an honest admission that I was one of the well-meaning but ignorant (if not downright apathetic) citizens myself. During my childhood, I remember people referring to the prison as “Sree Krishna Janmasthaanam”. I knew about Kamsa incarcerating Devaki and Vasudeva, not because they did any harm to him, his subjects or his kingdom, but only to escape the impending consequence of his own sins, namely, death in the hands of their divine child. Despite knowing this story of Krishna, for the longest time, I thought everyone inside the prison was a thief or a thug…but that’s only until I was granted the divine (and profoundly life changing) opportunity to visit prison myself. Ever since, and for almost  a decade now, I always look at a prison, not with fear or disdain, but with a certain melancholic fondness…I see “Sree Krishna Janmasthaanam”.

On the occasion of Sree Krishna Janmaashtami, I pray for the well-being and speedy release of all those who have been wrongly incarcerated in Indian prisons.

References:

Crime in India, 2013 – Compendium: http://ncrb.gov.in/CD-CII2013/compendium%202013.pdf

Prison Statistics India, 2013: http://ncrb.gov.in/PSI-2013/PrisonStat2013.htm