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Press Release on Women’s Equality, 26th August 2008

Press Release on Women’s Equality, 26th August 2008
Mothers and Sisters Initiative (MASI) and All India Forgotten Women (AIFW)

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are two of the oft-repeated phrases today. It is sad enough that there are many who take great pride in wearing these labels while remaining completely oblivious of their true import. What is worse is that radical women’s groups and vested interests have successfully subverted the real meaning and purpose of women’s empowerment and gender equality and are promoting discrimination, injustice and serious human rights abuses in the name of women’s rights.

On Women’s Equality Day, 26th August, 2008, members of Mothers and Sisters Initiative (MASI) and All India Forgotten Women (AIFW) highlight how various discriminatory laws claiming to empower and protect women are serving as weapons that promote family destruction and perpetrate large scale human rights abuses against men, women and children.

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau indicates that every year, over 1 lakh innocent persons (one innocent person every 5 minutes) are arrested under IPC Section 498A. Every year, close to 30,000 innocent women (one innocent woman every 20 minutes) and 4,000 innocent senior citizens (one innocent elderly person every 2.5 hours) are arrested under IPC Section 498A. Every year close to 350 children (one child per day) are arrested under IPC Section 498A.

Is allowing arrests of innocent citizens and treating them as “guilty until proven innocent” a measure to promote Women’s Equality?

At present, unnatural death of a woman within seven years of her marriage is considered as dowry death, attracting punishment to the accused husband and relatives under IPC Section 304(B). While the current seven year rule and the automatic presumption of “dowry death” is in itself absurd, the National Commission for Women (NCW) is now pressuring the Government to broaden the scope of Dowry Prohibition Act so that unnatural death of a woman at ANY stage of her marriage qualifies as dowry death. While every death of a young married woman is converted into a case of dowry death leading to immediate arrest of the husband and in-laws, large-scale suicides of men do not cause any outrage. While husbands and their relatives are under constant suspicion leading to frequent violation of their basic human rights, wives are rarely ever questioned leave alone prosecuted if a husband dies or ends his life under similar circumstances.

Is this outright discrimination against men and their families a means to promote Women’s Equality?

The Domestic Violence Act claims to protect women from physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and economical abuse. According to the law an aggrieved person is always a woman and the aggressor is always a man. Thus, the law only recognizes domestic violence committed by a man on a woman. While this law is heavily biased against men, there are many gross inconsistencies in the law, which prove that the DV Act is not good for women either. The DV Act allows legally wedded women, divorced women and girlfriends (former or present) to subject a man and his relatives to domestic violence and legal harassment. The law also allows a daughter-in-law to evict the husband along with his dependent mother, father, brothers and sisters from their own property.

Does providing a woman the ability to have a man stripped of his possessions and kicked out of his house along with his family members (on the mere basis of her accusation of domestic violence) qualify as Women’s Equality?

CrPC 125 is a Criminal Section which is biased towards women. Under this section, any legally married woman who cannot sustain life on her own can legally claim maintenance from the husband, while an impoverished husband cannot claim maintenance from his gainfully-employed wife. It is a well-known fact that a large proportion of women who are well educated, employed or qualified enough to find gainful employment are approaching courts to demand maintenance from the husband. Such women also simultaneously entangle the husband and his family in false criminal cases under Section 498A and Dowry Prohibition Act. They also use civil provisions like the Domestic Violence Act and Section 24 of Hindu Marriage Act (in addition to CrPC 125) to demand maintenance from the husband. NCW is now pushing for providing maintenance not only to legally wedded/separated/divorced wives but also to female live-in partners. Another major amendment sought by NCW in Section 125 of CrPC is that women who have violated the sanctity and the legal contract of marriage by committing adultery should be considered as victims and also provided maintenance.

Does allowing women to treat men as ATM machines and encouraging them to lead a parasitic life qualify as Women’s Equality?

Women also misuse legal provisions to alienate children from fathers when marriages break down. Many fathers suffer immensely due to separation from their children and many children are deprived of access to fatherly love and care.

Is misuse of the judicial process to violate a child’s right to both parents a symbol of Women’s Equality?

Many representations have been made to the Ministry of Women and Child Development to correct the laws and to make them gender neutral in the interest of equality, fairness and justice to men and women. Requests have been made to include gender neutral, family friendly organizations like Mothers and Sisters Initiative (MASI) and All India Forgotten Women (AIFW) in the discussion, draft and review of laws related to women. While the Ministry of Women and Child Development, in its Round Table Conference conducted on 25 June 2008, admitted that the present pro-women laws are being grossly misused, no measures have been taken to curb the large scale misuse of the laws and the ensuing human rights abuses.

NCW is trivializing the extent of misuse of these laws by women and is exaggerating statistics of dowry harassment, dowry death and domestic abuse in order to attract funds from foreign agencies like UNIFEM and USAID and to push for more stringent legal provisions. NCW has blatantly denied any help to innocent mothers and sisters who have been falsely accused and harassed under IPC Section 498A and Section 304(B). NCW is pressuring the Government to ignore any recommendations to amend IPC Section 498A and Domestic Violence Act which might make the provisions gender neutral and less prone to misuse.

NCW is denying domestic abuse against our fathers, brothers and sons and refusing protection to husbands and their male and female relatives from abusive wives. As a result, twice as many married men, compared to women, are committing suicide every year unable to endure physical, emotional, verbal and economic abuse and legal harassment.

Is the pain of a mother who lost a son to domestic abuse or legal terrorism any less than that of a mother who lost a daughter? How many more mothers and sisters should lose their sons and brothers before measures are taken to alleviate their sufferings?
Aren’t mothers and sisters women? Don’t they deserve a life of dignity and respect?
Does penalizing innocent mothers and sisters under false cases bring justice to genuinely abused women?
Does women’s empowerment mean destroying family harmony and creating a fatherless society?
Is protection of women’s rights synonymous with gross violation of basic human rights?
Is legal terrorism the solution to all women’s problems?

These are the questions we have posed time and again to the National Commission for Women and the Ministry of Women and Child Development, while they conveniently ignore and divert attention from these very pertinent and pressing issues.

On the occasion of Women’s Equality Day, we the members of MASI and AIFW make the following demands:

1. Mrs. Renuka Chowdhury should resign from the position of Minister for Women and Child Development, and Girija Vyas should be removed as the Chairperson of NCW, both for having miserably failed to protect innocent citizens, especially women, children and elders, from being arrested without trial/investigation in cases filed under Section 498A IPC and Section 304(B).
2. Grievances of mothers and sisters who are falsely accused and harassed under IPC Section 498A, Dowry Prohibition Act, Section 304(B) and Domestic Violence Act must be heard and redressed by State Women Commissions as well as National Commission for Women and the Women and Child Development Ministry.
3. No arrests of any of the accused (man, woman or child) should be made without proper investigation and written approval of police officials of the rank of DCP or above.
4. Persons filing false cases should be severely punished for misusing the judicial process and blocking the path of justice for genuine victims. The State should initiate prosecution suo motu against those found to be misusing laws to settle personal scores.
5. All civil and criminal laws should be made applicable to men and women equally. Specifically, provisions of IPC 498A, Domestic Violence Act, adultery laws, laws against rape and sexual harassment and family laws (divorce, maintenance and child custody) should be made gender-neutral.
6. Equal protection should be given to men and women against verbal, emotional, economic, physical and sexual abuse at home and in the work place.
7. Family friendly, gender neutral organizations like MASI and AIFW should be included in every discussion, draft and review committee on laws related to women.

Memorandum on Women’s Equality Day 2008