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'Men's rights organizations should be consulted by the Government'
The union cabinet, on March 23, gave clearance to some changes in the Marriage Act via the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill 2010. While women's rights organizations have largely supported the cleared amendments, Virag R Dhulia, Head, Gender Studies, of Confidare India, a men's rights community center, has voiced grave concern about men's rights not being protected enough.

THE PROPOSED changes will, for the first time, legally recognize the right of a wife to property acquired by her spouse during their marriage. Equal rights to both adopted and biological children will also be provided. The cabinet also gave its go ahead to consider "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as a new ground for granting divorce as against expecting the couple to carry out despite differences in what is named as a cooling off period. Though, the cabinet has left it to the courts to decide its time period. But at the same time, as per the amendments, while a wife can legally oppose her husband's plea for a divorce under the new clause of "irretrievable breakdown of marriage", a husband will not have similar rights.

The cabinet amendments have already triggered reactions with Ranjana Kumari of Centre for Social Research saying that majority of the women in the country were illiterate and were in no position to know their rights. The All India Democratic Women's Association has welcomed the amendments pertaining to women's right to property in case of dissolution of marriage.

In an exclusive interview with merinews.com, Dhulia gives a 'gender' perspective to marriage and gender laws. Confidare India, Dhulia says, recognizes that men face domestic violence and false cases of harassment related to dowry and domestic violence but often find it difficult to prove their innocence and don’t get emotional support from society. Dhulia, 31, also works as an IT professional in Bangalore, and in 2009, was involved in a case of dowry in which he was jailed for two days and later filed a counter-case of dowry against his wife.

Merinews: You personally went through a disturbing experience with your wife accusing you of taking dowry and spending two days in jail. But you maintain that the allegation was false as you did not ‘ask’ for dowry – it was given willingly. But then you also ‘accepted’ the dowry. You then filed a counter dowry case against your wife. Where do things stand today? Have you considered re-marrying?

Dhulia: I have never said that I “accepted” dowry or that it was “given”. In the case that I have filed against my wife and in-laws, it says, “Because they have themselves made a claim of giving dowry to me, which is an equal crime under the Dowry Prohibition Act, criminal proceedings be initiated against them. It is only an unproved allegation against me but they are admitting the crime, hence they should be punished before me.” The judiciary was more than happy to stay the proceedings of the case even before serving the notice to me and now the case is not coming up for hearing at all. I have gone through a lot of harassment and right now I have to focus on getting my innocence back. All other options are secondary. The way society treats men in marriages, has left deep psychological scars, which have to heal before I think of re-marrying.

Merinews: Why do you object to the amendment that recognizes “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage” as a ground for divorce, in the proposed Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010?

Dhulia: We do not object to the ground of “Irretrievable breakdown of marriage” per se. If a relationship does not make a person happy, he/she should have every legal right to walk out of the relationship gracefully. That being said, it does not mean, the same step has to be achieved at the cost of the other person. Our objections particularly target property division clauses. This is a dangerous one. India is a complex society and definitely very different from the western society. In India, we still have a good mix of nuclear families, joint families, and the concept of Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), etc. Still, there are large number of people who share common ancestral property. There may arise a lot of complications with this law coming in, which may even lead to more crime as people can go berserk when it comes to property. This law has the potential to wreak social havoc. Furthermore, the power of division of property wresting with the judiciary is far more dangerous provision. Indian judiciary is incompetent and people have lost faith on its integrity what with judges being caught cheating in exams and found indulging in massive corruption. This power will make a fish-market of the Indian criminal justice system especially in the arena of matrimonial disputes.

Merinews: The belief in the country persists that women, especial in rural and semi-urban areas, are not empowered enough and need protection by law when it comes to a husband not filing a counter divorce against his wife. Do you think this protection is required or is it being more misused than serving its purpose?

Dhulia: As the question itself says, it’s a belief. Some people believe in God, some do not. Can we have laws based on beliefs? There is a famous saying, “I may not die for my beliefs for they may not be true”. Jokes apart, laws must be based on actual ground research and data. The data is not available. In a country where only 3% of the population pays income tax, we can well imagine the condition of the Government when it comes to knowledge about its citizens. However, if we look at the suicide statistics, which include all areas – urban, rural, semi-urban, the story is clear. It’s the men who are suffering and not the women as men are committing suicides almost to the tune of 2 times compared to women, year over year, especially married men. Why would a young married man, full of life and aspirations, end his life? Something is definitely wrong which is being ignored. As far as economic problems in rural and semi-urban areas are concerned, it’s not a gender issue. It’s a social issue in which men suffer more as they are forced to bear the primary financial responsibility. Moreover, as of now, men’s rights organizations are still largely prevalent on the internet. Men in these areas do not have proper access to the Internet and thus they are not even aware that there is some help available. Hence, they suffer in silence and do not speak about their abuse fearing social ridicule. Women’s organizations are found more frequenting Pizza huts.

Merinews: Do you think the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 should contain more conditional clauses when it comes to allocation of property after dissolution of marriage?

Dhulia: This is a complex situation. We need to consider many factors such as the tenure of marriage, contribution of either partner towards the property, tenure during which the savings were made to build the property because property is never built overnight; it takes a lifetime’s savings to build a property. It will be foolish to think that a man can lose his property if his marriage breaks within months and he will lose his lifetime fortune. Moreover, now women will marry keeping this thing in mind and walk-out of marriages eyeing the man’s property. Men’s rights organizations should be consulted by the Government before finalizing the law and its clauses, else it might just end up annoying 50% of the population in order to appease the other half.

Merinews: Feminists suggest that marriage laws might appear to be loaded in favour of women as this gender finds it much more difficult to re-marry compared to men after a divorce. Do you think this compensates for leaving dangerous loopholes that can be exploited?

Dhulia: Statements of feminists need to be taken with a pinch of salt. For, from the way they are operating, it seems they are more inclined on harassing men than uplifting women. They leave genuine issues faced by women unaddressed like plight of widows, domestic violence faced by daughters in natal homes, and only focus on inventing ways to transfer tax-free wealth from husband to wife. But this method only promulgates parasitism in women and this law will become a legal channel for women to extort men. Earlier, it was only by lodging a false criminal complaint (under Section 498A) and getting few lakhs/millions from the man. Now, just file for divorce and walk away with a plush apartment.

Merinews: Some of the proposals in the proposed Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010 seem to suggest that women are less devious than men, and men are out to harm the interests of women. Do you think this is case?

Dhulia: These proposals are a direct result of social misandry (hatred of males), which is an age-old social curse on men. Men face misandry day in and day out. Whether it is while working late night shifts so that women can go home early or taking more risks and endangering their lives or living in a society that celebrates anti-male and gender-biased laws. One more clause does not make much of a difference. It’s a different question altogether that there is absolutely no basis or data-backing for such claims. Such gender biases harm men beyond levels imaginable.

Merinews: Should pre-nuptial agreements be made mandatory for all couples in India? Will this address some of the heartache post dissolution of marriage?

Dhulia: Somehow Indians feels copying the West is a good idea. This may work as far as movies are concerned, but laws should strictly be made on the basis of our own societal constraints, structures and norms. Pre-nups may sound lucrative but we must keep in mind that when it comes to implementation, India has always underperformed. So, the best solution to this is that property matters must be kept completely away from marriage. Life will be much more peaceful then.

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