#metoo

#MeToo Has Shaken Up Men’s Rights Activism in India, and The Result is #MenToo

“To be born a man in India is a crime. And to marry an Indian girl is a heinous crime. And this is because of anti-men’s laws in the name of laws to protect women.”
Pallavi Pundir
Delhi, IN
June 6, 2019, 12:42pm
#MeToo Has Shaken Up Men’s Rights Activism in India, and The Result is #MenToo
Equal rights activist Barkha Trehan at India Gate in New Delhi last month in favour of #MenToo. Photo: Barkha Trehan

On June 3, New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal proposed a free bus and metro travel scheme for the women of New Delhi. For a city like Delhi—reportedly the most unsafe for women in not just the country but the whole world—such a policy would mean some very simple but wondrous things for this demographic: from equal access to public spaces to active participation in the mostly male-oriented economic structures of this country.

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As much as some of us (especially this writer, who, in the 10 years she lived there, used the mostly male-dominated public commute system sparingly after a few nasty encounters in the younger days, for fear of, well, risking not much but just her life) empathised with this policy, not all were happy. Some complained of overcrowding (genuinely a problem too, TBH), some said it’s a pre-poll freebie (New Delhi goes for state polls in a few months).

And then there are the men.

Ever since #MeToo broke out in India last year in September, there’s been a strong undercurrent of tension among the men and male-dominated entities. Most of them have launched retaliatory lawsuits, claiming they’re the ones being attacked. While the movement broke open a dam of some truly serious sexual and workplace offences from across industries and demographic, perpetrated mostly by men (especially influential ones) within the definitions of a workplace in India, its impact has mostly been seen as momentous. Reported post mortems of the movement have revealed that identifying highly toxic workplace behaviour has even led to the sinking of a few companies.

But things are not all rosy. “[After last October] all the men were on the back foot and squirming and really uneasy,” Rituparna Chatterjee, a journalist and activist who is writing a book on #MeToo in India, told Guardian. “And then they laid low. And now they’re coming back, and hitting really hard.”

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And one of the most scathing pushbacks has come from “meninists”, and those rallying in support for men. Since #MeToo broke last year, men’s rights activism in India—which started in the early 2000s by aggrieved Indian husbands protesting against the alleged misuse of laws that protect Indian wives from social evils such as the dowry system—has gained a more forceful, angrier pace.

When the free bus and metro travel scheme for women was announced on Monday, two days later, a protest took place in New Delhi, against this scheme. “Women appeasement is touching new feats like never before,” stated the press invite for the protest organised by Purush Aayog (literally translating to Men’s Commission). “The financial implications [of the free ride scheme for women in Delhi] are to be borne through taxpayers’ money of which 90% are men.”

men's activist india

“Legally an Indian men has no rights when he is victimised of domestic violence, sexual, physical or mental harassments or any form of harassments at work place,” it further read. “Men are left vulnerable at the whims of fancies of political parties & have no respite & being treated as third Class citizens after women & transgenders [sic].”

The invite was sent to VICE by “equal rights activist” Barkha Trehan, the president of Purush Aayog, who, over the last few weeks, has been protesting vehemently across the country to protect men from “false accusations” against the many allegations that have been coming up, especially after #MeToo.

mens rights activism mentoo metoo

Protestors at India Gate, New Delhi, last month for #MenToo. Photo: Barkha Trehan

“Why aren’t men in this [free transport for women in Delhi] scheme? Why shouldn’t we raise our voice?” she told VICE. “If you’re making policies for Delhiites, you should consider everyone. You can lower the fares also. Why do we need women appeasement? We talk about equality and then they do this. This lowers our own [women’s] dignity.”

This protest in not in isolation, and it definitely has more to do than just a free travel pass for women. Trehan has been mobilising a series of protests across the country, attacking the sexual harassment allegations on the current Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, a high-profile case that hit the news last month. The sexual harassment allegation came from a 35-year-old former assistant of CJI Gogoi, who was not only fired from her job after filing a complaint but also lost the case in what she calls a terrifying ordeal.

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Signages at these protests range from “My only crime is that I am a man” to “Ye kaisa nari ka utthan, jo le raha hai purush ki jaan (What kind of progress is this for women that is taking the lives of men)”, and “We need a movement like #MenToo because crime has no gender”. Trehan, in fact, adds that she’s the one who conceptualised the hashtag first, to be co-opted by this new wave of the movement, and is organising her next big protest in Mumbai on June 15.

The resurgence of the movement also includes famous figures in Bollywood such as Pooja Bedi (who called for a #MenToo protest after fellow actor Karan Oberoi was accused of alleged rape last month) and filmmaker Deepika Bhardwaj, who wrote an opinion piece on how men are “disposable or collateral damage … sacrificed at the altar of the idea of protecting women”.

In sync with the tenor of men’s rights activism in India since the beginning, the current protests continue to reject existing data and research that highlight the plight of women in the country. And if there’s one reform, among the many, that they forcefully seek, it’s the rape laws. And so, while the women who were able to tell their stories because of #MeToo continue to struggle with respect to inadequate legal recourse for their cases, the protesting meninists want to reform whatever little there is in the rape laws to be in favour of men.

This anger is especially palpable when VICE spoke to Rajesh Vakharia, the founding member of Save Indian Families Foundation (SIFF), which reportedly has 200 centres and about 4,000 members across the country. Incidentally, last year, Vakharia was one of 150 men who took a dip in the holy waters of Ganga river to rid their wives of ‘toxic feminism’. During one of the interactions with VICE last month, Vakharia gave this gem: “To be born a man in India is a crime. And to marry an Indian girl is a heinous crime in India. And this is because of anti-men’s laws in the name of laws to protect women.”

In response to the #MeToo campaign, Vakharia stated the various ways the laws must be reformed to save men from false rape cases. “It’s very important for you to pay attention to us, especially now because men, too, are human beings,” he said. “Over the last 30 years, men are being subjected to human rights violations.

Article 15(3)

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(that states that the state can make special provisions for women and children) is a violation of law. This article should be abolished and there should be a gender-neutral law.”

The second reform he wants is the name of the accused to be kept anonymous, just like that of the victim’s. “Be it MJ Akbar or whoever,” he said. “Do you have a father? A brother? An uncle? Don’t you want protection for them?” Vakharia also reiterated the movement’s ongoing demand for a men’s commission or a “harmony family commission”.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this effort took place last month, when the 58-year-old Bar Council of India (BCI) called for the lawyers in the body to unite and be a part of the “men too movement”. Manan Kumar Mishra, the chairman of BCI, supported the clear chit to CJI Gogoi, and asked for a silent protest to call for an amendment of laws concerning sexual offences. Keeping in mind how the US, in one of the most regressive acts in its history, has been pushing anti-abortion bills across the states (with nearly 30 states introducing some form of anti-abortion laws), the way laws can risk the safety of women and stigmatise what happens to their bodies is a little more than disconcerting.

In an open letter, Mishra wrote, “We are not in 18th century, that no one can presume that a female will never make such allegations to falsely implicate her enemies. We have great respect for our women. But time has changed, we must keep it mind.” The senior lawyer also claims to have found “90% [of sexual offence] cases resulting in acquittals”, and that false implications are on the rise. Subsequently, the BCI has now called for imposing a limitation period to report sexual offences, stating that delays “normally very much proves and establishes that the so-called prosecutrix was/is either a liar or was a consenting party.”

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Delhi-based senior advocate Rebecca John clarified that BCI is, at best, a regulatory body for lawyers, but not a body of lawmakers. “However, the comments of the BCI chairman are both shocking and regressive, and do not reflect the views of a large majority of lawyers, particularly young lawyers,” she told VICE. “It also highlights the fact that most regulatory bodies and associations have virtually no women representatives, and hence their voices are suppressed by cosy clubs such as these.”

John is

currently handling the case for journalist Priya Ramani

, who has been slapped with a defamation case by MJ Akbar, former journalist and a former minister in PM Modi’s cabinet, for alleging sexual misconduct more than 20 years ago. She strongly feels that regulatory bodies such as the BCI may not represent women adequately in the first place. But these kind of statements are alarming nonetheless. “Sexual harassment at the workplace is a very real threat to a women’s fundamental right to equality and it cannot be mocked at in this manner,” she says. “It is deeply distressing that a body of lawyers, which must, at all times, be seen to uphold the law and the Constitution, has instead chosen to trivialise the issue.”

The #MeToo movement may have been born out of courage in times of uncertainty—especially when the backlash includes one of the most prominent #MeToo-accused actors, Alok Nath, mocking the movement and

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attempted to come out with a movie called Main Bhi

(‘Me Too’ in Hindi)—but its impact has endured

Two days ago, Tanushree Dutta—the Bollywood actor who accused veteran actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment and triggered the wave of #MeToo in India—put out a statement in response to #MenToo, sensing its dangers to the larger cause. “If this movement persists, then any woman who raises her voice or files complaint against bullying, intimidation, harassment, rape or gangrape, and does not have enough proof as 99 per cent of these crimes happen in private or witnesses back out due to lengthy and exhausting trials or intimidation, these victims could potentially become targets of these men's organizations and groups,” she stated about what some consider a righteous crusade for men but is actually under the guise of the right to perpetuate the same prejudices and stereotypes against women that have taken place since centuries.

“#metoo was a movement aimed at social cleansing by public disclosure in cases where legal justice is exhausting, difficult or impossible but #Mentoo can put doubt on any woman putting forth a complaint.”

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.