“Are men not vulnerable? Do they not face discrimination? can they not be victims?”- questions a 31-year-old Gurgaon resident, Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj.
Deepika observed two cases of unsuccessful marriages which instigated her to dive into such matters further. Earlier her cousin’s wife lodged a case against her husband and falsely accused Bhardwaj of tormenting her in her complaint in 2012.
“In 2011, a cousin’s marriage fell apart within three months and his wife accused him and our entire family of beating her and demanding dowry from her. She filed a false case against us. I was also named as an accused, as someone who beat her and tortured her regularly,” she says.
The case met its end with a lavish amount paid by Bhardwaj’s family to the woman who had lodged the case.
Thereafter, Bhardwaj sought the end of the rainbow. She waged a war against the misuse of Section 498A of the IPC through her documentary, “Martyrs of Marriages” in which she projects the heedlessness of the biased society. Eventually she began her research in 2012. Section 498 was introduced in 1983 with the thundering of prodigious dowry deaths in India. It is a law that fortifies justice to women who are inflicted to dowry abuse. This law is viewed as inflexible and a stereotype. It is a law that has a legacy of being misused on a large scale.
“It was a law made with very noble intentions. But a law that was made to save lives has taken many lives.The law has become a tool for extreme blackmail and extortion,” BBC quoted Bhardwaj as saying. Deepika strongly insists to convince the authorities to amend the existing law and to make it flexible through her documentary. According to BBC, she has been travelling across the country to put an end to her battle.
“Just as you don’t have to be a woman to fight for women, similarly, you don’t have to be a man to fight for men. I don’t talk about atrocities against women because there are millions who are talking about it,” says Bhardwaj.
This issue cannot be ignored.
She says, “You cannot deny it saying the number of such cases is small. In the past few years, thousands of people have reached out to me for help and I’ve referred them to the Save Indian Family. In Delhi, I’m told that 24% of calls to women’s helplines are from men in distress. Lives are being destroyed. People are killing themselves.”
She is now looking forward to organise a screening of Martyrs of Marriage for Indian MPs.
She says, “I have shown the documentary to judges, police officials and magistrates, activists and general public, men and women impacted by the law. I have received a tremendous response from the viewers. Now I want to take it to the parliament, to lobby for a change in the law to stop its misuse.”
After the 2012 Nirbhaya Gang rape case, Delhi, the government introduced Section 376 as a tough new anti-rape law. However, she found out that many of the reports registered under the allegations of rape and sexual harrassment are false and are made after a consensual relationship has gone sour or to settle other disputes.
Judges across India have warned against its misuse and the Delhi Commission for Women has said that 53.2% of the rape cases filed between April 2013 and July 2014 were found to be false.
The journey has not been easy for Deepika. She regularly gets trolled on social media; feminists and women’s rights activists accuse her of wrong deeds, and she is also labelled as “pimp for rapists.”
However, she says, “Some feminists say it’s politically incorrect for me to fight for men, but I want justice for everyone, regardless of their gender. My work is not against women. My work is against injustice.”
We need more people like Deepika Bhardwaj who have the courage in them to challenge the norms of the society. We need people who do not get swayed by what’s printed but dare to step forward with an eraser and fearless ideas to rewrite.
Watch her Tedx Talk as she talks about Men: The Forgotten gender.