Is it right to believe that women misuse Indian laws to prey on men?
Men’s rights activists from across the country have been asking for a change in dowry, domestic violence and rape related laws because they are prone to ‘misuse by a woman’.
And it isn’t just them, but all know of people who believe that women frequently misuse dowry and rape related laws because it’s a convenient way to extract what they want from the accused and their family.
Even the Supreme Court reflected this desire to protect men from women’s accusations, by stating that most of such complaints are irresponsibly filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues, which are not bona fide. This anxiety was shared by over 40% of the Lok Sabha members, with many politicians believing that amendments to the existing laws need to be made, so that innocent men aren’t dragged into jail based on false accusations.
So, let us glance at the facts that are backing these claims. There have been cases of men being wrongfully accused of sexual violence. And yes, on occasion, men and families have been wrongfully imprisoned under Section 498A on charges of taking dowry.
But do these constitute the norm of majority of women’s sexual or domestic violence cases on men? And, do these make it sufficient for us to say that these laws are misused by women?
The perception that false cases form a majority of the rape and dowry charges filed is a myth, largely based on two sources. The first is a 2014 report by Delhi Commission of Women (DCM) showing that over 53.2% of rape charges filed in Delhi that year were false. The problem with that figure is that the report declined false charge as any rape charge that didn’t go to trial, including the ones where the complainant dropped the charge midway through the process.
But, a dropped charge is not the same as a false charge. In fact, in countries like the U.S. and U.K., which saw a similar dropout by complainants in 2019, where half of rape victims drop out of cases even after suspect is identified, officials state investigations found that women dropped charges due to intimidation and intense scrutiny by the police on their personal lives, not because their reports weren’t true.
Hence, rape prosecutions in England and Wales are found to be at the lowest level in a decade. Secondly, people argue that women must be making false claims under Section 498A, because only 12% of people charged under the dowry law are convicted, one of the lowest conviction rates of any criminal act in India.
But, there are many factors that can influence the outcome of a criminal trial. And cases of domestic violence and harassment are notoriously difficult to prove, especially if a victim is being intimidated or threatened by her family. Low conviction rates don’t tell us anything about whether a claim is true or not. On the flip side, the official data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that the rate of false rape charges in India is only 8%.
The National Family Health Survey shows that one out of three women suffer from domestic violence in their marriages. Several independent studies have found that between 50 to 80% of Indian women have been subject to some form of public sexual harassment. So, statistically, we know that most of these crimes go unreported and very few claims are concocted.
Then, why do people still believe that women misuse these laws to target innocent men? It’s because we have been socially conditioned to doubt women’s complaints of abuse. Calling out women for falsely accusing men falls in line with the historical pattern of disregarding women’s voices, making it hard for a woman who suffers abuse to be taken seriously.
In a patriarchal society, power and prestige for families and communities often rests on the power and prestige of the current and future male heads of the household. A threat to a man’s reputation is thus seen as a threat to an entire family and community’s reputation, which is why all of us are more likely to doubt a woman’s testimony and believe a man’s innocence.
Moreover, the Indian penal code and our criminal justice system are not perfect, but there is a difference between critiquing and asking for changes in the justice system and advocating for a misogynistic narrative that women are abusing loopholes in the system. the laws that protect women from abuse, harassment and assault are a result of years of feminist activism. And there’s still a long way to go before women are truly equal in the home and in the courts.
To conclude, I believe that everybody should get a fair chance to speak up and prove their points, and after a trial, if guilty, they should all be equally punished irrespective of their genders. If a man has committed a crime, he has to face the charges, and so has a woman. Blaming one particular gender for all the mess is unjust.
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