[While MRAs reserve the greatest vitriol for feminists, if they put their prejudice aside, they will realise that feminists will be strong allies.]
In the social media storm surrounding the ongoing hearings at the Delhi High Court to seek to do away with the exception provided to marital rape under the IPC, the greatest noise has been made by the self-proclaimed MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists).
These men are mostly victims of the misuse of Section 498a of IPC, which was enacted to protect women from harassment from their husbands and their families. Their contention is that just like S/498A has been used to harass men, similarly criminalisation of marital rape too will be misused to “destroy the lives of men”.
MRAs have chosen to direct all their ire against “feminists”, and hold them responsible for the fake cases filed under S/498A, and for the cases that they assume will be filed after marital rape is decriminalised. However, if MRAs step back for a moment, they will realise that their biggest allies in their quest for justice will be feminists.
Before I go further, I will say that the statistics MRAs quote are misleading. They say "majority" of cases filed under S/498a are "fake". What they actually mean is that of the cases filed under S/498A, less than 15% have ended in conviction. That does not, however, mean that 85% of cases are false, because that figure includes cases that are still pending in courts, cases withdrawn under duress, cases which were settled out of court, and even a few cases that were dropped because the victim lost faith in the system and moved on. The number of cases which resulted in a direct acquittal is actually quite low.
More importantly, a very small fraction of women who are victims of harassment actually approach the police, and of them, the police registers an FIR in fewer cases. So to get the percentage of false cases, one will have to compare the number of acquittals to an estimate of the number of women who experience sexual, physical or emotional abuse from their husbands and their families. This figure is sufficiently small to dismiss all the arguments about how the lives of “millions of men” will be destroyed by feminists once marital rape is decriminalised.
Having said all that, S/498A is certainly misused. Even if the number of men who are victims is low, each of them does face mental suffering which cannot be trivialised. However, far from enabling women to file false charges, feminists will actually side with the victim. Feminists, by definition, strive for an equitable world. We side with the victim who is seeking justice. So if a woman files a fake case under S/498A against her partner, our sense of natural justice will make us side with him, as long as we are convinced of his side of the story.
That apart, there are two other very practical reasons why feminists are against "fake cases".
Every time a woman misuses S/498A, it makes it harder for a genuine victim to seek justice. Anyone who has approached the police to register a case under S/498A knows how the police uses one "fake case" they might have handled a few months back to discredit the testimony of all subsequent victims. The victim seeking to file a case against her husband or his family is subject to a barrage of questions, and the police often delays filing the FIR for several weeks, thereby exposing the victim to prospective violence in her marital home. No feminist wants that, so we will provide as much support as we can to ensure that fake cases are weeded out.
Also, whenever there is a case of spousal violence where the aggressor is a woman, it is used as a whip to lash at all feminists. Thousands of women could be subject to domestic violence everyday, but if one woman hits her husband it makes news, and all feminists are expected to take responsibility for it. We, therefore, want to do all we can to keep down the number of fake cases, so we do not have to expend energy explaining that though we are called “feminists”, we are not responsible for the actions of women who are oppressors themselves.
It is to be noted that feminists are often the first to speak up for vulnerable men- male victims of CSA, homosexuals, physically challenged. We will, similarly, speak up for men who are victims of misuse of S/498A, since we side with the victim against injustice.
I wish the Men’s Rights Activists take some time to understand what feminism means, and instead of targeting feminists all the time, try to get us as allies in their quest for justice.