“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… it is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideas” – Emma Watson
Domestic violence was recognised as a criminal offence in India in 1983. The offence is chargeable under section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (National Family Health Survey, 2005). However, scarce research data on domestic violence against men are available in the scientific literature. A study published in one of the SAGE Journals entitled “Socio-cultural and Legal Aspects of Violence against Men” provides substantial evidence of domestic violence happening against men and it detailed the kinds of violence as Physical Violence and Psychological Violence.
November 19 every year is being observed as International Men’s Day to commemorate the achievements and contributions of men and boys to the nation, society, community, family, marriage, and childcare. This year’s theme “Better health for men and boys” is intended to make practical improvements to the health and wellbeing of the male population. It is indeed pleasing to witness some acknowledgement given to men on this day – something that has been long due.
When we talk of gender sensitivity, the term encompasses many things and one of its main components is “Men’. We often discuss gender equity, gender equality, the need to be sensitive towards gender and so on. The question remains, are men also being discussed? Somewhere along the line, men are but used as a referral point for any discussion on gender and never beyond. Sad but true! Who is to be blamed? Absolutely no one! It is something that we don’t talk about, perhaps… because we don’t feel the need to even discuss it. Do men feel dejected? Do men feel mentally and physically stressed out? Are men equally vulnerable? I am sure we have the answers to these simple questions.
‘Men’ epitomize strength, which is why he is expected to perform many roles in the family, in the society and to carry himself well. He cannot be seen as someone who is weak, as someone who can give up easily, but as someone who has to do what is expected of him to do, otherwise, he would be tagged as someone who is not man enough! When I tried reading on gender sensitivity, I came across this very interesting line, “gender sensitivity is the act of being sensitive to the ways people think about gender”. Were we all told from the time we were young, that men should be physically powerful? Has our upbringing been on similar lines that boys should not cry? Or is automatically taken for granted that men are strong, hence he has got this gigantic physical and mental ability to face it all against the odds. Perhaps, we need to re-visit our approach on how we educate our young ones in terms of gender and gender roles, in particular the stereotype approach of perceiving men/boys.
In a news item that appeared in Times of India (2017), “When husbands are victims of domestic violence”, reveals an endless number of cases of men suffering in silence, because as such domestic violence against men in India is not recognized by the law. “Like women, men also find it hard to get out of abusive relationships, but the situation is worse for men, as they not only fear being away from their children but are also worried about a false dowry case being filed against them. Men who are accused of domestic violence get marginalized by society and even friends and family turn their backs on them” (Desai, 2017).
So what does a man who has fallen prey of such violence do? Very few would open up about themselves and firmly claim that he has been mistreated by his better half/partner/girlfriend/wife. Some will share only with a close friend/a colleague/a family member. Many others will choose to suppress whatever they are going through within themselves and live with it. When we discuss equality/equity, how often do we look at men as those who also deserve similar considerations on various aspects? It can be at the society, the workplace, family and others.
As humans, men can fail too, they may wish to cry and give up. Yes, men do also go through domestic violence, they are also being taunted, they undergo mental stress from a failed marriage, as women would do, and they are also under constant pressure. At the end of the day, such things are overlooked because they are required to portray themselves as being strong. Suppression leads the person to become from bad to worse!
A study conducted by Malik and Nadda (2019), entitled “A cross-sectional study of gender-based violence against men in the rural area of Haryana, India” published in the National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, USA revealed that 52.4 per cent of men experienced gender-based violence. Out of 1000, males 51.5 per cent experienced violence at the hands of their wives/intimate partner at least once in their lifetime and 10.5 per cent in the last 12 months. The most common spousal violence was emotional (51.6 per cent) followed by physical violence (6 per cent). Only in one-tenth cases, physical assaults were severe. In almost half of the cases, the husband initiated physical and emotional violence. Less family income, education up to middle class, nuclear family setup, and perpetrator under the influence of alcohol were identified as risk factors. The study concluded that besides women, men are also the victims of gender-based violence and this demands for future investigation and necessary intervention on gender-based violence against men in India.
Few of the causes why men chose to suffer in silence is because of shame attached to it from the society’s point of view, colleagues, extended family and others, fear of cases, parental pressure and denial that their marriage is going through problems. While analysing the prevalence of such violence, a study Report by Save Family Foundation, New Delhi (2007) – Domestic Violence against Men highlights that from all over India, 98 per cent of the respondents had suffered domestic violence more than once in their lives. The study covered Indian husbands from various socioeconomic strata, but the bulk of the respondents came from the upper-middle class and the middle class. This violence is not always inflicted by the female partner/wife but many a time by relatives of the wife who attacks or threatens the man and in such threats, an estimated 3 crore men are facing domestic violence in India (Dhulia, 2015). Verbal abuse can be just as damaging and hurtful than physical pain. When it comes to emotional violence, reported 85 per cent abuse against the men was criticism, 29.7 per cent were insulted in front of others, and 3.5 per cent were threatened or hurt. The abuses could be constant threats to the husband and his family under false allegations.
The weakest point, in this case, is lack of complaints being filed in police stations or with government authorities to bring forth clear evidence, even more difficult, if the victim is undergoing through harassment and mental torture as mentioned above. Such cases are available in plenty in our very own State – Meghalaya and in the North Eastern Region but perhaps, it will take a long time before such reforms take place and a law to protect men is formed by the legislature.
Till date, all laws for controlling domestic violence consider only women as victims. We would be living in a world of denial if we continue on saying that domestic violence only affects a woman which is a myth, while 40 per cent or more domestic violence victims are men (Kapoor, 2020). Just as with female domestic violence victims, denying that there is a problem only prolongs the abuse.
Men believe that they can help or change their abuser, but change can only happen once the abuser or her family takes full responsibility for their behaviour and seeks professional treatment. Perhaps, the society that we live in has not taught a man how to handle this embarrassment should it happen to anyone. Let us be reminded that men are not the only people responsible for a failed marriage, not all men get into substance abuse by choice and as much as there is ‘Violence against Women’ there is also ‘Violence against Men’ in any society. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])