Unvoiced and Unheard: Diagnosing the Indian Stereotype on Domestic Violence Against Men

Authors - Prachi Agrawal and Charu Sharma

Introduction: Witnessing the Stereotype

“The biased use of pronouns serves to perpetuate the culturally based myth that men are perpetrators and women are victims. This myth is extremely damaging to the millions of male victims of sexual and physical abuse who live unacknowledged by our society.”

-David Lisak

(American Clinical Psychologist)

For most of us, the very idea of domestic violence leads us to visualizing a meek woman being battered and bruised by her dominant male partner. Even though it holds true in approximately 60% cases, more than 40% of these victims are males. While the actual figure varies from country to country, the prevalence of male abuse is not as insignificant as the masses perceive it to be. Moreover, these figures only represent the class of males who report such cases or make an attempt to do so. In actuality, male victims often forbear from coming up with such issues.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 [hereinafter ‘Act’] was enacted to provide a streamlined process to make it easier for women to seek remedy. It allowed for instant remedy so that women could avoid enduring prolonged abuse before seeking legal recourse. Besides, falling in line with the UN Declaration on Violence against Women, the purpose of the Act was to protect victims of violence occurring within a family set-up. However, it is a distinguished fact that when it comes to being victims of violence in a domestic set-up, men are not unscathed from it. An experiment conducted in 2012-2013 interviewed 1000 males in the State of Haryana. Out of these, 51.5% of the males had suffered abuse at the hands of either their wives or intimate partners, while none of them reported such abuse. Moreover, the World Report on Violence and Health, 2002 reported a suicide rate at 18.9 for men due to inter-personal violence as opposed to 10.6 for women. In terms of being victims of homicide, the rate was 13.6 for men in contrast to 4.0 for women. This makes it evident that the male community chooses either endurance or death over seeking help.

While multifarious reasons can be attributed to such choices, psychological and social factors appear to have the greatest impact on men’s help seeking behaviour. It can be directly related to the social construction and cultural representations of masculinities. Connell (1995) coined the term “hegemonic masculinity” to refer to a similar ideal of male behaviour, which privileges the dominant position of some men and for which men are strongly encouraged to aim. Such masculinities are seen to characterize traits such as physical strength, wealth, professional success, power, risk taking, invulnerability, virility, stoic emotionality, control, dominance, excessive competitiveness and a rejection of femininity. Men who could benefit from professional help may choose not to pursue it because many aspects of help seeking are in direct conflict with dominant masculine gender roles. They often emphasize traits such as emotional expression, introspection, intimacy, and acknowledgement of vulnerability, which may account for fewer men using interventions.

Males as Victims of Domestic Violence: Understanding the Stereotype

Having explored the notions of masculinity prevalent in the society, it is imperative to apprehend how these notions are faulty and overlook the problems faced by men. ‘Domestic violence’ as defined under Section 3 of the Act enlists four different kinds of violence being meted out to women. However, Indian men are equally subjected to all these kinds of violence explained under the Act. Firstly, dealing with ‘physical abuse’, there has been concrete evidence to prove that men are also vastly affected by it. As per the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2019, out of the 153 people who committed suicide due to physical abuse, 81 were men as opposed to 72 females. Secondly, in terms of ‘sexual abuse’, men have also been found to be victims of it. In a study conducted in 2005-2006 by Save Family Foundation and MyNation, a total of 1650 men were interviewed out of which 294 men (17.82%) had experiences sexual violence by their partners. Thirdly, ‘verbal and emotional abuse’ has been evidenced to be the most widespread among men. In the study conducted on 1000 men in the State of Haryana, out of the men who suffered violence, 51.6% of them had faced them in the nature of emotional or verbal violence. In fact, as also recognized by the Supreme Court of India, the most rampant form of emotional violence inflicted on men is threat of a fake domestic violence case being filed against them. Fourthly, ‘economic abuse’ is also prevailing in substantial number of cases. In the report prepared by Save Family Foundation and MyNation discussed above, 541 men (32.79%) had reported economic abuse by their partner.

Besides this, another important facet of male abuse being sidelined by the public, legislature as well as judiciary is the probable effect of allowing homosexual relationships on collateral legislations. In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court decriminalized Article 377 of the Constitution of India, which paved way for licit relationships between two consenting adults of same sex. Albeit, the collateral changes required in provisions of the Act was not catered to. It is reported that gay people are 60% more likely to be subjected to abuse as compared to heterosexual men, leading to approximately one-third of them being victims of abuse by their partners. However, not identifying males as ‘aggrieved person’ under the Act compromises the safety and protection of this newly recognized class of relationship.

Moreover, in these trying times of COVID-19, the phenomenon that is male abuse has not taken a back seat. Reportedly, in the very early stages of the lockdown itself, 74 men from Indore and 52 men from Bhopal had called on Dial 100 to report abuse by their wives. While the current overall figures would exceeds these numbers, it is adequate to establish the evils pertaining to men outside the sphere of misconceived notions of masculinity.

Shortcomings of the Act: Assessing the Stereotype

Even after numerous evidences proving the existence of male abuse in Indian society, the key reason why men despise external assistance is because the provisions of refuge for such victims differ vastly in terms of availability for men and women. The only legislation enacted to cater to victims of violence in a domestic structure was made gender-specific in favor of women. To begin with, the very definition of ‘aggrieved person’ defined under Section 2(a) of the Act limits its scope to woman. Whereas in reality, approximately one-fifth of all men are victims of domestic violence leading to a man being severely assaulted every 14.6 seconds by either his wife or partner. Further, the definition of a ‘domestic relationship’ within the Act squarely focuses on the idea of a ‘shared household’ which is defined under Section 2(s) of the Act. This concept of a shared household makes it mandatory to have a physical proximity between the aggrieved person and the Respondent – either in the present or the past. Not only can this be detrimental to women tortured by distant living family members of her husband, but also to men who never shared a roof with the relatives of his partner. Besides, the argument of family members of wife inflicting violence on men and family members of men being affected are not unfound. In an interview, a man disclosed how his wife hired goons to attack him as well as his parents, brothers and sisters.

Surpassing all these shortcomings, another major paradox lies in the definition of ‘Respondent’ under Section 2 (q) of the Act. Prior to 2016, the idea of a Respondent was restricted to an ‘adult male’ as a perpetrator. However, post 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that the words ‘adult male’ shall be deleted from the said provision. The contended idea behind this was to bring the Act at par with Article 14 of the Constitution of India by admitting that women and even children are capable of inflicting physical, verbal, economic as well as sexual abuse on another woman. However, despite numerous evidences, concrete figures and extensive debates, the legislature and even the judiciary disregarded men as victims of domestic violence. While upgrading the Act to better serve women by bringing females of a live-in relationship also under its ambit, the idea of equal protection to men by upgrading the definition of ‘aggrieved person’ was completely marginalized.

Suggestions & Conclusion: Terminating the Stereotype

The success of Domestic Violence Act, 2005 in terms of protecting women is a separate debate in itself. However, it has to a certain extent boosted the confidence of women in seeking judicial help. Following the preceding discussion, it is apparent that even though not as much as women, domestic violence against men is also rampant in Indian society. Keeping this in mind, it is high time that the Act shall be made gender neutral to serve well in modern times. This shall, at the minimum, provide legal assistance to any male willing to stand up for himself. Further, in consonance with the provision of a Protection Officer assigned to help female victims, similar officers to specifically assist male victims must be appointed under the Act. Furthermore, the duties assigned to the government under Section 11 of the Act shall be carried forward with respect to the amended Act as well. This shall ensure that men, all around the nation, would know about the legal remedy available to them if they face domestic abuse. All of this being said and done, it would be the responsibility of the citizens of the country to accept this phenomenon; the fact that men can be victims and women perpetrators; and encourage all males to come forward and seek help.

[The authors are 4th-year law students at National Law University, Jodhpur.]

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