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The arrest of television actor and singer Karan Oberoi has revived discussion about men’s rights

The arrest of television actor and singer Karan Oberoi, 40, on May 6 has revived the men’s rights movement in India, which began in 2005 as a Yahoo group and has only grown bigger as more and more men are facing false accusations of domestic and sexual violence.

The actor, who is part of the Indipop boy band, A Band of Boys, was arrested after a 34-year-old woman lodged an FIR against him on the charges of raping her on the pretext of marriage. The woman, an astrologer, said she met the accused through a dating app in 2016. In her FIR, she said a year later, Oberoi offered her spiked coconut water and sexually assaulted her.

A local Mumbai court sent him in judicial custody for 14 days.

The arrest sparked outrage in Oberoi’s friend circle. They said the woman had falsely implicated him over a consensual relationship. Actress and columnist Pooja Bedi said Oberoi filed a complaint against the woman in October 2018 for harassing him.

Pooja Bedi and members of the band formed in 2001 held a press conference to make public WhatsApp messages exchanged between Oberoi and the woman to show that the actor was innocent. The case is in court and nothing can be said about it at this moment but it did revive the #MenToo movement on social media.

Post Oberoi’s arrest, several people took to social media platforms with #MenToo hastag, which men’s rights activists say is not antagonism to the #MeToo campaign but a step towards voicing the growing concern for men facing false accusations.

Amit Deshpande set up Vaastav Foundation in 2014 for presering and protecting men’s rights after his personal battle against a false case of domestic violence, which he fought and won. The foundation runs a suicide helpline for men in distress. “Earlier most false cases were about dowry harassment and domestic violence but of late, there’s been an uptick in consensual sex-turned-rape cases,” he says.

If the case is false, men eventually come out clean but in the process, he loses his job, reputation, friends and sometimes even family. There’s persecution at the level of police, judiciary and media as he carries the burden of proof on his lonely shoulders. The system believes the woman and it is the man who has to prove her wrong.

The men’s rights movement that began in 2005 primarily to discuss and debate the misuse of Indian Penal Code’s section 498A, which punishes for harassment for dowry. Today, there are at least 45 men’s rights NGOs across the country that operate under the umbrella of Save Indian Family.

In October 2018, a group of 15 people, including former French diplomat acquitted in a sexual abuse case in 2017, launched a #MenToo movement on the lines of #MeToo, asking men to come out and speak openly about the sexual harassment faced by them at the hands of women.

The campaign was launched by NGO Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (Crisp) to protest against false cases against men.

Former French diplomat Pascal Mazurier fought a legal battle for close to five years after his estranged wife Suja Jones Mazurier accused him, in June 2012, of committing unnatural offences on his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Mazurier was the Deputy Head of Chancery at the French Consulate in Bangalore at the time. In April 2017, Bangalore’s Additional City Civil and Sessions judge acquitted him and said he was “falsely implicated” and was innocent. The former French diplomat, however, continues to face a court battle after his wife challenged the acquittal in the Karnataka High Court.

There are many such men who face false cases. The men’s rights activists say they aren’t against protecting women but want checks and balances. “There should be gender-neutrality in gender-biased laws,” they say. Men’s complaints about harassment by women meet police apathy. Experts say it’s a myth that women don’t harass men. People are booked for dowry harassment after 20 years of marriage.

Talking about the spurt in #MeToo cases recently, men’s rights activists say debating about rape laws has spoilt relationships within the office environment, the corporate are cagey about hiring women employees who have leveled #MeToo allegation on someone in position of power before, and the men are becoming lonely in their fights against false cases. For some women, the rape and sexual harassment laws are a means to settle scores or blackmail a partner into giving them money.

This, of course, does not mean that women aren’t being sexually harassed or raped. Every day we hear and read about horrendous rape cases against children as small as 2 years. The governments have amended the laws to introduce death penalty for men convicted of raping girls under 12 years.

But there must be some space for discussion on men’s rights as well.

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