Union ministry of women & child development has expressed its consternation at its minister Maneka Gandhi being painted as insensitive by the media following a rather lively interaction between the minister and citizens.
Media headlines today screamed that Gandhi, who has a reputation as a champion of the oppressed, said she had never heard of men committing suicide.
A report in the Indian Express, for example, dug out detailed data that showed that three times as many married men commit suicide in India as married women.
In the clarification, the ministry said Gandhi did not mean to say that she had not heard of men committing suicide, but that she had not heard of men committing suicide because of India’s allegedly gender-biased laws.
“Media reports have misconstrued the statement and missed the context of the question,” it said. “The (Facebook user’s) question was in the context of suicides committed due to the supposed gender-biased laws. However, the response of the Minister is unfortunately being judged in isolation and taken out of context.”
To prevent repeated cases of women being burnt or otherwise killed or tortured at their in-laws house, India has put in place extremely stringent laws.
These laws give married women the power to file a single complaint with the police and have her husband, her in-laws and even the wives of the her brothers in law put in jail without bail.
There have been several cases where women have managed to have arrest warrants issued against sisters and brothers in law who have been living overseas for several years, alleging that they were part of a conspiracy to harass her.
In fact, after witnessing a similar event, a journalism graduate Deepika Bhardwaj was inspired to lead a crusade against “India’s gender-biased” laws, the latest of which is a documentary film.
She has encouraged many men to speak up against blackmail and harassment by their wives, leading to rising awareness about the issue.
In 2014, the Supreme Court of India intervened in the matter and directed the state governments to ensure that people are not arrested simply because a complaint had been filed against them by their wives, sisters-in-law or daughters-in-law. The court noted that there were hundreds of thousands of such cases pending in courts, but conviction rate was only 15%, implying that 85% of those who were jailed were there for no reason.
The matter came up again in yesterday’s Facebook interaction when a man complained that his wife left their three-month-old daughter saying she cannot look after her, and filed a case of dowry harassment and domestic violence against him, his parents and his sister.
“I have not met a woman who is happily married, has a baby and then runs off leaving a three-month-old baby on the grounds that she cannot look after her,” Gandhi responded.
“According to you, there was the support system of parents in the house as well. So the responsibility of looking after the child would not have been her’s alone. Why not introspect and sort out the actual issue.”
In today’s statement, the ministry said: “The Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Minister have constantly advocated for equal rights of all citizens of the nation.”