Gender bias in Indian society makes it difficult for fathers to get any sympathy or fair treatment. Some NGOs like Vaastav Foundation and Children's Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting or CRISP are taking a lead in making life a little easier for such 'troubled' fathers
That is the thankless position of the father in the family – the provider for all, and the enemy of all.”
-J August Strindberg
True to this quote, fathers in India are generally neglected in all aspects of society and under-appreciated for their role in the family. Although considered a patriarchic society, a segment of men in broken marriages find themselves at the receiving end of tough divorce laws framed to protect women. The irony is that horrendous crimes against women remain undisclosed. The law is also creating a whole class of victims, especially in middle class families where women have been able to use the law to traumatise the whole family. Innumerable cases have come to light in recent times, indicating misuse of section 498a of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which protects women against domestic violence and dowry, and the father or husband is misunderstood or simply framed for misconduct and domestic violence.
This is because of the gender biased laws in India, which are more inclined towards women than men. Vaastav Foundation, a non-profit, self-help, support group for misused domestic violence, dowry and dowry law (IPC Sec. 498a) not only honoured fatherhood, but also raised awareness on the misuse of gender biased laws in India. The Foundation organised special events to carry out the message on this years Father's day at Dadar in Mumbai.
Speaking on the issue, Amit Deshpande, president of Vaastav Foundation said, “Modernity has still not liberated men from their traditional role as protectors/ providers. We have a stifling definition of real men. In the quest of being the ideal protectors, men go through tremendous stress. Also, since men cannot be seen as weak, they are discouraged to share their woes. We provide a platform for men to express themselves without being judgemental about them.”
Apart from the woes of a married man and a father, another evident concept which was brought to light was the 'shared parenting concept'. In India, in most of the divorce or separation cases, the child's custody is given to the mother and the father, sometimes may not even be allowed to meet the child or participate in his nurture, while still providing for education and other financial needs for both the mother and the child. This concept is strictly biased as there are innumerable cases where mothers have abused this law to gain financial benefits from the husbands, feels the activist.
Commenting on shared parenting in India, Mr Deshpande says, “In India, there is no concept of shared parenting, in the absence of which both the child and the separated father suffer. Many times men commit suicide only because of their inability to meet their child. Every year 65,000 married men commit suicide in India and the number is increasing alarmingly according to the National Crime Records Bureau data by Ministry of Home Affairs. Men are still made to pay maintenance to adulterous, able bodied and educated wives. Apart from these, issues concerning men's health and their abuse from intimate partners do not receive adequate attention.”
A report from Children's Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP), an NGO dedicated to promote shared parenting and father's rights, says, “The family courts have often shown extreme delay and reluctance in granting visitation rights to fathers and even when visitation orders are passed, there is no practical mechanism available to enforce the same or punish the custodial parent for violating such orders. While it is imperative that family courts grant open access to fathers and facilitate them to see their children, such orders are a rarity instead of being a norm.”
The CRISP report highlights two famous Bollywood cases concerning Leander Paes and Sanjay Kapoor (the husband of Karisma Kapoor), who alleged that they were denied custody and visitation rights to their kids because the wives refused them. This suggests that even high-profile celebrities are subjected to gender biased laws and legal hassles to maintain equal rights as their spouse, with regard to their kids.
Michael Rutter in Maternal Deprivation Reassessed (1972), described by New Society as a 'classic in the field of child care', argued that research showed that it did not matter which parent the child got on well with as long as he got on well with one of them, that both parents influence their child's development and that which parent is more important varies with age, sex and temperamental development. He concluded, "For some aspects of development the same-sexed parent seems to have a special role, for some the person who plays and talks most with the child and for others the person who feeds the child. The father, the mother, brother and sisters, friends, school-teachers and others all have an impact on development, but their influences and importance differ for different aspects of development. A less exclusive focus on the mother is required. Children also have fathers!"
The event organised by Vaastav Foundation also included essay competitions and a play called “Kaun Banega Narakpati”, which highlighted social issues like AIDS and the rapidly increasing tendency of people to misuse biased laws like 498a (IPC). Underlining this issue, Mr Deshpande, president of Vaastav Foundation, informed the audience about present bias against men as fathers, by society. Other events included a social awareness campaign on gender equality for harmony in society, social media awareness on neglect of fathers by society and other agencies.