India's Sons: Charged falsely, acquitted, but never really free
In a post #MeToo world, what does a documentary on men who have been falsely accused of sexual harassment mean? Journalist-turned-filmmaker, Deepika Bhardwaj, discusses India's Sons.
They first met at his Indore home. She and her husband wanted to rent a flat and signed an agreement with the landowner. In December 2012, after the couple failed to pay the house rent, the landowner issued a verbal warning. The woman then filed a rape case against him. "The Nirbhaya incident had just come to light, so the cops were on their toes. There was not much investigation done and the landowner was sent to prison," Deepika Bhardwaj tell us. After being put behind bars for two-and-a-half months, the landowner was acquitted as the charges were proven to be false. "Eight days later, he killed himself. He could not bear the fact that nobody would marry his daughter with his image been tarnished in society. He was 60 years old," she adds on the story, which along with a dozen others, will feature in her latest documentary, India's Sons.
In 2016, Bhardwaj released her first documentary, Martyrs of Marriage, now available on Netflix. The 33-year-old former journalist had seen misuse of law up, close and personal. "My cousin was falsely accused in a dowry case by his wife. After watching the harassment and blackmailing so closely, I decided I wanted to document more such cases. I came across some devastating stories and realised I needed to help Martyrs of Marriage reach the masses so they know how the IPC 498A [Dowry Law] was being misused by some women," Bhardwaj says.
Ever since, her inbox was flooded with emails from viewers of the film. "When I read their emails I realised the problem was much bigger. Several people have been falsely accused of sexual harassment and they don't know the way out. I was getting disturbed reading about it. People had started misusing Section 376 (rape)." So Bhardwaj decided to start shooting her second film, India's Sons, in January this year. Bhardwaj says she believes the men she is speaking to in the film, because she has studied their cases thoroughly, choosing them only after acquittal and after speaking to cops.
On the need to have this conversation at a time when women have been raising their voice against sexual harassment, she adds, "There is no doubt that women go through ordeal on a larger scale. But there is another side, which is equally important and needs to be addressed."
Amit Deshpande, founder of Vaastav Foundation (an umbrella body of men's rights organisations), says that statistics by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveal that in 40 per cent of the rape cases that result in acquittals, charges have been filed by the girl's family after she chose to elope with the accused. Deshpande, who was once falsely accused of domestic violence, says, "About 150 members meet every Sunday in Borivali, Mulund and Vashi to discuss legal wrangles. But men rarely seek help, because thanks to patriarchy, a man's worth in our society is based on how good a protector and provider he is. And when something horrible happens to him—such as being subject to sexual assault—he is scared to ask for help. But we are trying to change that," Deshpande adds.
A still from the film, India's Sons
Deshpande (39) says about 30 to 40 per cent cases that are reported to his organisation are related to men being falsely accused of rape. "When this happens, a man's support structure crumbles. Even people close to him start doubting him. Nobody believes a man who has been accused of rape by a woman." Deshpande adds that even police treat such men as "convicts and not accused". "Even before the court judgment, it is decided that the man has raped the woman. In this tiresome procedure, a man loses not just his relatives and friends, but also his job. Therefore, we are saying that the name of the accused needs to be withheld until conviction," he adds. India's Sons makes a case that false rape cases aren't just a threat to men who suffer false accusations but also women who actually suffer trauma of rape.
Interestingly, after the Nirbhaya rape incident, British filmmaker Leslee Udwin had released a documentary in 2015 titled, India's Daughter. Bhardwaj, however, says she is not trying to draw a parallel between the movies. "What we are trying to say is that if girls are being victimised, then there are these men who too face injustice. Aren't they the sons of this country?" Gurgaon-based Bhardwaj asks.
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