Documenting the martyrs of marriage

The documentary Martyrs of Marriage shines the torch on injustices perpetrated by the misuse of Section 498A. Using first person accounts of those who have suffered, it delves into the problem and highlights how men too can be victims in a marriage. Yogesh Pawar caught up with filmmaker Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj for a quick interview:

Why did you decide to make Martyrs of Marriage?

This film’s born out of personal experience of knowing about misuse of 498A, blackmail, helplessness, paying up or fighting for years to prove your innocence even if every allegation leveled against you is a work of fiction, the prevalent business that’s happening in terms of settlements in such cases and the sheer confidence of people who file false cases because they know nothing will happen to them. Since I’d made documentaries earlier, this was the best way to spread awareness about this issue.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Since this is my first full-length feature, I had to learn a lot. Finance was an issue. I relied on crowd funding and used my savings to make MoM. It was daunting but I’m glad I did it. It wasn’t easy convincing people to talk on camera as they feared frivolous litigation. There was a trust gap and that took some time bridging. From a story telling point of view, I faced the challenge of selecting case studies. People whose cases resulted in acquittals had adjusted with the pain and those still going through harassment, couldn’t speak due to legal complications.

Also, as I wanted people to tell their stories without dramatisation, treatment was difficult. I had to manage several interviews, tie them together and ensure it didn’t bore. Editing hours of footage shot over long periods into 90 minutes was easily the toughest challenge! It was emotionally draining too because I understood the ordeals personally. It was very depressing at times when I wondered if this film would make any difference. But I pulled myself up and saw it through.

Women’s rights activists defend the skewed balance in favour of women. They argue the number of men persecuted by abuse of women-friendly laws is really miniscule compared to the large number of women who face violence and attacks by men. Your take?

They have been saying this ever since the misuse of 498A started being reported. Unfortunately, while they say this, the number of such cases have increased, the number of judgments by apex courts slamming the abuse have increased and the number of people who know laws can easily be used for extortion and revenge have increased too.

It is ironic that the same women’s rights activists, who call themselves feminists, say they stand for gender equality, but as soon as it comes to men’s victimisation, they dismiss the conversation citing numbers. It is sad. I don’t think it has to be a men vs women war. I think it is about justice, irrespective of gender.

What could be a way to bring about more equality in law without making it unpleasant and frictional for both sides?

Erstwhile Union Minister of Law and Justice, Ashwani Kumar, says in my film that abuse of a law diminishes its efficacy, effectiveness and validity. That’s exactly what’s happened with Section 498A. This country has been discussing its misuse for two decades, but has done nothing, essentially because of opposition from women’s rights groups. If demand of money as dowry is a crime, how can people justify this demand for money and harassment with false cases?

I feel the government should constitute an unbiased authority to look into the efficacy of the laws being used as weapon today and explore if misuse is greater than use.

A female family court judge told me only a few days ago that she feels Section 498A should be scrapped. But she can’t say this publicly as she will be hounded for it. Section 498A misuse should be punished stringently and male victims of domestic violence should also have recourse for protection under law.