On Sunday, Mumbaikars gathered bright and early for the 13th edition of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. Over the years, the event has served as a platform for a variety of organisations to raise awareness for social causes and issues. Among the participants this year were a group of men running for a rather unfamiliar cause: men’s rights.

Vaastav Foundation, a men’s rights organisation set up three years ago, gathered 150 men to participate in the 6-km Dream Run at the marathon on Sunday. They marched with posters bearing words such as “Men’s rights are human rights” and shouted slogans against what they believe are gender-biased laws and their alleged misuse by women.

“The anti-dowry laws and rape-related laws in India favour women," claimed Amit Deshpande, founder of the Vaastav Foundation. "The idea behind justice is that one is innocent until proven guilty, but our system is such that this primary idea is inverted and such laws are misused by women against men. Male rape and male sexual harassment is not recognised. Laws to deal with such evils should be there. We just want that they be gender neutral.”

Photograph courtesy Amit Deshpande
Photograph courtesy Amit Deshpande
Photograph courtesy Vaastav.org
Photograph courtesy Vaastav.org

Some of the men dressed as ATM machines and carried placards saying “Husband is not an ATM”, while others dressed as jail inmates to highlight the fact that so many men are accused and arrested on false charges.

Source: Amit Deshpande
Source: Amit Deshpande
Source: Amit Deshpande
Source: Amit Deshpande
Source: Amit Deshpande
Source: Amit Deshpande

The foundation has set up helplines in various Indian cities, along with a national helpline (8882498498), for men in distress to reach out for counselling and legal assistance. Some of the issues that have been reported on these helplines include being falsely accused of sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence and child custody-related crimes. Suicide rates are higher among married men compared to women, the foundation claims, and they have also set up suicide prevention helplines. “We have seen cases where a child is used as a tool for extortion and fathers call in weeping about not being able to see their child,” said Deshpande.

Source: Amit Deshpande
Source: Amit Deshpande

According to Deshpande, men are also victims are patriarchy. “A man is forced to be an ATM for his family and if he fails to protect his wife or provide for her, he is immediately accused of mistreating her," he said. "More number of boys are being forced to drop out of school to take care of their families because the rules of patriarchy expect them to provide.”

The Vaastav members at the marathon also walked with posters which read: “Until men learn to express their pain, every story will always portray women as victims”, thus placing a spotlight on the gender stereotype of a "real" man not being able to express his pain without being seen as less of a man. At a TEDx talk by Deshpande delivered in August, he had said: "Whenever we ask a young boy to not cry, it is misandry. Crying is the only genderised emotion that we have because it is associated with weakness and being less of a man."