New Delhi: In a so-called “man’s world’, it’s the men who are seeking protection of their rights. Men’s rights groups, fighting for shared parenting in case of divorce or separation, have urged political parties to include in their manifestoes a proposal to set up a ministry of men to exclusively look into their issues.

The demand, just before the parliamentary polls, is significant as the political parties across the country are talking of women’s empowerment.

“It’s time for the political parties to understand the urgency of protecting rights of the men, including their right to have their children with them in case of separation or divorce,” founder and president of Bangalore-based Child Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP) Kumar V. Jahgirdar told IANS.

He said the political parties should clarify their stand on this issue before going to the polls.

CRISP, with regional chapters in Delhi, Chandigarh, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Lucknow, has been demanding that abused men get equal access to children in case of a divorce.

It has also sought special courts to deal with child custody cases.

Manpreet Bhandari, a software engineer in Bangalore who is seeking parenting rights and joint custody of his child, had another take on this.

“There is nothing specific (by political parties) for men’s empowerment. We harassed fathers ask the political parties to come out with a policy on reforms in family laws to make them gender neutral,” Bhandari said.

Otherwise, he said, people like him find no relevance in exercising their right to franchise.

Added Jahgirdar: “Let us take a pledge to vote only for the party which guarantees us men-friendly policies.”

R.S. Bajaj, a prominent civil lawyer in Chandigarh, said this is also important as the men are feeling threatened due to new matrimonial laws which apparently favoured women during domestic violence.

“The misuse of section 498 (A) of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) dealing with harassing a married woman is also an open secret,” he added.

Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF) president Rajesh Vakharia, who is based in Nagpur, said the political parties should also clarify their stand on Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill of 2010.

He said the bill would give the divorced women an equal stake in the husbands’ ancestral property, which is unconstitutional.

Moreover, the bill, he said, has no mention about the custody of children in post-separation cases and there is no clarity on what would happen to the children if the mother vanishes with the money received post-divorce and does not take care of children.

Child psychologist Jayashree Satvalli said there was a misconception that the mother can’t be a substitute.

“Nowadays the fathers are equally responsible to take care of their children. The child’s rights are more superior to the women’s rights,” she added.

CRISP, which has been demanding equal access to children equally for separated parents, has written to all national political parties to take men rights as a major component of their manifestoes.

“We have asked the political parties to come out with their programmes to handle and solve the problems faced by the ‘harassed’ husbands in a more transparent manner,” Jahgirdar said.

Studies conducted by CRISP, which was invited by a parliamentary standing committee to give its views on the rights and welfare of children, show heavy dropouts from schools due to matrimonial disputes.

It says more than 25,000 divorce cases are pending in family courts in Bangalore alone.

“We are demanding special courts to deal with child custody cases. The family courts should dispose of such cases within one year,” Jahgirdar said, adding that pre-marital counselling should be made mandatory in the country to bring down the number of divorces.

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