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Safe house for battered men

Safe house for battered men

India’s first domestic violence shelter for men opens its doors in Bangalore. Here’s one harassed husband’s story from inside the shelter. Francis Steven Dokka reports

For three months, a barely-furnished two-bedroom apartment on Bannerghatta Main Road was “heaven” for Prithvi (31). The apartment is a good advert for ‘bare and minimum’–bean bags and plastic chairs in the living room; mats and bedsheets for bedding and a kitchen that has nothing more than essentials –a fridge, gas stove, some plates and glasses, and filtered water cans. The place is bereft of anything that usually makes a cold house a warm home. But for many harassed husbands this has been ‘heaven’ when their own homes turned hellish. Welcome to India’s first domestic violence shelter for men.

The shelter was started on April 19 this year by Confidare Consultancy, a Bangalore-based men’s rights organisation founded by techies Anil Kumar, Virag Dhulia, Pandurang Katti and Mithun Kumar. These names are well-known in India’s men’s rights movement. They have made representations before the Indian Parliament and the US Senate. The safe haven for men operates out of an apartment owned by one of the founders and is an offshoot of the Men’s Rights Community Center run by Confidare in Koramangala. Anil says, “Actually, the defining moment to start the shelter came many years ago when we started helplines for men facing domestic violence. The domestic violence shelter was just a logical extension of the helplines. Abused men are often coached by us to leave the abusive spaces (their homes) and go to paying guest or shared accommodations. Sometimes, we temporarily accommodate these abused men in our own houses for a few days. Declaring a complete house as a domestic violence shelter became the next logical step. It is not natural for men to run away from homes if they face abuse, because somehow society considers it unmanly, if a man runs away. Please note, we do not advise men to file for divorce. We suggest that they move to some other location to get some peace and recover.”
How Prithvi landed in the shelter is part of a bigger marital story — similar to ones being played out across India. Prithvi, a native of Hyderabad, was working at an IT firm in Bangalore, when he married a BTech graduate from West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh four years ago. Soon, their marriage hit rough weather. Prithvi says, “My wife was treating me like an ATM. She began to frequently make outrageous demands that I buy her jewellery, take her to restaurants and movies. She didn’t understand that a family cannot afford to splurge all the time. When I didn’t meet her demands, she began complaining to her parents.”
“Before we tied the knot, she promised to work after marriage to meet family expenses as Bangalore is a costly city. But after marriage, she did a U-turn. She refused to work. She began to taunt me with ‘Can’t you feed your wife? Do you want your wife to earn and feed you?’ queries. She wanted to stay at home and enjoy life. Another major disagreement was having kids. I wanted to have children but she wanted to wait.”
Last October, their marital problems reached boiling point. “Our arguments aggravated. She left me and went to her parents. I requested her to return many times but she declined. Finally, I went to her parents’ house to ask her to come home. She told me she would return only if I signed half of my property in her name or give her Rs 15 lakh as financial guarantee. I flatly rejected her conditions. She hit back by filing a criminal case against me under the Domestic Violence Act alleging that I had harassed her for dowry. In addition, she filed a case seeking maintenance from me. Both the cases were filed in AP just to harass me. She then mailed FIR copies to my employer and even sent a telegram to my work place to portray me as a criminal. Thanks to her, I lost my job. With cops chasing me and unemployed, I became depressed. I even thought of suicide. That’s when I got in touch with Confidare Consultancy and became its member.”
Prithvi landed at the shelter in April with two bags of clothes, some books, and almost broke. “I was once making Rs 50,000 a month and lived in a good house in Indiranagar paying Rs 12,000 as rent. Now, I couldn’t afford to rent a place. I needed a place my wife could not trace because I had to protect myself. I was fortunate to find this sanctuary. Considering my financial condition, Confidare even waived the fee.” Confidare charges a person Rs 150 per day to stay at the shelter. Inmates must make their own arrangements for food. No deposit is taken. Pandurang Katti, care-taker of the shelter, says, “This facility operates on trust. Those wanting to stay here must be members for at least six months and should gain our trust.” Pandurang emphasises it is not a “paying guest” facility.
At Confidare, Prithvi was given legal advice, apprised of his rights as a man and coached how to defend himself in court. “I also received moral support there,” says Prithvi. The safe house can shelter four men at any given time. Katti says: “As of now, we are not equipped enough if men flood the place. That’s why we don’t want to publicise its address.We do not have the bandwidth to run it on a 24/7 basis.”
How does Confidare ensure that it doesn’t end up accommodating at the shelter men who have committed crimes against women? Virag says, “We don’t judge anyone. The courts are there to judge who is innocent or guilty. We only support to those who approach us. Generally, men who have committed crimes do not approach us. Such people need not approach us.The center’s aim is to help provide men temporary stay so that they can stabilise themselves.”
At the shelter, Prithvi slowly began to pick up the pieces of his broken life. “When I came to the safe house, I was vulnerable and on the verge of losing my mind. However, at the shelter I got back peace of mind. I began to think of my future course of action and started looking for a job.”
At the shelter Prithvi would wake up at 7 am, sweep the apartment and make breakfast. At 10 am, he would study law books for a couple of hours. He would then head out for lunch. Post lunch, he would either take a nap or go to an internet centre to apply for jobs. Evening, would again be study time followed by dinner and sleep. He quips, “It was good to get some sleep after many sleepless nights.”
The routine changed when new inmates arrived. He would interact with them a lot and listen to their stories. “It helped to meet other men like me there. Some of their stories were way worse than mine.” During weekends, he used to volunteer at Confidare’s community centre in Koramangala and counsel other men.
The stay at the shelter was also a humbling experience for Prithvi. “I once lived very well. Here I was having lunch and dinner at roadside eateries. I was living on money given by my retired parents, relatives and friends.”
Anil says, “So far, six guys have stayed in the shelter, while about 30 approached us to use the facility.” Anil is already thinking of what will follow the shelter. “As it is certain that a lot of men may not marry due to ever increasing complicated laws of marriage and the high costs involved, the next logical step is to create hostels and old age assisted-living facilities for such men, which can provide them some security at old age. All this is part of a budding global men’s movement called MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), where men may not really seek committed female companionship or even children, but rather prefer a peaceful or even monk like existence enriching their lives.”
Meanwhile, Prithvi’s job hunt has paid off. He moved out of the shelter last week after he was hired by an IT firm in a city in South India. He does not see any chance of reconciliation with his wife. He wants to fight out all the cases filed by his wife. He says, “My priority is to live peacefully and contribute something to society.” That’s a big change in a man who entered the domestic violence shelter three months ago contemplating suicide.

Community of confidants
Confidare Consultancy offers help for husbands physically or verbally abused, or facing threats from their wives or in-laws. Its clientele includes men facing police complaints and court cases related to marital issues. It offers members coaching and education to be peaceful and fight court cases effectively. Men seeking help from Confidare are required to become members by paying a fee – Rs 2,500 for six months and Rs 4,500 for one year. Membership is also open to NRIs. Confidare also runs a Men’s Rights Community Center in Koramangala. The center offers members access to basic law books, legal citations, reference material, and videos related to laws and men’s rights.Anil says, “Our support group meetings are like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, where men feel peaceful and free in spite of abuse and threats they face.” At one point of time, a majority of Confidare’s members were techies. Virag says, “Now, we have members from all strata of the society because men are being abused irrespective of their position in society. We have members who are auto drivers and bank attenders.“Helpline: 9008302822