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Men Fight For Their Rights

Some Goan dads are getting a raw deal

The men readily admit that their mission is not meant to diminish the legitimate fight for the rights of women and girls. And in some ways, stomach they, help too, are fighting for girls – in this case, the right of their own daughters to see their dads. And their little boys’ right to do the same.

With legal cards often stacked against fathers in custody and other marital battles, these guys are making a simple point: human rights must apply to all humans, female and male. Here’s what one young father has to say on the matter: “The laws against domestic violence that were legislated to empower women have backfired on us. There is no law to protect innocent men from false allegations.”

One night he was there at his children’s bedside tucking them in to sleep, kissing them goodnight and the next morning their mother drags him to jail, telling the kids to stay away from him because he is an evil man. He decides to fight back in court, but then the look in his children’s eyes overrules his decision. With a broken heart, he chooses to plead guilty and be the villain – in the hope that someday his kids will grow up to see the hero in him.

Of course each side has their own narrative to tell, including the mother of these kids. And yet there’s been enough of a backlash against certain laws that some Goan men are starting to get together to fight for their rights. Recently, a group in Margao called Dadleancho Ekvott was formed to defend men against false accusations. And three other men are currently forming a group to help men win custodial rights to their children.

Both groups are in nascent stages, struggling to organize and find members. And most of the fellows involved in the groups didn’t even want their names used in this story out of fear that public statements could jeopardize their court fights to see their children.

And yet the fact the groups exist at all in Goa speaks volumes about the helplessness felt by husbands and fathers who see themselves as getting a very raw deal.

At the centre of the battle in Goa is a phenomenon known as parental alienation syndrome, or PAS, a term coined by forensic psychologist Richard A Gardner in the early 1980s. It’s the belittlement of one parent without justification due to a combination of factors, including indoctrination by the other parent.

Parental alienation is no joke and is considered a form of child abuse by many psychiatrists worldwide. One of the men involved in forming the men’s custody rights group, Lionel Menezes (I’ve changed his name upon his request), hasn’t seen his children since last Christmas because he says his wife has brainwashed the kids. “My son will miss a father figure. My daughter won’t have a male role model to look up to and it hurts me that I can’t contribute to enrich their lives.”

Some courts in the United States have awarded sole custody to fathers because of parental alienation by mothers. Brazil recognized parental alienation syndrome as a phenomenon with legal weight in 2010. Courts in the United Kingdom, however, have rejected PAS’s admissibility in certain custody battles.

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, who has researched the subject extensively, says, “If your ex is actively or passively alienating your child’s normal affection toward you, he or she was probably emotionally abusive while you were together. Parental alienation is her or his way of continuing to abuse and hurt you via remote access.”

Perhaps it should come as little surprise that most bullies don’t see themselves as such. Arnold Gonsalves (name also changed), a Panjim resident involved in the custody group, has this to say, “Whenever I confronted my ex about this behavior, she blatantly denied it and blamed me for deteriorating the relationship with my children, even as I made every effort to be a present and involved parent.”

Arnold says there’s an urgent need to ensure that pro-women measures do not become anti-men.

“Man is always considered to be the aggressor, there is no sympathy, no reprise in court – laws have been misused,” he says, lamenting the time he was arrested and jailed for what he said were false accusations.

The group fighting for men’s custody rights now has three core members, but they’re now reaching out to others. These include businessmen, artists and entrepreneurs who are fighting for fair treatment in marital battles. The battle here is as much emotional as legal, as a single dad is sandwiched between his lost dignity and his love for his kids. “I wouldn’t want to damage the kids more than the relationship, taking her to court and proving her to be emotionally unsound would be reducing her value in the eyes of the children,” Arnold said.

Fathers are not an apathetic lot and they, too, can suffer in solitude. “No money, no compensation can replace their childhood that I am denied to be a part of,” says Lionel, who admits that he has even contemplated suicide a couple of times. “I thought I should hang myself that I couldn’t see my five-month old son walk and talk.

Michael Ferns, the chairman of Dadleancho Ekvott, the men’s rights group in Margao, said in a recent statement that while it is important to protect the rights of women it’s also necessary to protect men against false accusations.

 “Some anti-social elements are misusing the protection given to women by filing false complaints of abuse torture and harassment of innocent people,” he said.

“As I have first-hand experience of such harassment, we are setting up a cell to protect men from false cases,” Ferns said, as quoted in the Times of India. “We will help any innocent man whose name has been tarnished with false charges”.

Arnold believes men and women should come together to solve these problems, not as adversaries but as partners. “Women’s groups should have male representation and vice-versa. These groups shouldn’t consist of disgruntled members who give you only one perspective of the problem at hand.”

Many fathers have given up on fighting for custody and prefer to plead guilty to false accusations rather than get children involved in court. Says Arnold: “I can’t imagine seeing my children facing an inquisition in court rooms. My children have been mentally tortured, brainwashed to think that their father is a very bad man. The only hope is when they grow up they realize it was false and judge me by the good work I have done and be proud of me one day, someday.”