The term “honey trap” was popularized by John le Carré in his 1974 novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. During the Cold War, intelligence agencies regularly deployed women to ensnare senior military officers, politicians and businessmen. They would then blackmail them into giving away valuable secrets. The femmes fatales employed by these agencies obviously had to be seductive and sophisticated enough to draw valuable information out of powerful men, usually after establishing a romantic relationship with them.
The Cold War may be a thing of the past, but the practice of using romance and sex as tools of extortion and blackmail is still flourishing the world over. The #MeToo movement that started as a chorus of feminist indignation mobilizing long-suppressed grievances has also been frequently deployed as a weapon to bludgeon men into silence or, worse, milk them for all they are worth.
In India, Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, has been hot on the trail of duplicitous women. Some of them work in groups, regularly blackmailing gullible males into parting with large sums of money after sleeping with them. Their victims are usually married and hold a respectable place in society, making them easy targets for extortion.
Bhardwaj is known for speaking out against the rampant misuse of India’s gender laws, especially section 376 of the 1860-vintage Indian Penal Code (IPC) that addresses rape and sexual violence. Sections 489A and 354 deal with domestic abuse and sexual harassment respectively. The journalist observes, “Increasingly, men in India are becoming victims of systematic abuse through gender-biased laws. Laws where their innocence doesn’t matter, where they are presumed guilty and where a mere verbal accusation by a woman makes them a puppet in the hands of police and judiciary for years to come.”
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Indeed, the data on gender-based violence gathered by India’s National Crime Records Bureau is very revealing. Of the 120,306 total arrests under section 498A in the year 2020, 96,497 were men and a whopping 23,809 of the arrested were women. There are increasing reports of women who, after a few years of marriage, file false cases of domestic abuse in the hopes of winning large settlements. Subsequently the family is summoned and forced to settle the case by paying large amounts of money. Up to 75% of cases are withdrawn because it emerges that the purported victims are exploiting the law. This can only compromise the credibility of genuine survivors of abuse and domestic violence.
I spoke to Bhardwaj about some of the most disturbing cases she has come across, including that of the woman who filed nine rape cases against nine different men at nine different police stations within one year — all in one city, Gurgaon. The journalist told me about the men who have committed suicide because of shame after they were falsely accused of rape. Bhardwaj also revealed the gaslighting and professional sabotage she experienced at the hands of many feminists. She has also shared her views on the hotbutton topic of marital rape and measures that the government could implement to address the misuse of biased gender laws.
The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Vikram Zutshi: You deliver a perspective on gender rights seldom seen in the media, highlighting both male and female victims of fraud, abuse and extortion. What are some of the most disturbing and unique stories you have covered?
Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj: The most disheartening story I have covered to date is that of the late Arvind Bharti, which I have covered in my upcoming documentary, India’s Sons. Arvind was first forced into marriage by a woman who threatened to file a rape case against him. He married her and thought life would be smooth but she filed a false dowry case against him within a year of their marriage. Arvind fought those cases for eight years, studied law to defend himself properly and when he won the cases finally, he still had to settle because the woman wouldn’t let him be. It was traumatizing for Arvind because he had a daughter too from this marriage. But he had to give up on his daughter because of his wife’s constant cruelty. Eventually Arvind got divorced and wanted to move on, but his estranged wife kept defaming him everywhere he went — at his office and his study centers.
She got him thrown out of his job and eventually got him booked under a false rape charge after getting him beaten up brutally and confining him for three days. Arvind was jailed for 15 days. This broke him deep inside. Eventually Arvind ended his life leaving a 26-page suicide note detailing the torture he went through for decades, and writing about how the laws are extremely favorable to women. I reported on the case, and stood with his family. Eventually, after several campaigns, the woman was arrested for abetment of his suicide.
The most unique story I have covered is that of Ayushi Bhatia who filed nine rape cases on nine different men at nine different police stations within one year – all in one city, Gurgaon. I exposed this girl, which eventually led to her arrest for filing false cases, criminal intimidation, extortion and blackmail. After that exposé, people from across India contacted me writing about women who are filing false rape cases.
I exposed another such woman, Sonia Keswani from Jabalpur, who has filed six rape cases against five different men in the city of Jabalpur over a span of six years. She filed a rape case on the first man she implicated, got married to him and then filed dowry, domestic violence and rape cases against him again. After this, from 2021 to July 2022, she filed four more rape cases against four other different men.
In both these cases, while Ayushi and Sonia were both married, they kept filing rape cases on other men, claiming they were raped on a false promise of marriage. In my opinion, these two cases highlight how rape laws are being brazenly misused in our country today.
There are several cases I have brought to light involving suicide by men after they were falsly accused of raping a woman. Some of these names include Awadhesh Yadav, Manoj Kumar, Arvind Bharti, Amit Kumar and Rahul Agarwal.
Zutshi: Your film India’s Sons delves into a bizarre tale of deception and fraud set in Jaipur. Tell us about how the legal system was misused by its practitioners to entrap a number of unwitting men.
Bhardwaj: India’s Sons is about the lives of men who were falsely accused of rape but then were honorably acquitted by the court after years of trial. By then, their lives were totally destroyed by the case. Justice Nivedita Anil Sharma from Delhi once asked, “If the woman who files a rape case is immediately called a rape survivor, then why shouldn’t we call men who are honorably acquitted in these cases after being falsely accused, as “Rape Case Survivors.” This is what forms the tag line of the documentary as well: The Tale of False Rape Case Survivors.
One of the cases discussed in the documentary is that of a honeytrap racket busted in Jaipur by the special operations group of Rajasthan Police. About 44 people including high court lawyers, policemen, two dozen women and others pretending to be journalists were arrested during this phase. These people did a recce of high net worth men, especially those who were married. They sent women to lure them into sexual relationships, gathered evidence of these relationships and then threatened to register rape cases against these men. They made about three million dollars, a whopping 24-25 crore rupees. This racket operated nonchalantly for about three years until it was busted.
I am in Jaipur right now for the screening of my documentary film and, even today, the anti-corruption bureau has arrested a few policemen and advocates for extorting money from a man accused of rape. In all such cases, the legal system has taken for granted that whatever the woman states is gospel truth. No investigation is conducted and, almost always, even if it is found that the woman has lodged cases falsely, she is not punished. In the honeytrap racket, these women casually changed their statements and turned hostile after receiving money from the accused. The legal system ignored such dubious actions and so did the law enforcement authorities.
Zutshi: Do you consider yourself a feminist in the modern meaning of the term? How have India’s usually hyper-vocal feminists responded to your work?
Bhardwaj: Personally, I am unable to identify myself as a feminist in the way that the term is used in the modern era. More often than not, hyper-vocal feminists have this innate hate for men which I find very annoying. For them, this entire world is against women, and anyone who doesn’t speak their language is a misogynist.
Equal rights and opportunities for all is an absolutely wonderful thought and, even today, there are women and girls who are disadvantaged and need the support from society to realize their true potential. Having said that, life isn’t a cakewalk for every man out there either. They too have their own struggles, challenges, and now even face discrimination especially because of one-sided laws that need to be addressed. But anyone talking about men suddenly becomes an enemy of feminists.
There are many feminists who have attacked my work. One of them started a petition to Netflix, when my documentary was released, to take it off the air. Another one wrote to the organizers of a TEDx talk I was invited to, demanding not to allow me to speak. In contrast, I have received standing ovations at several events. Time and again, I get abused on social media by feminist warriors who often describe me as a “pick me woman”, “misogynist”, “traitor”, and much worse terms, which I can not mention here. However, it no longer impacts me . I can safely say that I have thousands of women supporting my work, and they actively recognise the need for someone to speak up for these men who are also suffering.
Zutshi: What do you think of the proposed marital rape legislation that is currently a hot topic of debate on social media?
Bhardwaj: This is an extensive topic of debate. I would ask you to check out my video on this issue, which details my reservations on the proposed marital rape legislation.
To sum the video up, we already have laws that address sexual abuse within marriage. If the current exception in the existing rape laws were to be removed, almost every matrimonial dispute could result in rape charges against the husband. We are already witnessing thousands of unsubstantiated allegations of unnatural sex that is illegal under section 377 of the IPC. These cases will eventually end in settlements whereby the husband will be asked to shell out significant sums of money to save himself. Certain countries have already instituted special provisions against marital rape. Most of these countries have a gender-neutral law, but in India, it would be rendered as yet another weapon in the hands of wives.
Zutshi: In your opinion, what are the steps that can be taken to address the misuse of section 376 of the IPS on rape and sexual harassment?
Bhardwaj: The courts should give credence to fair and impartial investigations. They must value evidence, not mere verbal allegations made by women. This could go a long way in addressing the misuse of section 376. Currently, the courts are not punishing women who misuse section 376 to victimize men. Judges need to penalize women who make false allegations of rape. Only then will the misuse cease.
In addition, I think the lawmakers need to differentiate between cases of sexual assault and those that involve false claims of a promise of marriage because they do not belong to the same category. Currently, all men accused of a promise to marry are thrown into jail. Even if it later transpires that no promise of marriage was made and, consequently, the sex was consensual and not rape, the accused has already enormously suffered. The time in jail and the loss of reputation can often drive such men to suicide. The system is not working and must change.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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