Roshni Mathan Pereira is spearheading a movement to bring about reforms in family laws that could help children caught in custody battles when their parents divorce
Roshni Mathan Pereira wears many hats, and with great elan. An educator for many years, she also takes her role as counselor of CRISP (Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting) very seriously.
Roshni, who is in her late thirties, has a Bachelors degree in Education, a Masters degree in Child Education and an MBA in Educational Management. She has plenty of teaching experience, including as a PYP (Primary Years Programme) co-ordinator in an international school in Bangalore, and also serves on the board of trustees in a reputed school in Bangalore. Her interests lie in home schooling, e-learning, special education and international curriculum planning.
However, Roshni prefers to talk about her role as counselor of CRISP, a Bangalore-based NGO, that was founded a few years ago by Kumar Jahgirdar, among others, to combat the serious effects of parental alienation on children of divorced/separated parents. CRISP is concerned by the growing number of custody battles over children, and the consequent effect it has on young minds.
The organisation is pushing for reforms in family laws such as granting of immediate and equal child access to separated parents within 30 days from the date of filing for divorce and making co-parenting mandatory. It wants all cases related to custody of children to be disposed of within six months of application and punishment for misuse of laws, particularly related to dowry harassment and domestic violence.
Roshni counsels young men whose wives have resorted to the anti-dowry law and Domestic Violence (DV) Act to harass their husbands and deny them access to their own children. She feels women are, by and large, better communicators and are able to win the sympathy of judges in courts, thanks to their glib talk and persuasive manner. She says that it doesn’t matter if the husband is right — the courts are almost always swayed by the better communicator (the wife in nearly all cases), even when she is wrong.
Roshni counsels men and young fathers on how to communicate better and get their point across to others so that they can be heard. She says it doesn’t matter if the husband is highly educated. “All too often, I counsel MBAs and engineers from IITs who are simply unable to correspond effectively,” she says. “Men need to learn to communicate so that the harassment they are suffering on account of gender-biased laws is brought to light.”
Roshni has appeared on many television programmes to voice her demands for children’s rights, and she also wants safeguards to come into place so that men do not have to suffer because of the rampant abuse of laws that were made to protect women, such as Sec 498A IPC and the DV Act. These laws, she feels, are grossly biased against men as husbands who face abuse at the hands of their wives cannot take recourse to the DV Act to demand justice. The anti-dowry law (Sec 498A IPC) is often used by vengeful wives to harass entire families, including aged in-laws, married and pregnant sisters-in-law and young brothers-in-law, apart from the husband. And, thanks to our judicial system, the courts take many years to deliver a verdict. Convictions in cases filed under these Acts are low, and many times innocent people have to run from pillar to post, and putting their lives on hold for many years, to prove themselves not guilty.
India is a secular democracy and everybody should stand equal before the law, says Roshni. But the laws of the land have been heavily tilted against men and in favour of women, especially in the marital sphere. For instance, even when a man declines dowry, the girl often comes with a baggage of wealth. If anything goes wrong, it is the husband and his family who get the legal boot. “I’m a warrior for women’s rights, but I strongly believe that a good number of men are suffering ignominies for no fault of theirs,” she adds.
Roshni says the National Commission for Women, and Health and Family Welfare both deal with issues confronting women. However, forget a ministry, there is not even a platform for men. She believes that there must be more awareness that men are not always aggressors who ill-treat women. They often share responsibility for the entire family. They ought to get equal justice at the hands of society, the judiciary and the media. “This is an argument for gender parity, not dominance,” she adds.
Roshni is also concerned about daughters facing abuse, deprivation, neglect and maltreatment in their natal homes. She has launched the ‘All India Daughters Protection Forum’ and regularly blogs on how children, especially daughters, need to be protected from exploitative parents, relatives and siblings. She wants inheritance rights for daughters in their parental homes and she is also demanding an integrated approach to the protection of the rights of daughters. The forum, Roshni says, is also against false allegations of domestic violence and dowry against husbands and in-laws. False charges, says Roshni, is tantamount to legal abuse and is an affront to real victims.
Roshni hopes to continue blogging and counselling until any real change comes about towards the problems of men in society. This is one determined lady who has vowed to make a difference.