#METOOMUCH?

Men ex­plain things to me: An­swer­ing the nay-say­ers to #Metoo

Governance Now - - GENDER JUSTICE - Ashish Me­hta

In any case, the loss of the op­tion to for­ward a risqué What­sapp mes­sage to a friendly fe­male col­league or re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion of a friendly pat on her back is not a huge price to pay for let­ting her work with­out wor­ries.

The long-awaited ar­rival of #Metoo in In­dia has re­ceived two kinds of re­cep­tions: cathar­tic yet cel­e­bra­tory ca­coph­ony and un­com­fort­able si­lence. The first comes from most work­ing women and many men – on Twit­ter mostly. The se­cond stems from many men and some women – in most news­pa­pers so far. (Must be mod­esty; they pre­fer not to talk about them­selves.)

Re­ac­tions to metooin­dia so far have been like re­ac­tions to Gandhi and un­touch­a­bil­ity: one sec­tion thinks it’s go­ing too fast and too rad­i­cal, the other sec­tion sees noth­ing less than dan­ger­ous por­tents in the speed at which it is un­rav­el­ling.

This, lat­ter sec­tion of so­ci­ety feels good old ways are threat­ened, small mat­ters are be­ing blown out of pro­por­tion, things are not so blackand-white as pro­jected, and if this snow­balls it will hurt day-to-day in­ter­ac­tions be­tween men and women in the work­place. Un­for­tu­nately, no one is ar­tic­u­lat­ing this view­point in pub­lic, ar­guably be­cause it would not seem right. Only Udit Raj, a BJP MP, was left to speak up for them. He boldly sought to dis­credit the nascent Metoo cam­paign, terming it a “wrong prac­tice”. How can a woman ac­cuse her for­mer live-in part­ner of rape ten years later, he asked, among many rhetor­i­cal ques­tions.

Here is an at­tempt to ad­dress this se­cond sec­tion, and an­swer some of their fears in the spirit of di­a­logue.

What is hap­pen­ing so far is merely nam­ing and sham­ing, trial by (so­cial) me­dia, with­out a shred of ev­i­dence. That is not fair.

The lat­est de­vel­op­ments be­gan with ac­tor Tanushri Datta, and she is press­ing for a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Al­le­ga­tions against ac­tor Alok Nath too will be a mat­ter of for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion and not mere sham­ing. In news me­dia, those work­ing jour­nal­ists who have been named are fac­ing the due pro­ce­dure un­der the Vishaka law: an in­quiry has been in­sti­tuted. If the pro­ce­dure laid down by the supreme court finds them in­no­cent, there is no rea­son for them to be shamed. In one in­stance, a jour­nal­ist has main­tained that al­le­ga­tions made against him anony­mously from a day-old Twit­ter han­dle are base­less, and has filed an FIR with po­lice. No rea­son for him to be shamed yet.

Nam­ing-and-sham­ing goes on in all walks of life: a Bol­ly­wood star ac­cuses an­other star of in­de­cent be­hav­iour and the lat­ter’s ca­reer has not suf­fered much; po­lit­i­cal lead­ers ac­cuse ri­vals of cor­rup­tion and so on, with no­body pay­ing the price. For many of us com­mon men, shame may re­ally be too much, and there have been cases of rape ac­cused com­mit­ting sui­cide out of shame. Le­gal pro­ce­dures of­ten fail. Not fair, not just. But tens of thou­sands of women have been fac­ing a not-fairnot-just sit­u­a­tion for decades.

Mere shame of some po­ten­tial in­no­cents is not enough to si­lence hun­dreds of vic­tims from com­plain­ing and seek­ing jus­tice. It is not enough to grant ba­sic cour­tesy and dig­nity,

re­store rights to some­one who could be your sis­ter or daugh­ter.

Many peo­ple try un­eth­i­cal means to suc­ceed in com­pet­i­tive ca­reers, in jour­nal­ism, in Bol­ly­wood/tv and in so many other sec­tors that are yet to be touched by Metoo. Some women re­sort to ap­peal­ing to baser in­stincts of their male bosses or col­leagues. It is quid pro quo. Both par­ties en­ter into it know­ing its ram­i­fi­ca­tion.

But now the poor guy will face pun­ish­ment or black­mail if she chooses to, even years later.

If the male in­volved in an ap­par­ently con­sen­sual re­la­tion is her boss or car­ries power to make or break her ca­reer (as Alok Nath did), then the law does not look at it as plain be­tween con­sent­ing-adults busi­ness. He should not have walked down that path in the first place, whether she com­plains ten years later or not.

What has emerged in the early Oc­to­ber is that there are a lot of preda­tors out there, and they are look­ing for sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion, not fi­nan­cial one. So, it is too early to put the blame on the other side.

This seems to be an at­tempt to shame one po­lit­i­cal party, now that elec­tions are round the cor­ner.

One pe­cu­liar thing about gen­der in­jus­tice is that it is above party lines. The only politi­cian named so far is from the BJP, but the party has no mo­nop­oly in this area. A CPM MLA is also in the queue. Start­ing with Poonam Ma­ha­jan and then Sm­riti Irani, a num­ber of women from the BJP have spo­ken up in sup­port of Metoo. In­deed, se­nior (usu­ally male and some­times fe­male) politi­cians have dis­cre­tionary pow­ers to make or break a new­comer’s ca­reer, and thus most po­lit­i­cal par­ties too would have hun­dreds of Metoo’s wait­ing to speak up. We get a glimpse of them once in a while, like the woman who protested out­side the state unit of a na­tional party last month, ac­cus­ing se­niors of sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing her for an elec­tion ticket.

Of­ten, what you call sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place is about a very fine dis­tinc­tion. It can be sub­jec­tive. What is merely a flirty text mes­sage or a sug­ges­tion for an out­ing is un­ac­cept­able and hor­ri­fy­ing ad­vances for the other.

Yes, un­for­tu­nately, the mat­ter can be sub­jec­tive. But then, whether some­thing wrong is hap­pen­ing or not can only be con­firmed by the per­son to whom the wrong might be hap­pen­ing. That can give power to that per­son, so be it. In any case, the loss of the op­tion to for­ward a risqué What­sapp mes­sage to a friendly fe­male col­league or re­sist­ing the temp­ta­tion of a friendly pat on her back is not a huge price to pay for let­ting her work with­out wor­ries.

This is just an­other in­stance of the jump­ing-a-red-sig­nal syn­drome. Some­thing is No No in the rule book but ev­ery­body as­sumes that since ev­ery­body else ig­nores it, there should not be a prob­lem. Copy-past­ing from pub­lished work – till one day a re­spected ed­i­tor has to re­sign on it. Chang­ing habits is not easy, un­less forced.

Of­fice equa­tions will now change. A man will al­ways have to be on guard in deal­ing with a woman col­league. There would be much mis­use of women’s em­pow­er­ment.

When re­ports of the Aad­haar hack started com­ing it, one of its pi­o­neers re­torted say­ing that every lock can be bro­ken, every sys­tem can be hacked. In the same vein, every law can be mis­used. But, then, every law can be im­proved upon, too.

The world be­ing what it is, an im­per­fect place at best, things can be­come dicey in some cases. That would be the price to pay for over­all clean­ing up. Women and dal­its have been sub­jected to such be­hav­iour for a long, long time, and when so­ci­ety is try­ing to bal­ance the scales, with the SC/ST (Pre­ven­tion of Atroc­i­ties) Act or the dowry law, things can go over­board in some cases. Be­ing sub­jected to a power from across the gen­der boundary will be a new ex­pe­ri­ence from men. It will take a gen­er­a­tion for the scales to find the bal­ance. Till then, we can look at it from a util­i­tar­ian per­spec­tive: in mak­ing our work­places hos­tile for half the pop­u­la­tions, we are mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for half the tal­ent avail­able.

More­over, let us first put the law to some use be­fore wor­ry­ing about its pos­si­ble mis­use.

What has emerged in the early Oc­to­ber is that there are a lot of preda­tors out there, and they are look­ing for sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion, not fi­nan­cial one. So, it is too early to put the blame on the other side.

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