#METoo

Fi­nally, In­dian women start speak­ing up against sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the work­place. They de­mand: dig­nity and jus­tice

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Rid­hima Ku­mar

Fi­nally, In­dian women start speak­ing up against sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the work­place, de­mand­ing dig­nity and jus­tice

IT was a vol­cano wait­ing to erupt. And it has belched lava in In­dia more than a year af­ter the #Metoo cam­paign of Hol­ly­wood. Every few min­utes, women are post­ing heart-wrench­ing sto­ries of sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment by pow­er­ful men in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, ad­ver­tis­ing, and the me­dia. On Twit­ter, Face­book, and through other means, the word is out on the sick­en­ing be­hav­iour of men in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity. Some of the as­saults hap­pened many years ago. Women say they were un­able to speak up then but have now found courage through so­cial me­dia. Brav­ing all odds, they are sham­ing their past and present mo­lestors. Some even of­fer proof: screen­shots of creepy, cringe­wor­thy mes­sages and ob­scene pic­tures they re­ceived on What­sapp. They are no longer afraid to ex­pose men who think it’s okay to ha­rass and hu­mil­i­ate women.

Women say they were un­able to speak up then but have now found courage through so­cial me­dia. Brav­ing all odds, they are sham­ing their past and present mo­lestors. Some even of­fer proof: screen­shots of creepy, cringe­wor­thy mes­sages and ob­scene pic­tures they re­ceived on What­sapp.

In the Oc­to­ber 2017 edi­tion of Vogue mag­a­zine, jour­nal­ist Priya Ra­mani had in an open let­ter to a male boss warned preda­tors (she was re­fer­ring to jour­nal­ist-turned-politi­cian MJ Ak­bar with­out nam­ing him) that they would all be caught one day – at last, her words are com­ing true.

But what took them so long to come up? And why now? That’s the gen­eral per­cep­tion sur­round­ing the cam­paign.

To an­swer this, one has to look at the #Metoo be­yond its hash­tag. #Metoo is not sim­ply start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion; it is giv­ing voices to women who have been si­lenced for gen­er­a­tions. It’s giv­ing them an op­por­tu­nity to come out and speak “Enough!” they all want to scream.

#Metoo is a wa­ter­shed mo­ment women have been wait­ing for and it’s im­por­tant for In­dia. Here’s at­tend­ing to the nag­ging doubts that still hold many back:

Are you sure?

From the hu­man re­source de­part­ment to col­leagues (male and fe­male), this is the first re­ac­tion you get when you muster the courage to speak about your or­deal. Not be­liev­ing the vic­tim is an un­said rule at most work­places. The woman, who has al­ready suf­fered trauma at the hands of her preda­tor, is made to feel she must have mis­un­der­stood her se­nior male col­league’s be­hav­iour. “He must not have meant it in that man­ner,” is a com­mon enough re­sponse. And they are too ready to dis­miss the al­le­ga­tions.

If that is not tor­tur­ous enough, there is an­other gem of­ten hurled: “You must have in­vited this.” Maybe the skirt was too short, the neck­line too low, the makeup too loud, your man­ner too friendly. Char­ac­ter judged, vic­tim shamed.

Which is why we need #Metoo.

Think about your ca­reer!

If the preda­tor is in a pow­er­ful po­si­tion, which hap­pens to be the case mostly, the woman has to face the con­se­quences of speak­ing up. No mat­ter which sec­tor or in­dus­try you are em­ployed in, pow­er­ful males can ruin your ca­reer. The sce­nario scares in­de­pen­dent women into si­lence.

Bol­ly­wood ac­tors Flora Saini and Sand­hya Mridul were la­belled “ar­ro­gant” af­ter they ex­posed their per­pe­tra­tors and suf­fered ca­reer set­backs. The role of­fers dried up, or they were not of­fered good roles any more. In jour­nal­ism, women fac­ing up to their preda­tors have had to quit, change jobs, move to new cities, or re­sign them­selves to do­ing unim­por­tant as­sign­ments.

Hence, we need a #Metoo.

You are not the only one

Women fac­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment or as­sault is noth­ing new and cuts across caste, re­gion, re­li­gion. Since child­hood a girl is taught how to sit, be­have, talk, walk. Sup­pos­edly to en­sure that she does not cross the line to in­vite un­wanted at­ten­tion. This is why many women feel guilty of at­tract­ing their as­sailants. This is why they don’t speak up. But if you speak up, it may en­cour­age some­one you know to speak up too. #Metoo has taken a wreck­ing ball to that wall of si­lence.

Which is why we need #Metoo.

But he’s a gen­tle­man!

The men so far named are all so-called “re­spectable” fig­ures. In fact, Alok Nath, an ac­tor ac­cused of rape by a writer, is con­sid­ered the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of san­skar or deco­rous cul­ture and of­ten given roles in that mould. Peo­ple are not will­ing to be­lieve them ca­pa­ble of do­ing what the vic­tim al­leges.

Jour­nal­ist Ghaz­ala Wa­hab’s ac­count whereby she nar­rated how she was harassed by MJ Ak­bar, whom she idolised at one point, shows the shock and dis­il­lu­sion­ment she feels with the man and the per­sona of eru­di­tion and bril­liance that every­one as­so­ciates with him. Class, in­come, rank, eru­di­tion, suc­cess – these can­not de­fine a man’s char­ac­ter. Or ex­cuse his wrong­do­ings.

Which is why we need #Metoo.

There’s no com­mit­tee

Al­though the Vishaka judg­ment has man­dated com­mit­tees to look into sex­ual ha­rass­ment charges at every work­place, not every or­gan­i­sa­tion has them. Then, there are sec­tors like en­ter­tain­ment, where com­pa­nies, ban­ners, pro­duc­tion houses are of­ten tem­po­rary en­ti­ties and last only for the pur­pose of mak­ing one or two films. It’s a shad­owy area. The vast ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ment is in the un­or­gan­ised sec­tor.

Which is why we need #Metoo.

#Metoo is not a wave or a move­ment. It’s the sad ev­ery­day re­al­ity of a woman’s life. It has given voice to women silent for cen­turies. Its in­clu­sive

soror­ity com­forts every woman who has en­dured slob­ber­ing, grasp­ing, lewd, base bosses.

Sadly, it is re­stricted to ur­ban, elite In­dia – where women at least have a say in things. Ru­ral In­dia, where a woman doesn’t even have a voice, leave alone a choice, has much more hor­ri­fy­ing sto­ries. Re­mem­ber, when girls from a Bi­har school protested against sex­ual ad­vances by their class­mates, they were beaten up by the same boys and their par­ents. And this is just one in­ci­dent.

Also, so far, only women from the en­ter­tain­ment and me­dia in­dus­try are speak­ing up. An ac­quain­tance even quipped, “These things hap­pen a lot in me­dia.”

Does that mean sex­ual ha­rass­ment is not hap­pen­ing in other sec­tors? The an­swer is an ob­vi­ous no.

The time has come for us women to seize this op­por­tu­nity and bring about a change, no mat­ter how painfully slow it will be.

#Metoo will soon touch the lives of women in other sec­tors and from ru­ral

In­dia.

More­over, the cam­paign needs to go far be­yond nam­ing and sham­ing the abu­sive men. In­quiries should be ini­ti­ated and a strict le­gal ac­tion should be taken against the guilty – maybe this would en­cour­age other women to come for­ward.

As women across the coun­try unite in this col­lec­tive cathar­sis, there are mur­murs of their al­le­ga­tions be­ing base­less, that they are try­ing to set­tle scores. But one thing these scep­tics over­look is that these women are choos­ing not to re­main anony­mous. They are boldly declar­ing their names and re­veal­ing their iden­tity. And hence the need for such a move­ment.

#Metoo will have its side ef­fects, agreed. But it’s a start which should not be stopped. The scep­tic in me is ob­vi­ously wor­ried that this mo­men­tum will soon fade away just like it did af­ter the Nirb­haya in­ci­dent in 2012. But when some heads started rolling in big me­dia houses, it gave me a ray of hope – to which the woman in me wants to cling wish­ing that one day work­places will be­come safe and in­clu­sive for all of us.

#Metoo is not a wave or a move­ment. It’s the sad ev­ery­day re­al­ity of a woman’s life. It has given voice to women silent for cen­turies. Its in­clu­sive soror­ity com­forts every woman who has en­dured slob­ber­ing, grasp­ing, lewd, base bosses. #Metoo is a start which should not be stopped.

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