FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
There are times when you can feel the rage and anguish in the air, at least from a certain section of society. It is the voice of the educated Indian woman against the deeply entrenched maledominated culture at the workplace. Her moment to speak out against the repression of many decades has arrived. Like many spontaneous uprisings, it started rather innocuously this September with actor Tanushree Dutta accusing her colleague Nana Patekar of sexual harassment on a movie set 10 years ago. It lingered inconclusively in the public space for a fortnight till it emboldened other aggrieved women to come out with a torrent of accusations against their tormentors. In a matter of days, it has swept away stand-up comics, famous directors, a powerful editor-turned-minister, senior journalists, an eminent author, a popular singer, a film lyricist from the South and a well-known ad-man. This is only the beginning. It is building up to a tsunami. It is our Harvey Weinstein moment, where the perversions of one man broke a dam of repressed outrage in America against sexual abuse to usher in what has come to be known as the #MeToo movement. This phenomenon is now unfolding around us in India.
The reason for the vociferous public outburst of women is that they never saw the police or the judiciary as a recourse for redress. The process shamed the victim more than the perpetrator. Furthermore, many of these instances happened at a time when workplaces were not as sensitive to the safety of women, and social media was nonexistent. A conservative society was a further deterrent to going public, forcing the rage consuming the victim to remain suppressed. Besides, the power structure in most workplaces is dominated by men, and the victims are mostly young and vulnerable women. The men are in position of authority and presumably there because they are talented and valuable to the organisation. A complaint by a subordinate in the absence of due process is most likely to be dismissed. Like one predator said to one of his prey: “It’s not easy to lose the head.” Hence, the silence of the lambs.
Now, with greater consciousness and sensitivity towards gender equality and with the help of social media, the repressed rage of the victims has found an outlet through naming and shaming their perpetrators. It’s a catharsis for the victim and perhaps the society too as we confront the evil that resides in many of our countrymen.
This being the spring of the movement, there is relief and rejoicing in many quarters, but there is much that is less than ideal in #MeToo: for instance, its standards of proof. The movement just goes by the court of public opinion. A man persistently texting an unwelcome romantic or sexual overture is tarred with the same brush as someone who violently assaults his employee. There is hardly any debate on what the consequences should be in various cases. Some question the validity or element of exaggeration in all the finger-pointing.
There should be no misrepresentation by either side and it is important for a company to protect the dignity and interests of the complainant and the respondent. Fortunately, the law has now laid down a procedure on how these cases are to be dealt with.
At the same time, public discourse around the world and in India has started to treat sexual harassment, abuse and assault as a serious violation. Sexual interactions at the workplace include a wide range of behaviours such as flirting, bantering, sexual jokes, touching, consuming pornography, dating, affairs, live-in relationships and marriage. Where does consent end and coercion begin? How pervasive is consensual sexual activity in the workplace? How do workers and organisations distinguish between wanted and unwanted sexual behaviour? Will this stop employers from hiring women?
In recent months, we have seen many positive blows being struck for gender equality. From multiple Supreme Court verdicts striking down triple talaq, upholding the marriage of Hindu women by consent, their right to inherit property to the right of women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala shrine. As more women enter the workforce and break glass ceilings in various professions, it should bring about a change that will reduce sexual harassment at the workplace.
Our cover story, #MeToo, The Uprising, put together by Executive Editor Damayanti Datta, Senior Editor Shweta Punj and Associate Editor Chinki Sinha, examines the issues that have emerged in the wake of this uprising.
The present movement might result in some collateral damage, yet it needs to be welcomed, warts and all. Ultimately, it will bring about welcome changes in the workplace, result in greater sensitivity towards women, ensure dignity and security in their place of work. Also, the onus is on the employer to create a safe working space for everybody. Most importantly, men have to adapt their behaviour to the new environment. If they don’t, as the #MeToo movement says, your #Time’sUp.
Our May 30, 2005, cover