‘What mes­sage is the gov­ern­ment send­ing by keep­ing MJ Ak­bar on?’

The at­ti­tude re­flects cul­tural im­punity born of po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age and power, says CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat

The Hindu Business Line - - NEWS - POORNIMA JOSHI/AM JIGEESH

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat has been ac­tive in the women’s move­ment for a large part of her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. She be­lieves the #MeToo move­ment is a very im­por­tant trend in break­ing the cul­tural im­punity and si­lence around male at­ti­tudes. In an in­ter­view with Busi­nessLine (con­ducted be­fore Sun­day’s de­vel­op­ments sur­round­ing Min­is­ter of State for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs MJ Ak­bar), Karat talked about the crit­i­cal­ity of at­ti­tu­di­nal change in en­sur­ing fair and safe pub­lic and work spa­ces. Ex­cerpts:

What do you think is the most im­por­tant achieve­ment of the #MeToo move­ment?

Let us un­der­stand this phe­nom­e­non in the dom­i­nant cul­ture of im­punity and si­lence. The in­sti­tu­tional cul­tures re­flect the in­equal­ity and pa­tri­ar­chal value sys­tems that pre­vail in the so­ci­ety and fam­i­lies where men are dom­i­nant. If a man is a pa­tri­arch at home, he is not or­gan­i­cally go­ing to evolve into a pro­gres­sive mod­ern per­son at the work­place. So the feel­ing of male dom­i­nance, cul­ture of im­punity around the ac­tions of a male boss pre­vails and eas­ily trans­lates into sex­ual en­ti­tle­ment.

The dif­fer­ence that we are slowly see­ing is that women are break­ing the code of si­lence. I am not talk­ing about the #MeToo cam­paign alone. I am say­ing, gen­er­ally and so­cially, in our col­leges, uni­ver­si­ties and pub­lic spa­ces, women are chal­leng­ing dom­i­nant stereo­types and re­fus­ing to ac­cept these at­ti­tudes. You can see it in a vil­lage, where a young girl re­fuses to be­come a child bride, you see this in self-choice mar­riages, you see it where women and men defy caste hi­er­ar­chies and sys­tems in their per­sonal re­la­tions.

In this con­text, the most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion of the #MeToo cam­paign is that it breaks the si­lence around cul­tures of im­punity. It has to be wel­comed. I do not think that it will re­place move­ments aimed at strength­en­ing laws and due pro­cesses. I would rather say the #MeToo cam­paign com­ple­ments move­ments in our so­cial life in chal­leng­ing the cul­ture of im­punity.

OI think it is very im­por­tant that the is­sue of con­sent has been once again brought cen­trestage. The is­sues be­ing de­bated re­late to un­wanted, un­so­licited, sex­u­ally mo­ti­vated ac­tions of dif­fer­ent de­grees which women face.

If some­one does not ac­knowl­edge con­sent, then he has to be taught the hard way. What the tes­ti­monies of some women, and Ghaz­ala Wa­hab’s de­scrip­tion of MJ Ak­bar’s con­duct, re­veal is clearly a case of sex­ual mo­lesta­tion.

The onus is on the em­ployer to pro­vide a se­cure en­vi­ron­ment for women. What the women’s move­ment has been work­ing to­wards is not just to en­sure that there are se­ri­ous con­se­quences once the crime has been com­mit­ted but to pre­vent the crime from hap­pen­ing. So who is re­spon­si­ble for se­cur­ing that en­vi­ron­ment? To­day there is leg­is­la­tion, there are Vishakha guide­lines and it is im­per­a­tive for the em­ployer to im­ple­ment them.

#MeToo is tar­get­ing the shield of im­punity and shak­ing the sta­tus quo that pre­vents these laws from be­ing im­ple­mented. It is a mo­ment of so­cial change but it is not iso­lated and let us be very clear, we have to move be­yond nam­ing and sham­ing to take the so­cial change for­ward. We need to give a clear mes­sage that a man can­not keep his job if he is go­ing to be­have like this. So the onus has to shift. And that shift is still not hap­pen­ing. You can­not be con­stantly fear­ful of the back­lash. It hap­pens. But that can­not be a rea­son not to act.

What would you say to the crit­i­cism that #MeToo is too elit­ist and in­di­vid­ual-cen­tric?

In­di­vid­ual ac­tions have a role to play in chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo. In­di­vid­ual women have pushed the en­ve­lope. These in­di­vid­ual ac­tions are sig­nif­i­cant even if col­lec­tive ac­tion, col­lec­tive voices and col­lec­tive move­ments will be the main en­gine that will bring about so­cial change. In most of the me­dia, cor­po­rate houses and en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness, there is no union­i­sa­tion or col­lec­tive ac­tion. That is a very rel­e­vant is­sue. It is im­por­tant to have these col­lec­tive or­gan­i­sa­tions be­cause in­ter­nal com­plaint com­mit­tees can­not re­place that.

A woman in the film in­dus­try is alone. In the cor­po­rate sec­tors, too, lack of unions re­sults in a large num­ber of such cases go­ing un­re­ported. An en­vi­ron­ment has to be cre­ated in the work­place and unions have to play an im­por­tant role in it.

What do you have to say about MJ Ak­bar’s con­tin­u­ance in of­fice?

What mes­sage is the gov­ern­ment send­ing by keep­ing him on? We need to ques­tion the pol­i­tics of such a gov­ern­ment and the cul­tural im­punity that it is strength­en­ing by re­fus­ing to take ac­tion against him.

This is ex­actly what cul­tural im­punity is all about: po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age, cor­po­rate power, money power and po­si­tion power.

The BJP had the same re­sponse when a brave girl gave such de­tailed ev­i­dence against a min­is­ter. This gov­ern­ment sup­ported him; they sup­ported what hap­pened in Un­nao and Kathua.

These are in­di­ca­tions of po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age strength­en­ing im­punity. Their sex­ist, pa­tri­ar­chal at­ti­tude pro­tects and strength­ens the cul­ture of mas­cu­line en­ti­tle­ment.


“The most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion of the #MeToo cam­paign is that it breaks the si­lence around cul­tures of im­punity. I do not think it will re­place move­ments aimed at strength­en­ing laws and due pro­cesses...it com­ple­ments move­ments in our so­cial life in chal­leng­ing the cul­ture of im­punity”

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