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Tryst With #MeToo

Tryst With #MeToo

It all began on October 15, 2017, when Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano accused the famous Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. While responding to the allegations, Milano tweeted “Suggested by a friend: if all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.

The moment she tweeted, the post went viral. Within a few hours, many women tweeted with #MeToo, making it a trending topic as they narrated horrifying incidents. Indian women too stepped in and narrated their stories with a #MeToo status. The world actually came to know what is wrong and the extent to which women face harassment.

A year on, India is on the verge of another #MeToo movement, with Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta raising her voice against the alleged harassment she faced while shooting for a film in 2008. It created a ripple effect. The latest addition is veteran actor Alok Nath, who always donned a fatherly figure role. In a Facebook post on October 9 writer-producer Vinita Nanda, wrote “It was usual for our group of friends from theatre to meet regularly, so there was nothing unusual about my going to the party. As the evening flowed, my drinks were mixed and I began to feel strange. Then at around 2 am, I left his (Alok Nath’s) house.”

“I trusted him and sat in his car. I have faint memory after that. I can remember more liquor being poured into my mouth and I remember being violated endlessly,” she wrote.

“When I woke up the next afternoon, I was in pain. I hadn’t just been raped, I was taken to my own house and had been brutalised,” she said, “I couldn’t get up for (sic) my bed. I told some of my friends but everybody advised me to forget about it and move on”.

The list of Alok Naths has been increasing day by day. Another daily published a long list of people, essentially advertising people. From Kartik Iyer, CEO of Happy Mcgarrybowen, to Brijesh Jacob, DDB Mudra Group, many must be having sleepless nights. There is another list of journalists, TV actors and Bollywood actors. Those who enjoyed fame and trust of general public will soon face their wrath as well.

The rage of Indian women has actually affected men working in almost all the sectors, including even the government. Amongst the most high-profile journalists is M.J. Akbar, once a renowned newspaper editor and currently, the junior minister for foreign affairs. Initially, the accusation was made by columnist Priya Ramani in one of her articles published in the magazine Vogue India in October 2017. Even though Ramani did not name M J Akbar, the story hinted at him. It began with the way he interviews her to the vulgar messages or calls he made. 

“You’re an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer. You know how to pinch, pat, rub, grab and assault. Speaking up against you still carries a heavy price that many young women cannot afford to pay. Sometimes you are inconvenienced when the stories get out and you are asked to take a time out. Often, you are quickly reinstated. Why would you need to evolve, right?” she wrote.

Recently, Ramani confirmed in a tweet that the article was about none other than M J Akbar. Not only this, fourteen women also came out in the public, alleging sexual harassment and rape. To cut the long story short, the movement has actually given momentum to women, who had suffered silently for years.

Being a woman, this writer can fully understand what it actually takes to come out in the open and speak about the worst a woman would have gone through, knowing fully well, they would be questioned for maintaining silence for so long. Despite this movement, there are many who still must be suffering silently, slowly dying every day.

While people have raised questions about the way women have raised their voice — some spoke after 10 years or even more — it is difficult to prove their case. But the most important fact is that they have at least started protesting. Men who might have indulged in such a horrendous crime must be keeping their fingers crossed or begging before the victims for keeping their identity confidential.

As this movement gains momentum, it will open a pandora’s box for many. However, what needs to be seen is how the law takes its course. Although the law of limitation does not apply to rape cases or criminal acts, where the punishment is more than three years, yet it is difficult to prove and collect evidence. At least the medical tests, that are one way of proving whether rape took place or not, will not be helpful. Also, given the fact that there are 3.3 crore cases pending before the judiciary, it would really be tough to give justice to the large number of women, who have broken their silence.

The sad part is that the mental torture that the victim went through all these years will get augmented by questions like “why she took 10 years to speak out?” Such incidents are generally seen as a revenge of a jilted partner, rather than a bona vide case of rape or sexual assault.

From a six-month child to a 60-year-old woman, sexual abuse/violence has increased exponentially. It shows how frustrated our people are! As a by-product of the #MeToo movement, Union minister Maneka Gandhi has recently announced that the government is considering increasing the time limit for lodging a complaint for child sexual abuse to 30 years. This kind of announcement was made in the month of February too but nothing happened.

Unlike a rape case or sexual harassment case against a woman, a case of child sexual abuse cannot be registered if it happened before the year 2012, when protection of children from sexual offences (POCSO) Act was passed. 

In case the amendment is passed, children, who could not raise their voice against the culprit when they suffered silently, can register their cases. But it would certainly be difficult to prove considering that the sexual offence took long time back. Even if it happened in front of some people or there were some witnesses, they may back out or may not be enthusiastic to give a statement because of the delay in reporting.

In such circumstances, the victim shall never be able to recover from the stigma he or she faces in the society. Not only this, he or she may not come forward to help others, who might have gone through similar trauma, in front of them. They may not be willing to help as witnesses as no one supported them when they needed help. Raising a voice and getting the culprit punished are two different things. Since, the culprit never got punished due to lack of evidence, it may encourage him or her to continue doing it with others, thinking that he or she would never be punished.

A recent study conducted by the ministry of women and child department shows that 53 per cent of the surveyed children had undergone sexual abuse at some point of time in their life. This survey was done way back in 2007. Since then, the number of reported cases of child rape has increased by 151 per cent. 

Even now, 90 per cent of the cases go unreported as in 85 per cent of the cases the culprit is a close member of the child’s family or is within the safety circle of the child. Even if the child tells his/her parents, they don’t believe or ignore what is being told, thinking it may disparage the family’s reputation.

As far as women are concerned, they have been suffering since ages. Things might have become a little easy after sexual harassment of women under workplace Act was passed. But men continue to exploit women, thinking they are submissive.

The #MeToo movement is a work in progress. If a man thinks that he is superior, being a male or even if he is in a supervisory position and he can go to any extent with a woman, then this movement at least shall give strength to her to raise her voice immediately. The movement also questions our own normalization of harassment. Even the strongest of us has looked at abuse as inevitable or as an occupational hazard. 

Of course, women don’t speak up for fear of spoiling their career. But the time has come to question the male-dominated society and go against the things that we have considered to be a norm in society.

While Maneka Gandhi and Smriti Irani have supported the movement, it will be interesting to see how the government acts in the case of M J Akbar. The government till the time of writing has maintained silence. Even Sushma Swaraj ignored the questions asked by the media relating to the allegations. But this may go against its reputation.

So far, the Modi government takes pride in saying that women hold portfolios like defence and external affairs. It will be a mere tokenism if the government does not take any action in the wake of multiple allegations against Akbar. The least could be constituting an inquiry and asking the minister to resign immediately.

And the least we as general public can do is to respect the victims by not shaming or questioning them.

(The writer, a company secretary, and can be reached at jassi.rai@gmail.com )

(Published on 22nd October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 43)