Of late the Indian media is abuzz with stories of working women posting their experiences of harassment in work places and public settings. Big names in Bollywood industry, journalists, politicians are accused of sexual offences including the heinous ones like rape. Notable personalities like Nana Patekar, Alok Nath, MJ Akbar etc are finding it hard to explain their conduct towards women colleagues.
This started with actor Tanushree Dutta accusing Nana Patekar of harassment during shooting of a film way back in 2008. A cascade of allegations by several working women followed courtesy the twitter hashtag #MeTooIndia. Apparently, the social media has evolved as a great enabler for the women who are now able to converse with people from any part of the world and voice their concerns. Some argue that the need for something like The Me Too Movement has been there since time immemorial.
The Me Too Movement was founded not so long ago in 2006 by Tarana Burke in the USA. Her intentions were to help survivors of sexual violence. With an attention on coloured women from low income family, Burke aimed ‘’empowerment through empathy’’. She wanted survivors to know that they were not alone in the pathways to healing. The movement has come a long way since then. Now there is a large community of de-stigmatised survivors at the forefront of the movement who come from all parts of the world, from all walks of life. They indeed are making significant difference in the lives of victims in various parts of the world.
In India, The Me Too Movement started about a year ago in October 2017 as #MeTooIndia (as hash tag on twitter) where victims or survivors have narrated incidents and called out predators in power equations in workplaces and other similar settings. In short span of time this has become quit a movement towards ‘’sexual harassment’’ free society.
In response to this, several months ago, famous film personality Saroj Khan made a controversial statement ‘’what a woman wants depends on her, if she does not want to be a victim then she won’t be one. If you have your art, why would you sell yourself? Do not blame the film industry, it is what provides us our livelihood.” Perhaps she was referring to consensual relationship for professional gain in the form of ‘give and take’. Even if consensual, ethically this may not be correct.
Going by the narratives in cascade of allegations on the social media however apparently the incidents cited were extremely unlikely to consensual. In the event of rejection by the women, obviously there is no consent thus such incidents are serious crimes to be dealt by law enforcement agencies of the state. How a clear consent is elicited in power equation in formal work setting could possibly be a point of discussion.
India has a very robust legal framework to deal with such incidents. Even the consensual sexual relation with the subordinate has been criminalised. The protective mechanisms in the form of constitutional provisions, parliamentary legislations, case laws of superior courts, numerous national and state statutory commissions, special wings in police, etc have not been very effective so far in prevention of crime against women at work place and delivery of justice.
Perhaps part of the reason is failure of primary socialisation and education in instilling right values in men due to existing dominant patriarchal social ethos. There obviously is inability on part of some men to accept ‘no’ by the women as absolute full stop even in power equations of dominance. Perhaps there is lack of understanding and appreciation of ’consent’. Perhaps they should look for expression of sexuality outside work.
The Me Too Movement in India is certainly helping ‘name and shame’ sexual predators in work places. It has contributed in de-stigmatising survivors and offered them pathways to healing. However the ambit need to extend beyond articulate urban women. Media sensationalism notwithstanding, this has potential to contribute in gender equity. In short term, this shall definitely instil some fear among the prospective predators and act as deterrence. Compliance due to fear may not be ideal thing but second best possibly.
Author: Umesh Prasad
The author is an alumnus of the London School of Economics and a UK based former academic.
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