Half a million people responded to a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano within 24 hours of her asking anyone who has ever been ‘sexually harassed or assaulted’ to reply to her post, she wanted to demonstrate the scale of the problem and thus was born the most successful and the most scary movement of our time – #Metoo. In the week since, there has been a flurry of posts leveling acquisition against many high profile men in entertainment, politics, academics, business and in social life. Last autumn a watershed moment in the history of mankind happened with painful revelation and in less than a year, victims from all over the world .. of all genders, social and economic background have come out with their horrific stories, each one more painful and daunting than the previous. Ever since Tanushree broke her silence on her agony.. spotlight of sorts have got fixed on the issue, at least in the Indian context .. many have come forward too with their stories implicating some very senior, accomplished and respected people. The tainted names include journalists, writers, politicians, businessmen, actors, directors, singers, music composers – in short, it is profession agnostic.
We grew up learning that humans are social animals .. we are however reminded that it is not true for all of us, some of us, are just animals dressed as humans. We live, learn and grow together but that does not necessarily make us alike. Many among us are predators, cold-blooded criminals … with a crooked sense of belonging and we surely did not need a #MeToo movement to know this for a fact. Crime against women both physical and sexual in nature are brazenly normalized in our society. I wrote an article on 7th Jan 2017, titled “Crime Against Women – Why?”
Liking it here (http://www.lavkush.co.in/2017/01/crime-against-women-why/ ). I won’t repeat what I wrote back then .. but would say that in that article I tried dealing with the “why” part of it and in my own limited way suggest “what” could perhaps be a remedy. Oppression of women, inequality and organized injustice to the gender has a long condemnable history which has been kept under tight covers carefully by those in power .. occasional whispers have always surfaced but nothing to the tune of what is happening now. Silence is no longer a companion to the atrocities .. Skeletons are falling off the closet people are making conscious effort to stir the still waters .. and I couldn’t be happier to know that the truth is coming out, finally. Newspapers are tired of carrying the dead weight of rapes happening across the length and the breadth of our country, it is not merely a coincidence that what is the political capital of India is also the rape capital of the largest democracy of the world.
“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” for the longest time I’ve resisted this philosophy because as a thinking individual I have firmly held that neutrality is the key unless we distance ourselves from the extremes we can’t make a fair assessment or an objective evaluation of the situation. When you subscribe to a certain viewpoint .. you tend to give it preference. But recent developments have shaken that belief a little bit… Look at the names that have come to the fore, MJ Akbar, Pachori, Nana Patekar — these are all, educated, successful, wealthy, politically connected and thus powerful men.
Power must have had a role to play in this. We will come back to the power and some of the other elements that I think are causing these but before we get there I’d like to address the elephant in the room which has to do with trivializing the incident because it is being reported late or by someone who isn’t seen perhaps as a credible figure. And I’m picking this up from an incident that happened to me at the Bangalore airport, I was returning to Hyderabad after a fulfilling day at work and was one among 100 other people who had queued up in the line for security check. I was talking to my mother on the phone in Bhojpuri ( 2nd most popular dialect of Bihar, Magahi is the most spoken one. I’m fluent in both. if you happen to know someone from my home state who says Maithili is the most popular .. you should just ignore that person because .. it is not true) was louder than my usual self because I carry an Airtel SIM card and if you do too you’d know that sometimes speaking louder is the only way to send your voice over to the other side. The gentleman standing behind me .. asked me politely if I was from Bihar .. I responded happily and in a hurried manner, we completed the first 3 questions .. which part of Bihar .. why here .. and how traveling is a pain etc and went back to minding our own businesses. That is when another gentleman wrecked the topic of Tanushree Dutta’s indelicate commentary on Nana, the actor most of us love. I was quietly listening while also surfing through my Twitter timeline. He said that Tanushree is trying to defame Nana to grab limelight which she has lost long back, the person added how her career was nearly over and if it wasn’t for this controversy none of us would even talk about her and then another friend of his pulled out a video from YouTube of one of her songs in which she is seen getting comfortable with Imran Hashmi in a scene that is clearly written to flame passion. The person based his argument on her openness in the song and her being out of work to suggest that it was all false. Nana should file a case against her and how media should ban her etc. A few unparliamentary comments were also made with a few gross remarks on women in the entertainment industry.. at this point, I felt obligated to interject. I wanted to say very many things not all in polite tone but maintaining how unimportant their beliefs were to me and that the setting wasn’t suitable for an argument .. I just said that Tanushree hasn’t denied filming that scene .. it had her consent and therefore she isn’t voicing displeasure on that incidence but the other one in which she felt violated by Nana. I also said that it would have been wonderful if she made her telling to form an FIR back then .. but then truth is not perishable and therefore is not guided by the limitation of expiration. if what she is saying is correct .. she can say it now, a decade later even a century after the incident. Doesn’t matter all that much. Dignity is everyone’s right .. no matter what they wear, how they talk, which part of the world they come from or how they make their money or their gender for that matter.. while I was making my argument I got to the yellow line, which meant that I had to cross over, allow the security personnel to go about his business .. I collected my belonging from the conveyer .. thanked the CISF jawan and walked towards my boarding gate. Telling myself that idiots like those come in the way of creating equitable society and then .. boarded .
By means of this article, I’m not trying to sit in judgment on what happened. I think due constitutional process should decide punishment after free and fair investigation & trail, hurling accusation doesn’t make someone a criminal. Civil society maintains that unless proven otherwise no one is guilty and certainly not of a crime that can’t be substantiated by hardcore evidence and facts. Those being accused are also equal citizens and deserve to be heard .. we know the legal process and we also know how difficult it is to prove a dirty look or an inappropriate touch. In all likelihood, 95% of criminals will walk free leaving the victim sore, ridiculed and perhaps more melancholic. It is sad, and the order of the day .. but does that make #MeToo inconsequential, certainly not.
In many bold and meaningful ways .. this social media campaign has done three important things which will bring about positive change. Let’s not forget all historic changes have had similar revolutionary past ( not the sexual oppression but people voicing against injustice), from voting rights for women in the US to the most recent abolishment of triple talaq, allowing women the legal right to enter places of worship like Haji Malang Dargah in Bombay , Shani Signapur temple in the west, also the Sabarimala temple visiting rights. Injustice .. needs united voices and therefore I say, this movement will not go to waste. It won’t be the Lokpal Andolan.
Coming back to the three things.
Unite voices for meaningful change: This movement gave the weak voice, the Internet got people together, amplified the concern to the right tune. It gave people the belief and courage needed to feel for one another. I salute all of those who have come out, it wouldn’t have been easy.
Detailed narration to change behavior: Victims have literally re-lived the horror in documenting what is it that they had to go through. It serves the twin purpose of alerting others of being mindful of such advances at the same time give those who would like to arrest situations like this enough details to formulate policies and encourage social norms to make our society a better place.
The power of culture: Over 95% of these incidences have happened at the place of work, which underlines the need to re-look at the culture that makes and feeds such monsters. Balancing of power, holding people accountable and creating an open environment which encourages people to blow the whistle is needed.
Harassment is born out of inequality either of real terms or of perceived value. Low self-moral fed by fear is the key reason why victims did not react right at the very first move that the predator made, in my view; reasons could range from economic liability to the desire to succeed in career to lack of support or an understanding or one being an introvert personality trying to avoid confrontation.
It is upon us to create a just society, one which is based on respect, one that doesn’t violate personal space, one that does not believe that the weaker is to be exploited carelessly. We have to encourage people to speak .. tell their stories .. if needed provide them with security, not just emotional but also financial and legal to enable them to live a dignified life.
If you let someone walk over you .. you are guilty of not protecting your own dignity.
I render my support to every victim and offer my apologies on behalf of all from my gender. May you win!!