More often than not, it takes uncomfortable words to break uncomfortable silences. With a country like ours, it perhaps takes a lot more. After all, we are used to sliding off our dirt under the carpet. But, a new truth seems to be emerging in India alongside the #MeToo movement. It is not a pleasant truth to hear, of course, but nonetheless, it is entirely welcome and needed.
So, what has the #MeToo movement done? For starters, although we knew it already, the initiative made many people see the exact gravity of the problem we face today. The problem that women of this country encounter every day, but are simply asked to “not go out out at night” or “wear appropriate clothes” in response. If only that could actually change the brooding predatory behaviour of a great section of men we come across. I say “great section”, because #NotAllMen, right? Just enough to make every single woman think twice before she heads out anywhere, before she gets inside an auto, before she talks to a stranger, sometimes even to a family member, before she does almost anything. But again, #NotAllMen. Right?
What is #MeToo?
The hashtag “MeToo” got popular in October 2017, acting as a platform for women to speak against forms of sexual harassment they have faced, especially at workplace. The movement spread like a wildfire soon after the allegations of sexual assault on Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein were unleashed. It acted as a powerful blend of solidarity, empowerment and empathy for any woman who had gone through a similar experience, at any point of time in life.
Within days, countless women had flooded the social media, sharing accounts of their personal brushes with harassment- be it Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Many who chose not to disclose their stories, simply wrote “#MeToo”.
How the movement came to India
Back in 2017, when the movement was spreading around the world, it also made its way over to India. Women from everyday spheres of life were coming forward and sharing their stories, many stood in solidarity. The movement also became a way for many men to talk about their own experiences of being harassed.
Presently, India is going through what can be referred to as “the second wave” of #MeToo, for the lack of a better phrase. In the beginning of October, 2018 the movement once again came to light- prominently so, when the Bollywood actress, Tanushree Dutta called out Nana Patekar for sexually harassing her a decade ago. What followed was an endless string of more and more women coming up with their stories, each saddening, raising goosebumps.
#MeToo: A look at the current scenario
When Dutta accused Patekar, he denied the allegations, even hinting at taking police action. Around the same time, other professions were also jolted up from sleep, with women’s accounts of harassment at the hands of famous comedians, movie directors, journalists.
Utsav Chakraborty, a former comedian from the famous group AIB was accused of harassment by multiple women, some of them even underage. The group later issued an apology, removing all videos starring Utsav from their account, till an uncertain period of time. Vikas Bahl, director of the movie, Queen, was accused of harassment by a former employee of Phantom films- the banner under which Bahl produced his films. Later, actress Kangana Ranaut also talked about her own experience with Bahl when he had made her highly uncomfortable.
The veteran actor Alok Nath has been accused of rape by a woman from the industry. While he continues to deny the allegations, other women have also come forward, referring to him as an alcoholic who harassed women. Chetan Bhagat, the famous Indian writer has also been accused by a woman of making unwanted advances at her. The former has issued a public apology, stating that he had felt a strong connection, and had misread the situation.
While countless other names continue to creep up, almost every day, the biggest name perhaps is that of MJ Akbar, the former journalist and present day Union Minister. Multiple women journalists, mainly Priya Ramani, Ghazala Wahab and Saba Naqvi have mentioned how Akbar was a predator in the newsroom, preying on young journalists, usually fresh off into their career. Allegedly, his reputation with women was well-known; at the time when he was associated with Congress, as well as the time he joined BJP. While MJ Akbar has outrightly denied the allegations, also filing a criminal defamation charge against Ramani, latest developments have kept some hopes alive for the female journalists. On October 17th 2018, Akbar had to step down from his post of a Union Minister, following the massive amount of accusations.
What have we been doing wrong?
An important thing to note in Tanushree Dutta’s case is, as soon as she accused Patekar, a series of criticism followed. But, here’s the twist: the criticism wasn’t for Nana Patekar, but for Dutta. Her social media handles were spammed with hate messages, people on and off the web called her out, calling her story a lie. Many even went ahead and pointed fingers at her profession and the “controversial” roles she has played in the past. As if, whatever characters she played translated into a “go ahead” for anybody to make sexual advances at her.
Hers isn’t the only case where a women decided to share her story, only to be met with disbelief and hateful remarks. There are women who put false molestation charges on men, understood. But, here is what’s wrong with our present approach:
- Look at the stats for the number of women who get molested in India, every day. Now, look at the number of false accusations. Simple mathematics and common sense would tell you which one is a more likely probability.
- Almost every woman knows she will be subjected to continuous questioning, endless people trying to discredit her story. If something is still compelling her to come forward and share, you need to rethink your perspective.
The “MeToo” movement has been powerful and effective in the sense that, it has brought to light the true faces of many powerful men in the country. Many of them are idealised, looked up to by several people. In the case of MJ Akbar, for example, most of the women who have shared their experiences regarding him have mentioned how they used to be among his faithful fans.
The movement has given many the courage to come forward, some after years of silence. In Dutta’s case, she had accused Patekar 10 years ago as well, but it had gone unheard. This time too, she was met with more criticism than empathy. And perhaps, that is something we need to seriously ponder over. If the accused are given the benefit of doubt, why not the victims? Believing the women who come up, does not mean we are moving towards a “man-hating” world, like many would like you to think. We are only moving towards a more empathetic one.
Those who say “Why now? Why didn’t she come forward years ago, when it happened?”, here’s your answer:
Only the survivors have the right to decide when they feel safe enough to share their story, if they do so at all. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed, if her rights had been violated then, her account remains just as valid now.
The next time you or anybody else says #NotAllMen- true. Not all men, but #EnoughMen.