For far too long, Indian women have been conditioned to remain silent to avoid disturbing the status quo. Yes, there are rapes and sexual assault cases every day and yes, there is an outrage for selective rape cases that jolts the nation but apart from that, we women are expected to keep quiet and accept that India is safe because there are some countries that are even worse than India. Years of systematic conditioning to silence, oppress, discriminate, and abuse women have normalized ‘rape culture’ in India. However, in 2018 October, Indians, especially on twitter, were taken up by a storm. India was witnessing its #MeToo movement.
Let’s Go Back In Time
It began in October 2018, with multiple women coming out with their stories of sexual abuse, harassment, rape and, misconduct. This can be considered a watershed moment in Indian history. Women named and shamed their abusers, most of whom held powerful positions in their respective fields including politics, Bollywood, journalism, and media. Despite the anticipated backlash, hate messages, and the taboo attached to being a victim, women in large numbers came out with their accounts of harassment and abuse.
Considering that our society is keen on victim-blaming, the accusers, in most cases were scrutinized, their accounts were falsified and they often were at the receiving end of trolls, hate and abuse. Some women were also accused of destroying men’s careers and others were blamed for their timings. There were more claims that deemed the survivors as ‘attention-seeking’ women who only did it to get some fame.
However, despite the pushback from ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ as well as society in general, it was empowering to see women daring to report their accounts publicly. Some women wished to remain anonymous because of the obvious consequences that could hurt them personally and professionally but some who dared to go public with their stories faced dire consequences.
Women named and shamed their abusers, most of whom held powerful positions in their respective fields including politics, Bollywood, journalism, and media. Despite the anticipated backlash, hate messages, and the taboo attached to being a victim, women in large numbers came out with their accounts of harassment and abuse.
It wasn’t as if #MeToo was a sudden rage that blew up in an instant. It was the years of oppression and abuse that was built up, which had finally cracked. Even some of the men who were named in the movement didn’t prove to be a shocking revelation. This is because, for years, there existed what is called as ‘whisper networks’. They are informal channels of information that are passed between women containing names of (mostly) powerful men who are known to be sexual harassers or abusers. Hence, in a lot of cases the behavior of the accused men was already known to the people around him and yet, it was neither questioned nor stopped.
Implications of #MeToo
#MeToo movement in India had both a positive as well as a negative impact on the work culture. It began an open conversation about what inappropriate behavior and harassment constitute. It forced companies and institutions to introspect, constitute Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) and follow the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, also known as POSH law.
In a few companies, the number of registered complaints under the POSH law also spiked. It was a positive indicator that women are now comfortable and aware of their rights to complain against sexual harassment. Also, more registered complaints meant that women trusted their companies to ensure a proper redressal mechanism. Most importantly, men were being called out for their behavior, even if they were not proven guilty (lack of evidence/proper trial).
Granted that online trial of any case especially sensitive cases of sexual harassment and rape is an ineffective and inefficient way but, the #MeToo movement that began on social media firstly and most importantly provided the women a platform to report their accounts. This clearly reflected the failure of the justice system that discourages women to approach them via proper channels. It also gave women a sense of safety by being anonymous while reporting their cases. Thirdly, it provided the resource and support to women who wanted to report their incidents but couldn’t.
Although it was a movement that empowered women to speak up, retaliation against the patriarchal mindset comes at a cost for women. In a few cases, women faced direct attempts of assault and intimidation by the accused. They also faced problems while finding work and were tagged as ‘trouble-makers’, sometimes boycotted for speaking out.
Granted that online trial of any case especially sensitive cases of sexual harassment and rape is an ineffective and inefficient way but, the #MeToo movement that began on social media firstly and most importantly provided the women a platform to report their accounts.
Meanwhile, in the case of Priya Ramani, MJ Akbar slapped a defamation case against her that is being challenged in the court. While a sexual harassment case against ex-Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was presided over in the court by a committee that included Gogoi himself, and unsurprisingly he was acquitted of the charges. In many other cases, even men who had serious charges of rape walked scot-free due to lack of evidence or due procedure.
Recently, a journalist from Quint, Meghnad Bose, was awarded one of the most prestigious awards in journalism, the Ramnath Goenka Award. In October 2018, there were many colleagues and batchmates who accused him of harassment, he apologized for his behavior and while Quint issued a statement about conducting an investigating the matter, there have been no clarifications thus far. While some batchmates of Bose from Xavier’s, as well as other concerned individuals, reached out to the Quint for an update on the case against Bose. However, there have been no clarifications yet.
Impact on Women
It is a sad reality that the majority of women in India have either been abused, harassed or know someone who has been a victim and yet there is silence and taboo attached to the subject. In the kind of society we live in, it takes a lot of strength for women to speak up about the abuse they face and when they do speak they are subjected to societal pressure, victim shaming, abuse, character assassination, intimidation, etc.
India as a society is obsessed with protecting its ‘culture’ that systematically excludes women from the power structure yet makes them the safe keepers of the culture. Apart from being responsible for their own ‘dignity’, they are also responsible for protecting the family’s honor hence they are made to keep silent on anything that violates the sanctity of being a woman.
The fear of being ousted or being labeled as a troublemaker also discourages women to name their abusers. On top of that, the lack of support, the harassment, and the ordeal of going to courts and reliving the trauma prove to be more taxing for the survivor than it is for the abusers. The survivors often face psychological trauma after an assault and when the accusers are celebrated and respected in society, it could be triggering for the survivor.
Featured Image Source: WPMU