India is witnessing the crucial change where a few women courageously came out with their experience of sexual harrassment they have faced at their work placeand shared with the hastag #MeToo on the social media. Though, their number is small, yet the movement is reaching and spreading out. Still, what is being shared is just the tip of iceberg. There are many hidden untold stories of violence that women in male-dominated societies face day in day out. Yet, these few narratives which came out from the hidden corners have shaken the patriarchy to its core.
The response of male dominated state as well as society reveals that the power dynamics continue to operate while the politics of victim blaming and under-positioning women survivors of violence remain, yet, one of the fall out of the MeToo movement is that the women’s concerns are making space in the prevailing autocratic, authoritarian and tyrannical environment. This movement is crucial because of its timing. This is a period when the fundamentaliststate and the fascist majoritarian society, both are acting to further oppress women.Crime against women is on increase and the politics behind rapes that took place in Kathua, Unnao, Mandsaur and other places are reversing the gains made in the field of gender equality or empowerment. The conflict between the progressive and liberal ideas with that of regressive patriarchal values is making adverse impact on the rights of women. This is evident in the matter relating to women’s entry into the Sabrimala temple where despite of the Supreme Court verdict to allow the females of any age to enter the place of worship, protestors including priests are not allowing women to go inside the temple. The stateseemingly is surrendering before the powerful patriarchal forces.
Whether the Sabrimala temple entry issue or the concerns relating to MeToo movement, the bureacratic as well as the legal system is failing to provide space to women to assert their rightsor to fight against the patriarchal forces. In the current regressive environment it is significant that women’s agency and choices find space and the movement such as MeToo facilitate such informal support system and provide a platform where women’s voices could be raised. It is different from the top-down campaigns initiated by the State and aims to change men’s behaviour rather than expecting women to learn to deal with violence committed by men. Such movements have potential to change the notion of sex, power and consent in a male-doimnated society. MeToo is about women making space in a toxic male-dominated work environment. The need is to expand and strengthen this movement further.
Violence is Pervasive
Violence against women and more particularly, sexual harassment is pervasive in public as well as in private spaces. Women in patriarchal society are being harassed everyday in one form or the other at the public places. They are being stalked, groped,bullied, flirted with, are targetted with unwanted jokes, lewd comments are being passed so on and so forth, many forms of unwanted harassment takes place day in and day out where perpetrator could be a stranger or an acquaintance.
Frequently, in the post-colonial India, when women because of their newly founded education and aspiration are venturing out to work, in a polarised, layered, hierarchical society, men could not accept the fact that women are asserting for equality or are competing with them. When on the one hand women are struggling to forge a new identity of their own, men are not ready or willing to create space for women. The patriarchal attitude still considers women as someone
secondary’ as anappendage’ to men and is someone who could not fit into the male dominated workspaces. Women are therefore not being treated as
colleagues’ orpartners’ in workplaces. The `old-boys’ network continue to prevail. Violence against women at the workplace arise the due to such culture where sexism and misogyny operate to subjugate women.
Irony is that at the work place, it is not the perpertrators who were told to stop rather it is the victims who are being told “not to make harassment an issue” in order to preserve their careers and reputations. Paradoxical is that it is not the perpetrators that are being shamed for their violent actions rather for years women victims and survivors have been stigmatised and are forced to face the wrath of the society. The feudal conservative patriarchal mindset of the society makes joke about women and takes women’s concern in a non-serious manner as often narcissistic men cannot tolerate women competing with women. The culture of silence is build around the violence which prevents many women to lodge their complaint. Often, cases are brushed under the carpet creating a culture of complicity. MeToo is against this culture of silencing women.
And more specifically in cases relating to sexual harassment at work place, women earlier had no distinct platform until the Supreme Court pronounced the guidelines in the matter of Vishakha versus the State of Rajasthan. The Prevention of Women Against Sexual Harassment Act was enacted only in 2013 after much pressure and sustained camapign by the progressive women’s movement. Yet, still, any act of violence against women are not being taken seriously even by the law makers and implementers. Accusing the victim or victim blaming is a common practice which is being used even by the legal system to crush the voices of women. The police stations and courts are hostile to women victims and survivors. The delay and the struggle in the adjudication in the matter relating to Rupen Deol Bajaj versus KPS Gill is a perfect example as to how even the educated urban working women have to face a long challenging battle to obtain justice. Many of such cases show that the legal system has failed women and that the culture of violence with impunity is prevalent inside and outside the court rooms.
Though the laws have been enacted, yet the perpetrators of violence often go scot free. The patriarchal courts are much more sympathetic to male perpetrators of violence and used to find technical faults or procedural lacunae to support the accused persons. In fact, the legal system is geared to cater to the whims of patriarchy. From the famous Mathura rape case to Bhanwari Devi’s rape matter and the judgement delivered by the High court and the Supreme Court in the Farooqui rape case, all depict that the regressive patriarchy is intensly ingrained and deeply embedded. At times, instead of penalizing the abuser, the process of trial in the courts becomes another process of victimization of victims of crime.
Experiences, for years, show that coming out with the complain against powerful abusive men is not an easy process. In fact, a recent survey shows that 78 percent women who face sexual harassment at work place did not report it. The data further shows that only 6.6 percent sexual harassment cases filed resulted in conviction. In the year 2016, there were 34,186 cases were filed of which police compleited investigation in 75 percent cases and filed chargesheet in filed in 67.3 percent cases sent for trial.
Patriarchy is Rampant
Often men or even the androcentric courts do not see women as consenting adults or persons with self-contained being adorned with rights as citizens. For men, it is difficult to understand the concept of consent. In fact, sexual assault or rape has been used as a weapons since ages to control, conquer and terrorize women. Susan Brownmiller in her famous work titled “Against Our Will” has argued that rape “is nothing more or less than the conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear”. Brownmiller opined that rape is primeval and ultimate act of subjugation where the rapist asserts his power with the urge to dominate.
Sexual assault is a weapon of force and an act of dominance, a principal agent of man’s will and a woman’s fear, a triumph of manhood and is easier to commit in situations where the aggressor has an advantage which persists due to structural domination such as feudalism, slavery, work, war or in custody situations where the victim could hardly resist and is overawed by the power and authority of the assaulter. Power is utilized or rather abused to create terror. Toxic masculinity is used as a weapon to humiliate the women – the vulnerable and the weak. Sexual assault is being used as a means of suppression as well as fordepicting power and supremacy. Men believe that they can do anything and can get away with it.Often, men believe that they are over and above the law. The institutions frequently support the predators and there is little women can do about it.
Breaking the Culture of Silence Around Violence
However, the movements such as Me_too are paving the way for the new hope to make a dent on the patriarchal, violent and androcentric culture which portrays perpetrators of violence as heros and celebrate the culture of silencing victims and shaming women. Me_Too is not a legal recourse of action but it is an action beyond law into the social realm anda complement to the legal process as it provides a platform where women can garner support from others against the powerful predators making the perpetrator accountable. Women no longer need to suffer silently or be told to keep quiet about the violence they have been facing in public or private spaces.
Initiated in 2006 by Black feminist activist Tarana Burke while she was working with poor Black young girls and women who were victims of sexual assault, this hashtag was used by Hollywood heroine Alyssa Milanoin 2017 when while sharing her own traumatic experience she invited other women to share their experiences openly on a public platform. This movement exposed many high profile educated people who were found to be involved in crime against women. It has shown that the power imbalance is universal and ubiquotous phenomenon.
Though it is a well known fact that men, poor or rich sexually assault women, but such action on the part of women to make noise about this issue made a dent on fragile toxic masculinity. Despite of the fact that the movement cannot stop the abuser to occupy the position of power in the US yet it created a storm and spread like a wild fire across various countries.
In India, in the year 2017 a list was posted on the social media by several women which was dumped as the vague list of allegations, however, in September 2018 one of the Bollywood actress posted her experiences of sexual assault and later several other too joined her. This movement exposed several well known names in the television and the film industry and later several journalists too shared their stories which revealed the manner in which the people in position of power abuse women and treat them as an object rather than as a human being.
One of the striking feature of MeToo movement is that women survivors have shown courage to come out openly and narrate their experiences while naming and shaming the harassers and bringing the incident under public scrutiny. Women are taking stand against the harassement they have faced and these survivors have shed the veil of anonymity while defying the stigma. This bold act to defy the power structure and dynamics by a woman against powerful men who were in position to harass and humiliate is encouraging other women too thus challenging the age-old power balance.The testimonies of women have opened the possibilities of debate and discussion around the issue of violence against women in the suffocating patriarchal environment. This movement is not only confined to elite sections of the society as alleged during its initial phase but it is reaching out and making impact in the far flung areas too.
The movement has send a strong message to the predatory male bosses, supervisors or pesky colleagues in the position of power and privilege who could not comprehend the meaning of word `consent’ or refuse to acknowledge the fact that women are to be respected as human beings. It is an innovative way to create space in the work spaces dominated by men. Men now need to think before making any vulgar untoward advances toward the female working under them and to control their libidos or the surge of the testosterone. MeToo movement has the potential to raise the consciousness regarding the notions of sex, power and consent in a conservative society. The movement is against the toxic oppressive environment and it has succedeed in placing onus on men for their actions of harassment. Over and above caste or class biases, this movement is more about gender equality and empowerment at the work spaces or the public places where men need to learn, un-learn and re-learn their behaviour towards women.
There are Many Untold Hidden Stories
MeToo in its present from represent only a tip of an iceberg. There are many hidden untold stories underneath in the deep dark corners. As women, many of us face violence on daily basis in public and private spaces. Those experiences have a cumulative effect on our being. Yet, only few narratives came out. Being on the sexual harassment committees and handling cases of women survivors of violence as a lawyer, I could connect the dots between many told and untold stories and could realize that it is not easy for women to bring up the cases against men easily in the public domain.
Yet, MeToo as such as has shaken the patriarchy to its core. MeToo is hurting the fragile toxic masculine ego. Many women are being trolled for coming out with the truth. In the culture where rape jokes, slut shaming and victim shaming is normalized and legitimized, this spur of a onslaught where women vocalised their traumatic experiences is felt as a jolt by men. Many men struggled to understand the concept of consent. Men could not understand this form of female uprising. For them it is inversion of power structure as they imagined a world in which women rule as men have ruled the women.
MeToo is a powerful collective voice of women against the patriarchal subjugation. Reading it as a ploy to point finger at one man or that it is subjective or any other form of backlash implies surrendering to the dictates of patriarchy because any form of violence against women cannot be seen as a man versus a woman issue. In the larger context, violence is a patriarchal issue.
Me_Too is Not a Man versus a Women Issue It is Women Versus Patriarchy
The response of media as well as of society towards the MeToo movement is divided. Many of those men and women, who express their opinion on the social media sites view MeToo as a man versus a woman issue. What is ignored while polarising MeToo as a man versus a woman issue is that this movement is not against a person by another rather it has to larger ramifications and has to be understood in the larger context. The need is to recognize the fact that any form of violence against women is embedded in patriarchal structure. It is in this male-dominated context that women are not alllowed to speak against violence or their voices are stuffled in case they dare to do so. Patriarchal conditioning is such that women are being trained to imbibe the culture of silence and tolerate violence. Me Too challenges this powerful dominating patriarchal violent structure.
Critiques of the Movement
Though several of the critics suggested that such public trials are devoid of procedural fairness and violate the basic sense of fair play, yet one of the advantage of such action is potential to change the prevalent culture of maintaining silence around the violence and to express anger, resentmentand frustration in the public domain. This expression of anger is significant as this is an anger which is expressed without any regret or repentance for being wronged, anger which has been boiling and bottled up for years and anger which could not find any other escape because there is no outlet.
Earlier, the frustrations of internalizing patriarchy or to submit to androcentric authority has no platform where it could be vent out without paying the heavy cost in terms of losing the job. But perhaps, now a platform is being made available. Though not many women feel comfortable using social media to vent out their anger against predatory colleagues or harrasers and those who tried are dubbed as trouble makers, yet there exist a possibility of sharing stories and garnering support.
This movement has to be seen in the wider context as it is not subscribing to the actions relating to unduly terminating someone from his job, lynching the person, or to subscribe to the undesirable or inappropriate media trial, yet such exposures could help make the dent on patriarchal violent culture. This is more about providing platform to the survivors to raise their concerns in a secure environment where the victim does not face insecurity of being a victim. Though here some of the disclosures by women of their traumatic experiences which they have been suppressing for years have resulted in apologies, resignations and initiating inquiries against the accused persons yet this movement has helped in creating an environment for debate and discussion around the issue of women’s consent and appropriate behaviour as well as respect towards women.
The Due Process Has to be Fair
The critics of the MeToo movement argued that the due process is not being followed in all such cases. However, what is overlooked is the fact that the due process requires certain basic set of principles to be followed by both the parties. It cannot be imposed unjustly on the vulnerable party in order to favour the powerful one.
Today, in situations when the powerful parties are playing the victim card trying to gain all the advantages it will be unfair to suppress the victims and survivors in such situations. For instance, in the given instance when around20 women spoke out against the Union Minister MJ Akbar, he hired one of the law firm which intentionally filed the vakalatnama with the names of 97 lawyers mentioned on it to file the criminal defamation case against one of those women. This vakalatnama has been widely circrulated on the social media. The intention of such melodramatic strategy is to clearly intimidate and prevent other women to speak out. It is a routine practice where the brute display of power is used within and outside the court room which the powerful perpetrators abuse their muscle and money power against the vulnerable victims. Criminal defamation law is used as a legalized weapon to the advantage of the perpetrator of the crime to silence and intimidate the women and to oppress the others.
In other cases too, such as the one against RK Pachauri, Phaneesh Murthy or Tarun Tejpal, or even when a judge is accused by a law intern and where all such accused personshave tried to delay the proceesings or manage the trial to their own gains, it is unfair that the survivor is being compelled to suffer because her case could not be fast-tracked because of the overburdened judicial system or because the courts and judiciary is patriarchal and masculine or because of any other lacunae in the legal system.
Not only in India, but at the global level, often, strategic legal weapons are used by the rich and powerful to inhibit public participation, threaten the parties, to delay and to make the litigants weary and withdraw the matter. Strategic Law Against Public Participation or SLAPP suits are filed to deploy the forces of law to silence the victims and the witnesses. It is a form of backlash used by the powerful sexual predators to enforce the culture of sexual oppression in a deeply entrenched gender divide and misogyny. To address such situations and to make the criminal justice system more victim friendly there is a need to re-examine the working of the system.
State is a Complicit
Also, it has been seen that the androcentric State often favours men.For instance, when this Me Too Movement started, the Ministry of External Affairs under which this Union Minister is working has not responded appropriately or issued any statement that an inquiry committee wil be established or any other step may be taken. Similarly, the Prime Minister who is known for his articulate skill of delivering speeches including Mann ki Baat and has not spoken a word on this issue. In fact, the brazen arrogant regime refused to initiate inquiry into the allegations and made futile attempt to turn it into an ugly political conspiracy issue.
Thus, it may be said that for ages, men have used all strategies and tactics to undermine the issue of sexual harassment and the state has been complicit in all such cases where women is victimized. Any voices raised are being hushed up using class, caste, gender, religion, or political ideology. The male sense of entitlement and supremacy is deeply entrenched that makes the culture toxic and when more and more women are entering the workplace, the fragile masculine ego is trembling with fear, because perhaps, for women the situation has changed but men need to undergo a massive reconstruction in terms of their understanding of the culture of respect for women.
The Moment in which the MeToo Movement Occur is Crucial
Further, the MeToo movement has been initiated during the period when the consevrative ideology is rising across the continents. In US as well as in many other countries including India, the right wing governments are at the center and pushing conservative set of beliefs. In India, the current government is pushing the Hindutva ideology that treat women as secondary citizens. Love-Jihad and other similar regressive measures are being adopted by the government to control and terrorise women.
The incidences of crime against women is on rise and rapes that took place in Kathua, Unnao or Mandsaur are reversing the gains made in the field of gender equality or empowerment. The girls in several schools, colleges and universities are raising their voices against the harsh rules and regulations being imposed on them. Raising voice against patriarchy during this period is crucial when a large number of girls and women are being raped, murdered and killed. The Hindu upper caste male supremacy is pushed while all other communities including women are being marginalized. The culture of violence and hate is being created against those who are considered as `Others’. In such a climate when fascism is at its peak, any form of resistance and defiance against conservative Brahaminical patriarchy become more significant to create spaces for democratic voices.
The conflict between the progressive and liberal ideas with that of regressive patriarchal values is making an adverse impact on the rights of women. This is evident in the matter relating to women’s entry into the Sabrimala temple where despite of the Supreme Court verdict to allow the females of any age to enter the place of worship, several right-wing protestors are not allowing women to enter the temple. The state, though duty bound, is seemingly surrendering before the powerful forces.
Whether the Sabrimala Temple entry issue or the concerns relating to MeToo movement, the bureaucratic as well as the legal system is failing to provide space to women to assert their rights. In such a regressive environment it is significant that women’s agency and choices find space and the movement such as Me_Too facilitate such informal support system and provide a platform where voices of women could be raised.
NO Means NO
The fight against misogyny needs to be fought at many fronts. MeToo has raised questions which are not addressed by law as yet. The law needs to provide solution for such issues. The law needs to classify different behaviours from sexual misconduct to sexual assault and is supposed to be amended to include punishments for such behaviours while dealing with the technicalities relating to limitations or the time in which one can report the cases under the law. Even otherwise, MeToo has raised a debate on general platforms about the new norms of behaviour. People are being forced to unlearn inherent patriarchal behaviour.
MeToo movement needs to be captured and expanded to travel to the small towns and villages where women could be encouraged to vocalize against the vast vulgar world of sexual exploitation which currently is going on unnoticed and unreported. Support groups need to formed at the local level where women in the moot corners may not feel isolated or alienated. The scope of MeToo movement could be enlarged so that it may outreach into the unorganized sector too besides enabling women in organized sector to raise their concerns and also from public life to private domains of home and from the circles of privileged classes to masses. This movement can raise the gender sensitivity and has the potential to spread the message that women’s consent is significant and that NO means NO.
MeToo Movement is the Revolutionary Measure Which can Bring the Desired Structural Changes
The Government of India had initiated Beti Bachao Beti Padhao movement, however the campaign could not succeed much as the crime against women increased since past four years. More girls and women are feeling unsafe probably because the top down campaign could not strike a deal with common people. But MeToo is a movement initiated by the survivors of violence, even though it has been said that these are mostly upper class elite educated women who are raising their concerns yet such approach could create more space for other women who may not have come forward to raise their voice.The focus on this movement is to raise consciousness and change the behaviour of men rather than forcing women to deal with the issue of violence or putting onus on women to learn techniques to avoid getting harassed.
MeToo is more about garnering friendship, solidarity, sisterhood, creating of such a large safe space that any survivor anywhere is able to speak up. It has forced the men to introspect their behaviour and to make women conscious of their rights.It is significant as it could bring change in the notions relating to sex power and consent within any relationship. This movement is a step towards the facilitating an environment where women’s rights, autonomy and dignity could be installed while enabling a gender sensitive environment within homes, workplaces or in public. Beyond social media or the courtrooms, the conversation has to be made at everyworkplace, public or private spaces to make dent on the structural patriarchal environment. MeToo shows that no power is absolute and that every change has a beginning.
The author is a practicing lawyer, researcher and an activist working in the field of gender, human rights, law and governance. She has written several books and articles and is handling cases pertaining to women’s rights, human rights and social justice. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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