While sifting through my Instagram feeds, I accidently stumbled upon a weird video of the actress Rakhi Sawant in which she wears a chain and a lock around her waist. In the video, she mocks every other woman coming out with the stories of the sexual abuse suffered at the hands of men and disparagingly suggests women to wear a chain and a lock around their waists to save their honor. In an another video, she even invokes Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protect men from such women and says that even he might be wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. What she presents is a classic case of Male victimhood mirroring statements of the American president Donald Trump, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of…” which he made in response to Dr. Christine Ford’s allegation of sexual assault against his then Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh.
Current MeToo movement in India has exposed a few and frightened many. While there are still a very small number of women who have come up with their MeToo stories, a disturbing countertrend has emerged. Many people are trying to project the movement as against the whole Men Community. And on the social media platforms, jokes about the MeToo are trending innumerable times more than the movement itself. Where the first could be seen as a deliberate attempt to dissolve the movement which can perhaps unmask many predators; latter countertrend is definitely careless and insensitive as it normalizes the sexual assault. There are also a band of people who are trying to discredit the movement as an imitation of a similar movement in the west (which according to them) is arising not of genuine quest of change but out of inferiority complex. Besides being untrue, it is but pitiable that it doesn’t reduce the seriousness of it by an ounce. Much before MeToo started in the Hollywood, a small but similar series of event happened when a Malayalam actress was assaulted by a group of men allegedly hired by an actor Dileep. It only gained a momentum when Tanushree Dutta reinvigorated the debate when she repeated her 10 year old allegations of sexual assault against Nana Patekar. It is rather unsettling to know that she did so not to seek out justice from a hopeless system, except to make things clear from her side against the public slandering wetted out at her, for she was being asked about them in the interviews all the way in America.
What MeToo has brought in light is a pervasive nature of patriarchy and that is what makes it very important a movement. Women not only have an immense wage gap with men, they also have to go through string of abuses to get what is rightfully theirs. MeToo doesn’t include flirting and exchange of numbers as a form of sexual assault as some would like us to believe. MeToo may not even be about bringing the powers-that-be to justice for their crimes. It is about creating camaraderie amongst the survivors. It is about cautioning the young women entering the educational or professional fields about the preying men or just about the harsh reality of it. It is also, in parts, an attempt to scare the men that although they might not be brought to justice but would be shamed in public. It is a movement that seeks to question the whole system that infringes upon atleast four fundamental rights of women in general – right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, and right to constitutional remedies. It is also about questioning the conditioning that justifies the abuse to happen.
It is worthy to note a 2015 case in Australia in which an Indian man accused of stalking two women was able to escape the conviction by arguing that he was influenced by Bollywood movies. Should it really surprise us if India happens to be the most dangerous place for women? Misogynistic nature of Indian public is well displayed in its sex ratio (943 females on 1000 males). Reports suggest that every third woman in India has suffered sexual, physical (or both) violence at some point of her life and this comes out of paucity of data. It is imperative to note that both predators and survivors of these violence come from across political, religious, ideological, economical and professional lines. When women from positions and economically stable backgrounds come out with their stories, it not only shows just how much unsafe it is for them, it also hints at the larger picture of women from lower strata of the society. An NGO Sisters For Change has reported that around 60% of women have faced physical, verbal and sexual abuse in the factories. Many fear that the condition could be worse in the unorganized sector. Apart from violence, many women are often denied their wages in case any reporting of the violence is done. It explains the data from National Sample Survey Office [NSSO] which recounts the steep decline in Women’s Work participation in India. Between 1999-2000 (41.0%) and 2011-12 (32.2%) , around 21.46% of decline was observed, which particularly affected the rural women.
When people abuse the MeToo movement or make jokes about it, they automatically become complicit in the injustices being perpetrated against women. When women who have come out are called out Feminazis, it is nothing less than a vicious attempt at downplaying Nazism and vilification of justice seekers. It should be understood by all and especially those who say that MeToo shows the weakness of women, that it is not easy for anyone to come out no matter when they do; and it is equally challenging to recount the horror and to silently go through mental trauma of the abuse. It must also be understood that many women are still not able to come out for a variety of reasons and it in no way makes them coward.
Instead of cross-questioning the survivors or “alleged” survivors, real question should be asked from those who have been accused whether or not they have committed these heinous acts. It is not to suggest that all those who are accused are indeed complicit but in any conventional sense of justice, benefit of doubt should go to women because they are the ones who have been en-masse wronged against by every institutions for millennia. Ofcourse, no one should be convicted wrongly but to say that most women are abusing the movement for personal gains is destructive in nature.
Moreover, shouldn’t we as a society introspect ourselves for our fallacies? Shouldn’t we take a relook at all the conditioning that is done that legitimizes our misogyny? Shouldn’t film industry be held accountable for selling us the filth that legitimizes sexual assaults as fun? Shouldn’t we question the Superstars and singers for popularizing the songs that could easily be judged as disregarding the consent? Shouldn’t the questions be raised to those who hold sway about their silence and the reason of their aloofness from an issue that directly concerns half the humanity? MeToo may not solve the prevalent problem but it does raise many important questions.
Hanzala Aman is a political Columnist for HW News English. He has studied Agriculture Sciences and is currently pursuing M. Sc. Rural Technology and Development from the University of Allahabad. He freelances as a writer and translator.