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What is the result of speaking out against sexual misconduct? Justice? Empowerment? Equality? No. As Arjun Sarja’s criminal defamation case against Sruthi Hariharan shows, in this world, it is the victim who is accused of being the criminal.
With the #MeToo movement growing in India, we have been seeing women coming out and speaking against the injustice they have faced. Alongside, we also see powerful, arrogant men speaking against these empowered women and using their power to suppress them. So, the big question here, for how long will men use the victim card and their power to intimidate and defame women?
On 19th October, in a Facebook post, Actor Sruthi Hariharan alleged that multilingual South Indian Actor Arjun Sarja had behaved inappropriately under cover of a rehearsal. She said that he had pulled her close to him and had run his hand down her back without her consent.
Reacting to the allegation, actor Arjun Sarja denied Sruthi’s account of events and had threatened to file a defamation case against her, which he has gone ahead and done now.
Surprisingly, despite a few other women standing with Sruthi and backing up her statement, she was labelled the criminal. She was accused of misusing the #metoo movement, trolls hurled lewd comments at her, she was asked insensitive questions by many in the media and the icing on the cake is the defamation case filed by Arjun Sarja. As if labelling her as a criminal wasn’t enough, she was accused of being ‘anti-Hindu’ – although this sounds extremely bizarre, trust me, I am not making this up! In fact, Arjun Sarja’s media manager Prashanth Sampargi politicized the issue and called the Me Too movement anti-Hindu. “The Me Too movement in India is an anti-Hindu campaign designed to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a run-up to the 2019 election,” he claimed.
He made more bizarre allegations and claimed that Arjun was being targeted as he was planning to construct a Hanuman temple worth Rs 25 crore and that Sruthi had connections to communists in Kerala.
The Arjun Sarja and Sruthi Hariharan case has once again surfaced the issue of how men in power keep misuse criminal defamation charges to intimidate women, suppress them and shut their voices crying justice.
We know how hard it is for a woman to gather the courage to come forward in public with allegations of sexual violence, in a society which always considers the woman to be wrong. Women are often taunted with comments like “ladki to chote kapde pehanti hain, ladko ke sath ghumti hain, drink karti hain yahi badchallan hain” (She hangs around with men in short clothes, drinks…she is immoral) or the classic, ”If she was abused then why didn’t she speak up before, publicity stunt…“
Society’s response to most such allegations is to shame the victim while protecting the abuser. This is not the first defamation case against a woman who spoke up in the MeToo movement – recently, M.J.Akbar, the ex-Minister of state for External Affairs also filled a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani who accused him of sexual misconduct.
The MeToo movement in India was the start of a revolution which Indian men didn’t expect. These men in power didn’t expect that one day the women who they had considered weak will speak up against them and challenge their so-called reputation.
Fear, shame, and career progression issues were some reasons why women kept quiet for almost a decade, but the collective protest now has given them the courage to speak up. The #metoo movement is like wildfire, which has now caught and will continue to burn till it scorches all those who acted like predators.
No lewd comments, threats or defamation cases can anymore stop women from speaking up against any injustice. Women together – won’t be rattled or intimidated and now we’ll fight with a hope that justice will be done.
Images via various movie stills
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