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With #MeToo are women looking for attention? No, they are not! So, better support and stand by them to report. Let justice reign after a fair investigation.
A little more than a decade ago, when I was still in law school, I had to make a presentation on the case ‘Vishakha and Others Vs. the State of Rajasthan.’ This assignment gave me the initial understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace. This judgement was what paved the way for ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.’
Another of the many enactments which are on paper with an intent to improve women’s safety, but rarely get implemented. Let alone having an inquiry panel to look into a complaint of sexual harassment, often there isn’t even a proper complaint cell, to report the case of harassment. The unnecessary notion of shame and the general attitude of victim blaming, only add to the woes of the victim. Often to escape further harassment many women refrain from reporting the crime.
Another major reason is that a harasser in most cases is a person in a position of power, which he uses effectively to intimidate the victim further. The sexual harassment case against former Director General of TERI R.K. Pachauri grabbed a lot of headlines. But the case also highlights the reality of how the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace is dealt with in reality.
It was the survivor who had aspersions raised on her. In fact, with the investigation still in progress, Mr. Pachauri was appointed as the executive Vice Chairmen of TERI. Though later due to protests over this unjust move, he was sent on a paid leave by the organization. The survivor resigned from her job at TERI for no fault of hers.
In this case, the FIR was filed in 2015 and after nearly a 3-and-a-half-year long battle; finally, the Saket Court ordered framing of charges against the accused. Here the victim showed, exceptional bravery by coming forward, but it is not often that a woman prepares herself to face the fire. Specially in a country like ours where the social set up and the environment is conducive to the abuser.
But not reporting an incident of harassment does not end the pain. In fact, it only gets deeper. So, in a way, the #METOO movement on social media has come as a blessing in disguise for women. There finally was a platform, where you could vent the pain, let the world know the truth without being interrupted or asked to stop and keep mum before she’s even done speaking.
The movement which became viral in October 2017 created a storm in the United States of America, with the sexual misconduct cases against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein coming to the fore.
India saw the serious beginning of the #ME TOO movement last month with actress Tanushree Dutta, coming forward to talk about the sexual harassment she was subjected to by actor Nana Patekar, during the shoot of a film in 2008. Though she did not do it through her Twitter handle, it did encourage plenty of other women to use social media as the platform.
But unlike the USA, the instant reaction here was to brand Ms. Dutta as an attention seeker. People went all out to say how pained Nana Patekar must be with the allegations. Some even said, she is an actress, so she has no business complaining about inappropriate touch or harassment. Sadly, this included women as well. Are people so myopic, as to not see what is acceptable professional behavior and what is not? So, what if she is an actress with a supposed glamorous image, it does not mean she has to put up with any form of harassment or behavior which makes her uncomfortable.
People conveniently failed to notice that this woman spoke the same narrative that she did a decade ago. In fact, she even filed a police complaint then. So obviously, it’s not a figment of her imagination. I do agree the allegations need to be investigated, but simply arriving at a conclusion just because it’s a senior male actor who is being accused and she had the audacity (sarcasm alert) to do that, a slander campaign should not be launched against her. Though a lot of prominent men and women from the film industry did come in support of her, the slander campaign and maligning of her character continuous.
The one good thing to have happened as a result of Tanushree Dutta’s brave move is that Pandora’s box has been opened. The real face of several prominent men is out in the open. Director Vikas Bahl, comedian Utsav Chakraborty, singer Kailash Kher, lyricist Vairamuthu, union minister M J Akbar, writer Chetan Bhagat, celebrity consultant Suhel Seth, actor Alok Nath-the sanskari bapu ji of Bollywood have all been accused of sexual harassment by women.
In most cases, the act was committed in the course of work or employment. This list only seems to be growing every day. While the women who have come forward to share their harrowing and traumatic experience need to be lauded and supported, there is hardly that happening. The volley of questions is the same, why after all these years? Why are only prominent men being targeted? Are women hunting for attention? To all those asking such questions, I just have one thing to say, nobody likes to bring back bitter episodes from the past for gains. The only reason a person does is to get over the pain.
You ask why after all these years; the answer is the negativity you subject the victim too. A lot of them did bring up the cases as and when they happened but were instantly hushed up. The power threat of everything being destroyed is indeed scary especially when the person issuing it is in a position of control and power.
Now there is a platform, so they are seeking their justice, they were denied earlier. In fact, there have been several cases were the repulsive acts of the accused were ignored by men around them. These were people who had the opportunity to set things right but decide against questioning the toxic masculinity that the accused displayed. Almost all of these accused men have denied their allegations and have claimed this is being done to tarnish their reputation.
A good number of them have taken the defamation threat route to intimidate the victim. They instantly have a motley of sympathizers, who leave no effort to launch a vilification campaign against the victim. But this time the women have come to the forefront that they are not going to let this die down. As it has been seen in the case of Vikas Bahl and Alok Nath, several of their industry colleagues have come forward to say their vile behavior and the latter’s alcoholism were an open secret. So instead of simply trashing the allegations, because the society wants to remain in denial, strong investigation and punishment of the accused is the need of the hour.
This campaign brought to forth the fact that when a woman decides to break the shackles and take things in her hands, there is no stopping her. The least we as women folk can do is not participate in the slugfest, not join the others in vilifying her. When you see another woman facing harassment stand by her, give her the strength to come up and report.
To all the men there, who have been ranting, these recent episodes have made them scared of interacting with women, even you know these were not mere incidents of interaction. No, a mere compliment or invitation for a coffee will not end up with you getting labelled a sexual harasser, but how you communicate the compliment or how and when you extend the invite for coffee matters.
Please, no woman has to accept vile and sleazy behavior irrespective of her profession. Frankly, if only those saying women are abusing their power here only understood it is a good opportunity to bring hidden perpetrators to the fore. Why? even men could come forward with their #Metoo stories, male victims are even more neglected, rather than panning this campaign lets encourage it as it is only cleansing our society.
For plenty of women in India, a life beyond the realm of their homes is a far-fetched dream. The few who manage to step out, do it with a lot of difficulties. There are already a plenty of battles they are fighting every day. The least that can be done is, ensure them safe workplaces.
Instead of shaming and vilifying them for naming the perpetrator, help ensure a fair investigation. Just because a person is successful in his field, does not absolve him of his mistakes. By thinking of how to save our boys from accusations, we are only propagating misogyny. As we celebrate these nine days of stree shakti, let’s pledge to encourage the shakti of the stree around us. Let us tell her, she will get the justice she seeks.
Image source: a still from the movie Gulaabi Gang
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