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Don’t Ask Why Pallavi Gogoi Stayed Silent. Ask Why Men Assume Women Will

Posted: November 4, 2018

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In a first-person article in The Washington Post on Thursday, Pallavi Gogoi, a journalist who now lives in the United States alleged that former Union Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar raped her in 1994 when she worked with him at the Asian Age.

Another allegation of vile sexual misconduct, in fact, this time, rape, against MJ Akbar makes us wonder how far men in power will go to intimidate and abuse women.

In her article, Pallavi Gogoi, who is currently the Chief Business Editor of NPR, wrote that she was 22 when she joined the Asian Age, where Akbar was then the editor-in-chief.

She said that she was “learning from the best” but what followed was a horrific incident of sexual abuse, display of power and the culture of silence in workplaces. You can read the heartbreaking piece here.

Tolerate it, or have your career destroyed

This is not the first account of sexual misconduct against Akbar. Over the past month, Akbar has been accused of sexual harassment by at least 17 women journalists. He has rejected all the allegations and has initiated a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani, one of the complainants. On October 17, Akbar resigned from his post as minister.

With these horrendous revelations, the question to ask is not why women don’t speak up earlier – instead, what we should be asking is how organizations allow a culture where women feel like they cannot possibly speak up, where men threaten women in explicit and implicit ways about destroying their career in order to use them as sexual preys.

Gogoi recalls in her article how she was allegedly threatened by Akbar’s violent behaviour and pressurised into staying silent. Since ages men have been using their power to subdue women. Women don’t speak up because there is a fear that no one will believe them and in the majority of cases, this fear turns out to be right. This fear is what powerful men use to sexually assault women. Even if she does speak up, they’ll make up their own version of the ‘truth’ and amend things their own way because believe it or not, they do tend to rule the system that suppresses women.

“Why didn’t I fight him then?”

Pallavi Gogoi narrates how the whole incident made her feel ashamed about herself. She said how she couldn’t gather up the courage to speak up because of multiple, complex reasons.

“Why didn’t I fight him then? I was always a fighter in all other aspects of my life. I cannot explain today how and why he had such power over me, why I succumbed. Was it because he was so much more powerful than I was? Was it because I didn’t know how to handle a situation that I never imagined possible with someone who was not supposed to do that? or  Was it because I was afraid of losing my job? And how to explain that to my honest parents, who lived far away? I just know that I hated myself then. And I died a little every day.”

Like her, several women stay silent about sexual assault in workplaces either because they are intimidated by the perpetrator’s power, they fear getting their reputation tarnished  in a world where the victim is considered the criminal or they fear losing their job. Moreover, in close-knit industries, women who speak up have always gained the reputation of being ‘troublemakers’ and have trouble finding another job.

This culture of silence is something that needs to go. It is my ardent hope that more and more women speaking up against powerful men will bring about this change. The world needs to know that women won’t be rattled, intimidated or suppressed anymore. The world needs to know that we won’t be victimized anymore and we won’t stay quiet anymore.

I read, I write, I dream and search for the silver lining in my life.

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