Recent Utsav Tweets Only Point To The Need For Better Structures To Take #MeToo Forward

An audio clip and a tweet thread by Utsav Chakraborty have raised some uncomfortable questions, highlighting the need for what women have been asking all along – better ways to report and deal with sexual harassment.

An audio clip and a tweet thread by Utsav Chakraborty have raised some uncomfortable questions, highlighting the need for what women have been asking all along – better ways to report and deal with sexual harassment.

“Okay listen,” some seniors advised my friends and me, as we prepared to join our post-graduate course, “one of your lecturers is X. Make sure that you never visit his room alone after class. Go as a group, and even then, make sure you hold some books in front of your chest. He is a lecher.”

It was my first introduction to the ‘whisper network’. And since that first one, I have been part of many others. Women have always taken care of other women by warning them about harassers and creeps. The #MeToo movement is just the biggest and loudest version of this network, made possible by a radical new platform – Twitter.

However, a cloud now hangs over the movement.

Last year, comedian Utsav Chakraborty was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, whose stories were shared on Twitter by Mahima Kukreja. Yesterday, an audio clip surfaced, in which Mahima’s lawyer is heard trying to dissuade Utsav from sharing certain screenshots which raise questions about the validity of those reports. Following this, Utsav shared the screenshots in a series of tweets.

Needless to say, this opened the floodgates, with a variety of opinions on the topic being tweeted and retweeted. Some, who have always had a bone to pick with #MeToo, saw this as the perfect opportunity to discredit the entire movement. Others pointed out that things were not as simple as that.

Deeper conversations and more nuance needed

Kanika Kaul, one of the women who Utsav accuses of falsely reporting harassment, has chosen to stand by her statement that he made her uncomfortable. She says that there are gaps in her memory, which Utsav is using to discredit her entire account.

While some have mocked Kanika for “conveniently forgetting,” others have come out in support.

Something that most women might understand

Personally, I can understand this. One of the reasons I have trouble speaking about my own experience with sexual harassment in a professional setting is because my memory of the incident has gaps. I remember what happened, but I don’t remember the name of the man (I met him only twice, and the incident is six years old now). The harassment was verbal, not physical, leaving me confused at the time. When I told some colleagues about it, they brushed it off as an inappropriate but minor thing. Furthermore, while the incident happened in public, I doubt any of the other people present recognized it for what it was, as they lacked the context that I had. I knew that the comments were directed at me, with a view to “putting me in my place,” but I have no way of proving it.

And that, precisely, is the problem with many cases of sexual harassment, and why the #MeToo movement is important.

Firstly, just because a person’s memory is not perfect, is not reason enough for them to be silenced. Secondly, if a culture existed where there is awareness of what sexual harassment is, where those who are harassed can talk about it openly, without being immediately being attacked for doing so, we would find it easier to talk about it without feeling the need to suffer in silence for years. Third, if structures and processes existed within organizations to help people report and investigate sexual harassment complaints, there wouldn’t be the need for #MeToo or whisper networks.

#MeToo is more than ‘taking revenge’

The point of #MeToo has never been to “take revenge,” “punish” or “ruin lives.” It has always been an extension of the sisterly need to protect. If we are asking that those accused of sexual harassment not be allowed to work, it is not because we want them to suffer a loss of livelihood. It is because we need to make sure that they are not in a position where they can continue to harm others.

What the #MeToo movement is really asking for are legitimate systems and procedures (other than legal recourse because the legal process in India is extremely cumbersome and causes further psychological damage) –a demand that is still far from being fulfilled.

The back and forth tweets about this incident have left me very confused and greatly heartbroken. One the one hand, I strongly agree that no one should suffer because of a false accusation. At the same time, I understand and accept that survivors can have faulty recollections, and that this should not be cause to discredit their stories or the movement at large.

My thoughts on this are perfectly expressed by Asmita, writer at Feminism in India, who says, in a heartfelt tweet thread,“I feel like there’s something missing from the Indian Twitter feminist discourse – a sense of responsibility. If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, then how do we build legitimacy? How do we grow as a movement?”

Twitter, Snapchat etc are a new medium that hardly ever provide adequate space for the complexity of human interactions. There is no precedent for how these things should be handled, and we are learning as we go and unfortunately, hurting each other in the process.

We need to have much deeper conversations, both online and off, about what exactly sexual harassment is; what is needed to make sure that genuine survivors are protected while false accusations are weeded out; and how to ensure that those who have hurt others are held accountable. #MeToo is far more robust and essential for it to be seriously damaged, but it will be, if we don’t figure this out.

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