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India doesn’t lack stringent laws as it grants more legislative ammunition for women’s rights compared to even America, but lags terribly as mere legislation alone can’t address societal outlook and approach. Beyond #MeToo has answers.
Trigger Warning: This deals with violence against women, sexual abuse, gender based violence, child sexual abuse, and may be triggering for survivors.
It would not be an over exaggeration if I said that Tanushree Ghosh’s book Beyond #MeToo left me stunned page after page, as it unravelled threads of facts and perspectives I’d never considered before despite calling myself a feminist. I can only imagine the impact it would leave on those who shun away from the ‘F’ word like it was worse than the coronavirus pandemic itself. However, like the pandemic, the feminist movement is a wake-up call for our collective consciousness.
What’s most admirable, though, is the intellectual honesty, as the author veers away from sensationalism, half truths, full lies, and presenting one narrow perspective. She trusts the reader’s intellect and integrity to understand and accept gender equality for what it is, and not what it’s tainted out to be by vested interests. Beyond #MeToo is a work of grit because there’s nothing more courageous than honesty.
Tanushree Ghosh was full-term pregnant at the time of the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder. In her already emotional state due to pregnancy hormones, this hit her with memories of her sexual abuse as a child, like most of us women have experienced in our childhood from strangers, friends and family members alike.
It brought back haunting memories of being groped as a child by strange men when I was returning from the school, visiting an exhibition, travelling in a bus, train, or an auto, at a card shop, or when a vegetable vendor flashed himself in front of me and my girlfriend when we were just twelve. I was deeply affected by each of these incidents, but kept them to myself, filled with shame and guilt, like I was the perpetrator.
I remember distinctly the impact of the news of the #MeToo movement. My mother shared her exploitation episode as a child over family dinner. It came as a shock for us, also because my mother’s usually tight-lipped on matters that are sexual. She added that every girl child has been exploited before they turn 13-14 years and she’s not far from the truth. I remember my instant reaction was to post about it on my social accounts, and how the #MeToo movement has gained so much momentum that, if nothing else, #MeToo has women opening up and speaking out without thinking twice—if sensitive topics could be discussed so easily and freely over dinner, like today, then that is a step in the right direction.
We were all witnesses to the chain reactions of fellow women baring their hearts in our living rooms or on social media, and feeling free of carrying the shame and burden of sexual abuse inside them. For the first time in history.
Beyond #MeToo is a book not just for women. Anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse and discrimination will find resonance, meaning, and hope.
Because, as the author rightly states — Abuse. So commonplace. So not acknowledged. How could it be possible?
This question led Tanushree Ghosh to several further questions and finally into a full-blown investigative research to understand the core problem, explore the nuances of gender equality from various perspectives, map a SWOT-like analysis of the #MeToo movement, and suggest actionable measures beyond #MeToo.
Ghosh astutely observes how, while everything changed suddenly for women in America for the better with a high-velocity ramp towards gender equality, it didn’t do so for India. Instead, India has moved one step forward but four steps backwards where gender equality is concerned.
Despite this, the author firmly believes that India needed a #MeToo movement because it has shifted our society towards a culture of belief in place of the culture of silence, denial or dismissal that will open doors for meaningful and specific dialogues on gender equality.
Tanushree Ghosh takes us on a 360° tour of the history of women’s rights via the lens of the #MeToo movement, focusing on USA, where it began, and specially on India, because it ranks terribly for women in global studies, and it would serve as a good case candidate out of the democratic nations where women have equal rights under the Constitution.
Ghosh’s book is chock full of deep research based on core facts, analytical case studies, and eclectic experiences and viewpoints from a diaspora of participants across the globe, presented with an intellectual rigour and objective stance. She brings several case examples from pop culture, business, politics, academia and more to dig deeper into the collective psyche and lay down the missing links for a mindset revamp.
Contrary to popular opinion, India doesn’t lack stringent laws as it grants more legislative ammunition for women’s rights compared to even America. But it lags terribly because of several factors that the book delves into with fine precision and comprehension. Mere legislation alone can’t address societal outlook and approach.
It’s much easier to change laws than to change the culture. — Gloria Feldt
Inside the book, you’ll discover there’s an economic cost of gender-based violence (GBV) as studies prove how sexual violence is holding the Indian economy back. You’ll encounter the sheer hypocrisy and denial of sexual violence in the mainstream narrative of India vs. Bharat.
Such crimes hardly take place in Bharat, but they occur frequently in India. Go to villages, no gang rapes or sex crimes there, they are prevalent in urban areas. — Mohan Bhagwat, RSS Chief, 2013
On the contrary, Tanushree Ghosh shows us how the only contribution of Westernization is on the increased number of reported instances, not rape occurrence rates.
Ghosh points out the hard truth that what a society intentionally designs into its operational model in times of peace worsens in times of war and conflicts.
She also states how not all rapes are equal in India or Bharat. There was some closure in the cases of Nirbhaya and or the Hyderabad victim as they belonged to upper castes living in metropolitan Indian cities. We see how rape is used as a tool for punishment and control of lower-caste and minority women in villages as with Bhanwari Devi, Hathras, Kathua, Badaun and Unnao rape victims, 35-year-old Muthamma or eight-year-old Asifa Banu. And as a brutal weapon for religious and ethnic cleansing, as with Girija Tickoo, who was raped and cut into halves by Islamic terrorist groups.
The author also highlights rapes which are not talked about at all like the ones happening in the regions of India under AFSPA or Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. An even lesser avoided subject within this terrain is the rapes of minors by the Indian Armed Forces and justice denied under the pretext of national interest. Here again, gender takes a backseat as national security takes precedence.
“Due to the immunity given to the personnel acting under this law, in the 54 years of its operation, not a single army, or paramilitary officer or a soldier has been prosecuted for murder, rape or destruction of property.”
We witness this leeway in cases involving religious groups, such as the Catholic Church with rape incidents of minor boys, girls, and nuns and the Devadasi system or Temple Prostitution. We are also ignorant of the sexual abuse by social workers in the NGO sectors.
All nations, castes, religions, and political parties have used rape as a tool to instill fear and for subjugation.
Ghosh also talks about the myths around consent, a tricky concept, even in the relatively emancipated Western societies as seen in the Aziz Ansari account. There is gross misinformation, lack of education, and understanding of female consent in intimate relationships.
But consent is a non-existential word in India, even in non-sexual matters. What’s most dangerous is our social interpretation of rape, which is that it’s consensual. Not only is the woman asking for it somehow with her attire or conduct, but even if she’s forced initially, it becomes consensual eventually. Bollywood has played an insidiously dirty part in propagating molestation as being consensual “happily ever-afters” as one of the male participants in the book reveals,
“Once the woman is brought into it … she starts enjoying it. I saw it in some movies too, so you know. There was this scene: the woman—the heroine—is in the shower and the man makes a move on her. Initially, he grabs her wrists and her legs are shown to be kicking. But then, their fingers intertwine, and the legs start rubbing. And that’s what my friends used to say too in school. It’s only a matter of pushing women above a peak.”
The statistics confirm how we see nothing wrong with marital rape and domestic violence.
“In a 2011 survey by ICRW, one in every five Indian men surveyed admitted to forcing their wives into sex and 65 percent of Indian men surveyed believed that there are times when women deserve to be beaten.”
The author believes the men’s rights movement would be complementary to the women’s rights movement as it would dispel notions of toxic masculinity and bring forth the ‘swept under the carpet’ topics of male rapes and abuse. The author cites the documentary, “Pakistan’s hidden shame,” which is about the rape and prostitution of orphaned and homeless boys.
Though she embarked on her research on MRMs with openness and excitement, it was a disappointing experience to learn these groups are elitist, with no vision to bring constructive societal changes, and all of them had one enemy. No prizes for guessing the answer. But more than the misogyny, the intentional fake news and misinformation horrified Ghosh. For example, the laws on divorce and alimony.
Yet, the author continued with her research objectively to conclude that while male abuse happens and there are fake charges against men by women; it is still no comparison to the scale of sexual abuse and violence women face in the current times.
There are several other sub-topics that Tanushree Ghosh discusses in the book, such as workplace harassment or how women are caught in a catch-22 situation in the current legal systems, as most evidence is naturally circumstantial or non- existent.
But the core message is loud and clear—
We must not de-prioritise gender for the cause of caste, religion, culture, and nation and come together as one force. We should stop being selective in our outrage against sexual abuse.
Ghosh reminds us that no movement can save us unless we put in constant efforts to change. Renuka Pamecha, an activist from Rajasthan, and one participant in the book, says,
“No social change can come about if laws and society both don’t change. Can you bring the Constitution into your home? That’s my only sentence. Then you can have movements.”
Beyond #MeToo is a complete eye-opener, and it makes an absorbing first time read. But you’ll surely go back to it for more reads because it has so many depths and layers that it’s impossible to grasp them completely in just a few reads.
This path-breaking and much-needed book also makes fantastic reference material every time you want authentic and verified information about women’s rights. I truly hope it finds a place in universities, colleges, schools, and corporate libraries and discussion. I’m sure it will.
If you’d like to pick up Beyond #MeToo: Ushering in Women’s Era or Just Noise? written by Tanushree Ghosh, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.
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Image source: By R schein – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, and book cover Amazon
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Tina Sequeira is an award-winning writer and marketer. Winner of the Rashtriya Gaurav Award in association with the Government of Telangana, Orange Flower Award by Women’s Web, India's leading website for women, read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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