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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.
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.
Tanushree Ghosh recollects was full-term pregnant at the time of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape and murder. In her already emotional state because of pregnancy hormones, the news hit her with memories of her sexual abuse as a child.
#MeToo movement brought back haunting memories of being groped as a child by strange men when I was returning from school, travelling in the bus or auto, visiting the exhibition and card shop, 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 and more. But kept them to myself, filled with shame and guilt, like I was the perpetrator.
My mother shared her exploitation story 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 men have molested girl children before they turn 13-14 years and she’s not far from the truth.
One of my best friends revealed how a stranger approached her when she was just ten years old, talked sweetly to her, and made her touch his penis. She didn’t even know what it was until much later when she learned about human anatomy in high school. But she remembered feeling stupid, shameful and guilty even though she was ten, and how that stopped her from sharing the incident with others in her protective family.
#MeToo movement gained so much momentum that, if nothing else, it had women opening up and speaking out without thinking twice. 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 asks — 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.
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 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.
Tanushree Ghosh takes us on a 360° tour of the history of women’s rights via the lens of the #MeToo movement, focusing on the United States of America, where it began. And focusing especially on India, because it ranks terribly for women in global studies, and it would serve as a good example from the democratic nations where women have equal rights under the Constitution.
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.
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, the author brings several case examples from pop culture, business, politics, academia and more to dig deeper into the collective psyche and find the missing links for a mindset revamp.
It’s much easier to change laws than to change the culture. — Gloria Feldt
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 as this statement.
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
Tanushree Ghosh shatters this myth sharing how the major influence of Westernisation is the increased number of reported instances, not rape occurrence rates.
Ghosh points out 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. Rape is used as a punishment tool for controlling 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. It’s also used 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 instil fear and for subjugation.
Ghosh talks about consent, a tricky subject, 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 even in intimate relationships such as marriage.
But consent is a non-existential word in India, even in non-sexual matters. What’s most dangerous is our collective interpretation of rape, which is that it’s consensual. Not only is the woman asking for it somehow with her attire or conduct, but also even if she’s forced initially, she gives in eventually, which is read as consent. Bollywood has played an insidiously dirty part in propagating molestation as being consensual “happily ever-afters”.
“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.”
Ghosh believes the men’s rights movement (MRM) 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.
However, though she embarked on her research on MRMs with openness and excitement, it was disappointing 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, such as around the laws on divorce and alimony, horrified Ghosh,
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.
Tanushree Ghosh discusses in workplace harassment and how women are caught in a catch-22 situation in the current legal systems, as most evidence is naturally circumstantial or non-existential.
The author firmly believes 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. No movement can save us unless we put in constant efforts to change. Renuka Pamecha, an activist from Rajasthan, and 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 will make a credible reference material every time you want authentic and verified information about women’s rights. I 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
Tina Sequeira is an award-winning writer and marketer. Visit her website to know more: www.thetinaedit.com
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