Every Indian woman would like to say #MeToo but few do, discovers Anjana Basumatary
The #MeToo movement has given women in the US a powerful tool to expose powerful men who misuse their positions to seek sexual favours. They have especially targeted Hollywood, media and political personalities who claim to be liberal and supportive of women’s rights. We asked activists and others working to empower women whether a similar movement to shame Indian men and hold them accountable might succeed.
Kiran Moghe, a counsellor at All India Democratic Women’s Association
“There are already many campaigns happening in India and this is one of the ways to deal with such problems, especially if women feel that the present structures of the law are not adequate to give them relief. But at the same time it is not the only way to deal with the current situation.
One of the reasons behind such problems not getting solved is that there are some businesses involved in the law and system. So, walking on the streets and protesting can improve the situation In India, also can bring to the notice of legal authorities.”
Tara Krishnaswamy, women activist from Bangalore
“It’s difficult to answer if it is going to be successful as it depends on when, how and who is going to lead the movement. Being an activist for many years now I know that Nirbhaya- like cases happen every day.
Last month a similar case happened in West Bengal where one tribal woman was raped in broad daylight, internal organs were pulled out, metal objects were inserted. People were aware that this was happening still nothing was done; there was no protest, so it is not related to the issue. The seriousness of the issue depends on the place and who is able to mobilise around the issue.
The MeToo campaign has opened doors for the victims of abuse to come forward and share their story with the world. The movement has gained momentum, with many taking to social media to express their solidarity to the cause.
Since Delhi has a lot of media spotlight and West Bengal doesn’t, it becomes difficult to say hypothetically whether there will be momentum or not. This issue is burning, there is a lot of anger, and people are talking about it. It is possible to create momentum as the extent of sexual abuse in India has created outrage. Whether correct parameters will come together to channel this anger and bring it out to be a successful protest or not depends on timing and leadership.
If these parameters exist then protest would be successful. At the time of Nirbhaya protest, even though there was widespread outrage, it fizzled out. Nothing has changed; arrest rates have not gone up, care for the rape victims has not gone up.”
Bhaskar Dhanapal, CEO of Vidyaranya, a woman empowerment NGO
“Since we work for women empowerment we understand the need of protest, it is required to fight against those people who misuse their power. Otherwise, this kind of issues will continue. We are not slaves of anyone so women in India should fight against people who misuse their power. There are many women who work in different organisations, who have to stay on duty overnight, they should be protected instead of being harassed.”
Johnson Thomas, Director of AASRA, a suicide prevention NGO
“The momentum is in their favor and if women who have been sexually harassed come out and speak out against their oppressors, obviously those men are going to feel the pinch…The awareness has already gained strength. If more women join the movement, it will only get stronger. If this can trigger an examination into the power equations that are at play which make victims out of women, then definitely it’s a worthwhile effort all around.”
Jasmeen Patheja, Founder of women’s group Blank Noise
“I think it might create an impact in India, but this is something that should not be seen in isolation. There should be physical effort too, instead of just putting it online. So, this should be treated as stimulus. As I have mentioned in my blog as well, a wave may have a backlash, may polarise even, because it disrupted something. But a wave has its life. It will reach new shores, new conversations. Similarly protest in India will reach its destination, it just needs people’s dedication.”
Banalata Sengupta, an MNC employee from Bangalore
“Protests in India are a very debatable topic as often people forget the main agenda and protests do happen but within individual interests. Molestation is an everyday affair in India, people are used to it and they don’t want to talk about it.
I have faced molestation as a kid; I was teased and groped as a teenager. ‘Metoo’ campaign is one means which enables women to shift the focus of shame and blame from themselves to the social structures that perpetuate sexual violence. Issues of stigma, of bringing ‘dishonour’ to the family/community/organization, victim-blaming, and power dynamics between the perpetrator and the affected amongst other factors have contributed to women suffering in silence.
Since it is a social media campaign, men are free to write about their experiences and not all men are abusers. A proper analysis of socialization patterns is required, the way we bring up our boys, the equation of masculinity with dominance and control (there is a thin line between domination and violence) that sanction all forms of violence against women.
Writing about their experiences on social media is a cathartic expression and not a formal justice mechanism. So how does it matter if women seek validation?
Complaints by men originate in their perception that women should be silent and not put up any resistance, and their fear of disruption of the status quo. It is not very different in other countries as well; victim-blaming in sexual violence is common.
But in our country, sexual conduct has always been associated with honour of the woman, and sexual violence with dishonour and shame. Hence, the emphasis on guarding the ‘purity and sexual propriety’ of women. This reflects the link between women, family, and caste, lack of counselling, lack of self-confidence and awareness. Patriarchy starts from your house to the textbooks we read to everything.
Gender-sensitization needs to be introduced to children at an early age itself. Women must be enabled to gain more access and control over resources like education and employment opportunities so that they can be empowered to oppose and deal with instances of violence, instead of being silent.
There must be more responsive services available for women like helplines, prompt action by the police, fast-track courts and swift punishment for the guilty. As these measures are more at a material level, we will need more gender-sensitization programmes at the attitudinal level to make people aware of the gender-based inequalities that exist in the society and to treat each other with respect.”
Tenzin Cheda, poet and author, The Anonymous Writer
“It was great at the beginning, but the MeToo Movement became wrong, like the concept of feminism. Now, in the US, any woman can accuse any man without any proof or whatsoever, and then the accused men’s career gets destroyed and they become guilty instantly. If it starts in India, hopefully, it won’t go in the wrong direction like in the US. I think in India it will work much better, because unlike American women, most Indian women are not arrogant enough to think that women are superior to men instead of equal and that women should be believed, no matter what.”
Pallabi Sutar, graphic designer of Outlook magazine
“#Metoo is more of an internet thing than restricted to only US women, it was started by an American woman but garnered responses all over the world. Part of why it became successful was because celebrities got on this bandwagon. The hashtag has already reached India with hundreds of girls posting #MeToo, you can see how #MeToo gave rise to ‘Times up’. It can be more widespread in India if celebrities bring it out of the internet into the mainstream media.”
Shweta Raj Konwar, sub-editor of The Northeast Today
“I think it will be successful. The same situation is faced by many women here too, I believe. If women here in India are subjected to similar kind of atrocities, then I am sure they will come forward in support of a movement like #Metoo”.
Passu, a blogger on human rights
“I think it will be the same everywhere. But the success of the campaign depends on how women will open up. Especially in India, I doubt if people will speak up. But that’s just a doubt, you never know, we might be in for a big surprise.”