In 2019, a junior woman staffer accused then chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment and, subsequently, a targeted harassment of her and her family. The Pegasus revelations tell us that her phone and that of 11 phones associated with her was likely under surveillance along with those of 10 prime ministers, 3 presidents and one king.
At the height of the 2019 sexual harassment scandal involving then chief justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, ran the frisson of a rumour — was there a larger conspiracy?
Gogoi has since retired and is now a Rajya Sabha member nominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government. His accuser, after being dismissed from service, has been quietly reinstated.
All would have been forgotten but for the Pegasus revelation that the woman and 11 phone numbers associated with her were potential targets of surveillance. Who had the power to subject a junior court assistant to a level of global scrutiny that reportedly includes 10 prime ministers, three presidents and a king? Was the intended target someone else? Was there a quid pro quo? One can only speculate since Gogoi has refused to comment.
One in three women worldwide faces violence. We should be angry.
Women have been told to be many things – patient, accommodating, docile even. Now, for the first time on an international platform, they are being told to be angry.
Not that they needed prompting. Anger was in evidence at the regional Beijing +25 conference held this week in Bangkok where UN Women deputy executive director Anita Bhatia told an audience of 500 ministers, policy-makers and civil rights organisers from 35 countries, “Be angry. Ask your government for change.” She was speaking at the launch of 16 days of activism that focus on violence against women after hearing two moving testimonies, the first from actress and model Cindy Bishop and the second from Mumbai-based rape survivor Natasha Noel.
“You cannot remain silent,” Noel said. She spoke of the need to teach children about sexual abuse. Bishop’s anger was sparked by a March 2018 Thai government campaign advising women to dress modestly during the Songkran (new year) festival. She had been assaulted at the festival 23 years ago and said 60% of women who attend are sexually assaulted, regardless of what they wear, but only 25.8% report it. Her post “Don’t tell me how to dress” kicked off Thailand’s MeToo movement.
“Violence against women and girls is ingrained all over the world,” said UN special rapporteur on violence Dubravka Simonovic. “Why aren’t we talking about it as an emergency?”
A conversation that began after the 2012 Delhi gangrape has grown louder. We may be miles away from a world free of sexual violence, but we are certainly a few notches closer.
So, was it worth it, after all? One year after India’s MeToo movement, it isn’t out of place to paraphrase TS Eliot’s existential question.
On the face of it, there is plenty to be depressed about. A law student who has accused former minister Chinmayanand of raping her had to threaten suicide over the failure of the State to act. Police action was much delayed, though the accused has now been arrested.
The Bombay High Court has quashed a 2004 sexual harassment case against angel investor Mahesh Murthy, since the delay is not “properly explained”.
Actor Aamir Khan, who, in 2018, stepped down as the producer of Mogul after the director, Subhash Kapoor, was accused of sexual misconduct, is back in the film playing the lead. Khan says he was troubled that his decision might have cost Kapoor his “right to work”.
In October 2018, unshackled from decades of silence, an army of women in India joined a global outpouring against sexual harassment. This movement across 195 countries, expressed via 25 or so sister hashtags (#BabaeAko in the Philippines; #SendeAnlat in Turkey), garnered over 36 million impressions between 2016 and July 2019, found a United Nations report, “What Will it Take?” It “enabled conversations and connections that together have shaken hitherto stable systems of abuse and power”, notes the report.