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.
The rise of fundamentalism, chauvinistic nationalism and macho leadership has made defending women’s rights that much harder, I report from Bangkok at the Beijing +25 review.
Away from the tight-lipped silence of government officials locked in negotiations, some 150 people sat huddled on the floor outside one of the cavernous conference halls of the United Nations (UN) building in Bangkok. The group was plotting and planning steps to take at the Beijing +25 review, a conference held to take stock of where the world stands on promises made on gender equality 25 years ago.
The mood of civil society organizations (CSOs)—meeting on the floor because there wasn’t a room available to them—was combative. After initially being locked out of the negotiation process, they had managed to get in—but only as observers. “Negotiations are never so hush-hush,” said Subhalakshmi Nandi, director, policy analysis, International Centre for Research on Women, Asia. “It’s common practice to have CSOs in the negotiating room.”
Government officials, deadlocked for 24 hours straight, quibbled over the words of an all-important outcome document that would be parsed for their country’s stand on gender rights. Premised on what this document might contain or omit, plans were being hatched on how best to protest: singing, chanting, holding signs, or even a walkout.
The anxiety of 230 CSOs from 35 countries in the Asia-Pacific region had been palpable since their arrival in Bangkok on 24 November for three days of stock-taking.
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.