A Year of #MeToo: What it Achieved, and didn’t

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.

Pic taken by Namita Bhandare during the 2013 protests in Delhi

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.

The courage to speak up

Can we even begin to understand the courage and grit it takes for a woman to speak up against her sexual assault? In a climate that is changing, we still continue to shine a spotlight on the victim, not her predator. My column in Hindustan Times:

The complainant in one of India’s most high profile sexual harassment cases is telling me about the price of speaking up. A hostile work environment, mental stress, failing health, long and costly litigation and, despite it all, loss of a job, says the woman researcher who filed a complaint against RK Pachauri in February 2015 when he was still boss at TERI.

“Even today I worry about entering an office room and am scared to open my email,” she says.

Three years later, trial is yet to begin. But, says the researcher, “Sexual harassment by powerful bosses continues because we have a culture that turns a blind eye to it.”

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Beyond #MeToo, there’s #WeCount

In Hindustan Times, I argue that the goal of India’s #MeToo movement is not the taking down of a few predatory bosses but a new deal for women at work. 

The resignation of minister of state for external affairs, MJ Akbar, might seem like a victory for the #MeToo movement, but it’s far too premature for any celebration.

The former editor is accused by at least 20 women of a range of inappropriate behaviour from interviewing potential new recruits in his hotel room to sexual assault. He has denied the accusations and sent a criminal defamation notice to the first of his accusers, journalist Priya Ramani.

Akbar is not the only one to have been stung by India’s October Outing, which has, so far, been organic, volatile and apparently unstoppable.

In contrast to the government’s silence over its minister, the private sector has scrambled to act. A film company has folded up, comedy videos by offenders have been scrubbed from websites and media houses have launched inquiries, sent the editors who’ve been accused on leave and mandated sexual harassment workshops for employees.

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