The #MeToo movement took an interesting turn on Sunday with Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar dismissing the charges of sexual harassment and misconduct levelled against him by some former women colleagues. Akbar said that the allegations are wild and baseless. He also hinted that the accusations can be part of a larger political conspiracy against the government ahead of the crucial elections in the country. For about a week, Akbar has been in the eye of a raging storm with some of his former female colleagues charging him with sexual harassment and indecent behaviour when they worked together some 20-30 years ago. Akbar is one of the many leading names from the media and entertainment industries who have been accused by their co-workers of sexual misconduct. All these revelations have been made as part of the #MeToo movement on social media. After these revelations made the country sit up and take notice of the growing volume of accusations against some very established names, Minister of Women & Child Development Maneka Gandhi informed that the government will set up a committee to look into the charges and advise measures including institutional framework to deal with such charges. Meanwhile, some of those figured in the ever-growing list of 'predators' have taken legal recourse and sent notices to their accusers. Even Akbar has threatened to take legal action against those who have accused him of sexual harassment.
The growing rage of #MeToo movement that saw women professionals from different industries speaking up about the sexual harassment they suffered at the workplace has already ruined the carefully crafted image of many Bollywood celebrities besides exposing some journalists. Most of the allegations date back to decades ago, though there are some recent cases as well. The only lacuna in these allegations is that they are not backed by any evidence. All these women professionals who have made the allegations of sexual harassment against their colleague have relied on their memory of the incident and could not produce any evidence or witness to support their charges. While there may be a varying degree of truth in these charges, the accused need to be given a fair chance to defend themselves. Based on accusations, one cannot be termed guilty. The manner in which the image and reputation of some leading media personalities and Bollywood filmmakers stand tarnished for their alleged misbehaviour with women colleague calls for a thorough probe into the allegations.
The perception that women, in general, face a discriminatory environment at the workplace and sometimes suffer harassment of sexual nature at the hands of their colleague may be true in many cases. In the present day work environment characterised by cut-throat competition, both men and women are expected to work shoulder to shoulder, day and night, in and outside the office. Then, there are certain kinds of professions that demand highly evolved roles to be played by the individual in question. The work of a film actress, for example, demands that she gets into the role given to her and it can be anything from a princess to a prostitute, depending on the story and the script. The women actors take all these demands in their stride as they know this is their job, which must be done with perfection or somebody else may take the job. Thinking negatively about the director or producer of a film for demanding some unconventional scenes may not always be right. The point is when men and women work together in today's professional environment, where the success of a product defines everything, a certain degree of close interaction and competition is bound to happen. The problem is that women have to compete with men at a workplace dominated by men and in the process women workers lose many of their conventional attributes as they relentlessly chase success. The victims who have come up with sexual harassment charges in the ongoing #MeToo movement are mostly those who could not make it big in their career. But this surely does not make sexual harassment any less despicable or deplorable.
All those who are in positions of leadership should know the complexities of today's workplace and the laws that ensure that women are not being unduly harassed. Two or three decades ago when we did not have CCTV to watch the activities of the staff in the office or a smartphone to record all telephone conversations, audio and videos of things around us, there were chances that some misdemeanour may not get noticed, not any more. Renowned former editor and current Union Minister Akbar has the advantage that the charges levelled against him date back to that time and era.