This phenomenon has whirled significantly for a class of Indian women. Whether it turns into a milestone or not remains to be seen
It is after a year that the #MeToo wave hit the shores of India and sent a tremor to the power corridors (and its periphery) of Delhi. Several names have been thrown up for sexual misconduct so far, and not all come as a surprise. The two most glaring aspects to have come to the fore in this stir created by working urban woman of a certain strata are: the magnitude and the pervasiveness of sexual offences that happen unapologetically; and that the 'predators' named are those who are in fact habitual and chronic offenders whose coming to light encouraged narration of more such ordeals.
This phenomenon has whirled into a significant opportunity for the women of India who have been silent suffers of the perils of patriarchy in the echelons of performance. Whether this turns into a milestone or not remains to be seen. While it is a matter that commands respect to be able to finally – and fearlessly – let out a story of personal torment and trauma, there is a need to understand here that such revelations are not directed at any method of recourse; just revelation has been the force that set a chain reaction among a class of Indian women as more similar stories pour in. Litigation initiated against a certain offender came with regard to the gravity of his criminal misconduct. Most others remain in the discourse with nothing more than some amount of blemish.
It is a mark of oppression when women are compelled to keep silent about being violated. But there is also another class of women who give in to a false sense of empowerment by failing to discern the difference between sexual harassment or assault and a sexual advance made by a man. Consent and permission (and the extent of it, given the blurred boundaries in workplace settings) are the decisive factors in any private association. It becomes a case only when there is no consent (or when a person is not in a position to give or not give their consent) and their refusal is disregarded.
Mindfully disallowing behaviours and gestures and firmly drawing a line is something many women learn the hard way. Respecting such lines (even when they are not drawn) counts as a virtue for a man. It is easy to conclude that #MeToo is raging due to what is in essence, a normalised social malady (which it is), but it has little accountability and aims to not just question but also shame the perpetrator without allowing any scope for course-correction. There are also stories that reek of grudge and not tell of harassment, and some naive minds are given to believing that naming and shaming an offender is the way to avenge their misbehaviour; it is one thing to feel offended, it is quite another to commit an offence.
Irony had the last laugh when a large swarm of audience, until now, was incapable of imagining the 'open secret' of India's most 'sanskaari' face. A veteran TV and film actor popular for playing the stereotyped character of a traditional homely family man was (outside the industry) least expected to be a card-carrying debauch. Looking at him objectively, his problem is perhaps not his debauchery (that is the result) but the reasons precipitating it – alcohol, to begin with, and possibly several more if we may regress further. Given this, let us also be reminded that there are many more examples of a seemingly perfect setting which will have darker stories beneath the surface.
For any redressal to happen, there has to be a functional system in place that will genuinely consider a first-hand recounting of sexual transgression. For that to have any real validity, there needs to prevail a general attitude to not doubt or disbelieve a woman when she shares a serious incident. The tone and tenor of #MeToo has set the stage to make the next big change happen: not taking women for granted and knowing that sexual transgression is not something to get away with. Hopefully, there will be a more conscious understanding of people and women, in particular, as individuals not defined and limited by their sex. Equal opportunities must come equally and not be bartered.
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal)