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The power of people

As a minister accused of sexual harassment resigns, let #MeToo remind us that the power ultimately rests with the people

The power of people

There comes a time when even the invincible feel fear. That precious moment when we stand alone and stare the adversary square in the eye is preceded with self-doubt. But there is strength in numbers and the last week proved just that. Even as Durga Puja celebrations commenced and the Goddess made her advent into the battle against the deceptive, shape-shifting buffalo demon, Mahishasura, a clutch of women journalists was facing and fighting their own demons, or should I say, demon. It was their courage, conviction, and a strong bond of sisterhood (having been wronged by the same perpetrator), that egged the women on. For a few days though, there was heartbreak and disillusionment with the establishment for its willingness to be chained by technicalities, by its blinkered approach to over 16 harrowing accounts of sexual harassment and assault. And in the end, the social media movement of #MeToo pushed yet another gear and thousands rallied with the women, online and offline.

A movement that started as an elite, essentially urban campaign, started threatening to singe non-urban vote-banks as the news of abuse of power and arrogance reached more people of the country relayed by the vernacular press. In a historic first, a movement that started on social media and was borrowed from the US, ousted one of the top ministers of the government. Faced by mounting pressure from various strata of society, the government had to buckle down and the minister was asked to step down pending investigation.

Most people have been glued to the goings-on of the #MeToo movement that has rattled power centres in Bollywood, media, among others. But today, I don't write just about this path-breaking movement. I want to draw attention to another phenomenon that revealed itself in the last few days --- the power of the 'aam aadmi' of India. When the minister dug in his heels and went on the offensive by slapping a criminal defamation case against the first woman journalist who spoke against him, there was no turning back, no cowering down in fear. People balked at this show of might coming from an influential politician targeted at his accuser. And the people of India responded.

More women whom he had sexually harassed spoke up. A group of ex-staffers of one of the newspapers backed one of their own and asked the courts to count on their testimonies against the accused. Journalist bodies from across the country demanded in unison that the accused step down. Retired bureaucrats also threw their weight behind the women journalists and insisted that the President and Prime Minister intervene to not only sack the minister but also to safeguard the women from debilitating, costly, and time-consuming litigation in future. Even male journalists, who had so far sat on the fence, jumped into the fray and publicly outed the minister's abuse of authority during his days as editor.

The PMO may have taken the final call on the ouster but let us not belittle the stellar role played by those groups of journalists who showed indomitable spirit and courage. And then, everyone else pitched in. Media, fellow journalists, former colleagues, unknown supporters, inspired strangers -- all stepped in to rage, rage against the dying of the light. They proved that there is immense strength in the voice of the common people. If we are together, this confluence of power can take on even the Goliath in the establishment. Many times, we forget the strength of the citizens of India. We forget that we elect the government and the politicians serve at our pleasure. Let us remember this peak of the #MeToo movement. Let us remind others that ultimately true power still lies in the hands of the people of India, and if we really want something, then nothing is impossible.

(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Shutapa Paul

Shutapa Paul

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