Better late than never. MJ Akbar may have resigned out of compulsion, but his shameless arrogance has not been lost on anybody. Not only did he file a case against journalist Priya Ramani, one of the 35 women to have accused him of sexual harassment, he even dismissed the allegations as politically motivated, citing the upcoming general elections. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah’s initial plan to brazen it out had to be rescinded after more women came forward to support Ramani, and the media kept asking tough questions to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Akbar’s resignation is a small but important victory for the #MeToo movement in India. Inspired by what happened in America with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the current lot of women coming forward and outing their sexual harassers mostly belong to the metros and a certain class of the society, which is understandable. But it would have a trickle down effect, and embolden those who do not belong to the privileged sections. After all, the women’s liberation movement trickled down to India from the developed countries. To dismiss it by calling it “elite” is missing the point. This is an important step in the direction of gender equality, and would surely make men check their behaviour.
One must congratulate Tanushree Dutta for getting the ball rolling by naming fellow actor Nana Patekar. She had also complained in 2008, when the incident happened, but few took note of it. Why did she open up again 10 years later is immaterial. The only thing that matters is whether she is speaking the truth. Sadly, not many from the Marathi film industry have stood by her, and Nana has decided to hide behind a legal suit.
It is not a surprise that the entertainment industry, media, comedy and other professions have not remained immune from the movement. It has exposed the faces of powerful men exploiting their position. In other words, it has officially confirmed what we always knew. The next logical step would be to take the movement beyond social media. The legal recourse is important.
Sexual Harassment Cases
According to Modi government’s disclosure in the Lok Sabha, 2,535 complaints of sexual harassment in office spaces have been registered during last four years, from 2014 to 2018. The number is steadily increasing. It was 372 in 2014 and was up by 57% in 2017, meaning more and more women feel empowered to come forward. However, the complaints are not even the tip of the iceberg. As per a survey, 70% complaints of sexual harassment are not registered even today.
The law is clear on sexual harassment. IPC section 354A and sanction 509 deals with this issue competently. Vishakha judgement paved the way and 2013 amendment mandates every workplace to have a Internal Complaint Committees. But most of the managements have not paid adequate attention to it till today. The #MeToo movement can change the scenario drastically.
It is more important for men to support the #MeToo movement, for the onus of repairing the man-woman relationship is on them. But most men forget their boundaries, courtesy our upbringing in a patriarchal society.Bloated egos seldom take rejection in their stride, and it leads to acid attacks, or murders like that of Amruta Deshpande in Sangli. This is an opportunity for men to improve their gender sensitivity. Sadly, most men are still skeptical of the movement, anxious whether their names will crop up next.
Having said that, the fear is not entirely misplaced. Renowned comedian and writer Varun Grover was accused of sexual harassment last week by an anonymous woman, and he responded to the allegations with grace and dignity. His statement was detailed, pointing out loopholes in the story. He even volunteered to face investigations, but there has not been any response to his statement so far.
Similarly, a founding editor of The Wire, Sidharth Bhatia was accused by a shady Twitter handle. In fact, those spearheading the movement should condemn such instances repeatedly and ferociously. But it has not happened. It is not a surprise that vested interests would misuse the movement for their own political or personal mileage. But till today these incidents are exceptional.
While spearheading the #MeToo movement, we must try and ensure no collateral damage. A movement is effective when it is inclusive. Men need to be part of the movement as much as the women.