Over three weeks ago, India saw something that would have been unthinkable a year ago- India’s very own #MeToo Movement. But various questions crop up in our minds that what is this #MeToo Movement? How it has originated and for what purpose?
#MeToo movement was started in October 2017 as a hashtag on social media with women sharing incidents of sexual assault and harassment, especially at the workplace. In India, when actor Tanushree Dutta came out to allege that veteran actor Nana Patekar and director Vivek Agnihotri had sexually harassed her on the sets of the movie Horn Ok Pleassss, a decade ago, the movement saw its second resurgence.
“I feel God used me to start something which had to happen”,
Tanushree Dutta told Reuters, as quoted in Hindustan Times.
Since then, social media sites have been flooded by incidents of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, bringing out questions on misogyny, patriarchy and gender nuances. But most people don’t know that the Me Too Movement has been around for over 10 years now, since before it became a hashtag. It was launched in 2006 by Tarana Burke, an activist, to help unprivileged women affected by sexual abuse.
It was launched online by Hollywood actress and singer Alyssa Milano in 2017. She tweeted,
“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘Me Too’ as a reply to this tweet”.
Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, in the West, was accused of sexual harassment by over 70 women, last year. This campaign became so successful that The Time magazine featured it in its Personality of the Year 2017 with the headline ‘The Silence Breakers’!
The movement also gained steam in India after former AIB comedian Utsav Chakraborty was accused of sexual harassment by a writer. Following the incident, AIB founding member and CEO Tanmay Bhat ‘stepped away’ from his role, while another founding member Gursimran Khamba, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct, has been asked to go on temporary leave, as mentioned in the Indian Express.
The most prominent names in the allegations include former journalist and Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar, filmmakers Vikas Bahl and Sajid Khan, actor Alok Nath, singer Kailash Kher, lyricist Vairamuthu and many more. ‘Queen’ movie director, Vikas Bahl, has been accused of sexual harassment by a former employee of Phantom Films. On October 15, 2018, six women journalists accused Union Minister MJ Akbar of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior when he worked as a newspaper editor.
There are a host of reasons why a wave of #MeToo allegations has risen in India.
“For the past year, the #MeToo movement in the US has remained very visible, which makes you reflect on your own stories. We are drawing courage from the fact that other women have spoken out. And now with social media, you don’t need anyone else to get your story out”,
Said writer Sandhya Menon, as quoted in Economic Times.
#MeToo movement gained momentum on Twitter and picked up on Facebook. However, it is also one of the most discussed topics on Instagram with more than 15 lakh posts. The movement is among the most searched terms on Google in India. On October 14, 2018, 4 out of top 10 searches in India were related to allegations of sexual misconduct and MeToo.
IT’S NOT OKAY TO NORMALIZE ABUSE
People need to realize that it is not okay to normalize any form of abuse. Abusers thrive on power, and it is only when we can gather the courage to call them out that they will lose this power. Ritu Goyal Harish, a former journalist and now an entrepreneur, says, “Abuse cannot be forgotten. It can be suppressed for a while (as in Vinta Nanda’s case) but it can never be forgotten. The fear and sense of violation you felt will remain with you forever. And closure and peace can only be attained if the perpetrator is punished”, as quoted by yourstory.
MeToo can be called as one of the biggest revolutions in recent times as it has given a platform to a lot of women to recount the horrific incidents, from Tanushree Dutta, Vinta Nanda, Bina Ramani to Sandhya Mridul, Saloni Chopra. But there are many more stories out there, to be told.
While a majority of the abuse chronicled has happened at the hands of men, one cannot label the entire gender as misogynistic and abusive. There are instances of women in power abusing men as well, and it is important to remember that this is about every victim and every survivor who’s speaking up.
People should be aware of their rights. The Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act (POSH) formulated on the Vishakha Guidelines has been in existence since 2003, but not many people are aware their rights at the workplace which is becoming one the root causes of sexual harassment at work.
THE FLIPSIDE OF #METOO MOVEMENT IN INDIA
Though the #MeToo movement had served as a trigger for women in India to break the silence and come together in a collective online movement against sexual abuse, there is a bit of a problem with the way the accused are being named and shamed. Unlike the global campaign, there is hardly and effort being made to verify and validate the allegations.
However, there are reportedly some false allegations being made under #MeToo campaign and some of the accused say they are ready to face legal investigation. For instance, questions are being asked about the veracity of the charge of sexual harassment against writer Varun Grover, tweeted by a Twitter user on behalf of a woman she says is a friend of an acquaintance who wants to remain anonymous.
Law enforcement agencies in India haven’t taken notice of the allegations either or initiated any investigations into the cases. These allegations demand immediate investigation and punishment for the accused. Some newspapers like Times of India has also launched its policies on covering #MeToo movement. It read,
“Times of India respects and supports the spirit of the #MeToo movement and is aggressively covering the horrific stories of sexual harassment allegations. However, we are also very conscious that being the media organization with the largest among all, the onus on us is even greater. We have, therefore, made a conscious decision not to report allegations of sexual harassment posted anonymously on social media sites”.
#MeToo is not a substitute for the legal process rather it’s a movement that encourages people to speak up, regardless of their gender, when the entire system around them has pushed them into silence.
Written by: - RASHMEET KAUR.