#MeToo in India has moved beyond Bollywood to a broader conversation about the roots of sexual harassment
Last year, Tanushree Dutta, an Indian actress, made headlines when she spoke up about being sexually harassed by a veteran actor a decade ago. Dutta had first raised the issue and criticised the misogyny in Bollywood in 2008, when the incident occurred, but had been ignored by the Indian media and public.
After the #MeToo movement had swept through much of the English-speaking world, she repeated her story. This time people listened. Soon, scores of women from several industries in India came forward with their #MeToo stories. Among the accused were high-profile directors, producers, advertising executives, the CEO of the Indian cricket board and a government minister.
Nearly a year after India’s #MeToo movement gained steam, many of the men accused are back to work. Some, such as former newspaper editor and minister MJ Akbar, have filed defamation cases against the women who spoke up against them.
While, in Hollywood, producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey are still lying low, it seems unlikely that there will be lasting change in Bollywood, an industry rooted in nepotism, where sexism runs rife. However, the backlash against India’s #MeToo movement extends beyond the film industry.
Indian men’s rights groups have been highlighting the possibility of false accusations. Barkha Trehan, an “equal rights activist” of the Purush Aayog (“Men’s Commission”), said in a press release in June: “Legally an Indian [man] has no rights when he is victimised [by] domestic violence, sexual, physical or mental harassment or any form of harassment [in the ] workplace”.
She added, “Men are left vulnerable [to] the whims [and] fancies of political parties and have no respite and [are] treated as third-class citizens after women and transgenders.”
The question Indian women find themselves asking is: was India’s #MeToo moment a failure? The answer, in a country like India, is incredibly complex. There’s no denying that sexism is a problem – one faced by women across class, caste, region and religion.
However, while middle-class upper-caste women are able to move on with their lives, albeit to varying degrees, after going public with a #MeToo story, this is much harder for underprivileged women, those from the lower castes or transgender women.
Filing a police report and seeing a case through in court in India is a long and complicated ordeal. Moreover, complaints made “too long” after an incident occurred are not legally tenable. The law overlooks the psychology of sexual assault victims, who may need months or years to process the trauma.
Perhaps the reason India’s #MeToo moment hasn’t evolved into a widespread movement is that the #MeToo model simply isn’t compatible with the country’s sociocultural reality. After all, Western models of feminism cannot always be mapped onto the developing world.
It’s limited impact notwithstanding, #MeToo could be seen as an opportunity. It provoked many much-needed conversations around patriarchy and how it is supported by age-old social conventions in the country.
When the Indian Supreme Court ruled against the ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 worshipping at the Sabarimala temple, a centuries-old shrine in the southern state of Kerala that draws millions of pilgrims every year, there was a wellspring of support, and despite fierce opposition, two women entered the temple.
When wrestler Babita Phogat pointed out that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (“Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter”) scheme, meant to dissuade people from killing baby girls, ought to have been “beton ko padhao, beton ko samjhao” (“teach sons, help sons understand”), she was lauded for using her platform to take a stand.
#MeToo in India: a true revolution must begin at home
Women in corporate Indian interviewed by one newspaper said they think they are now more likely to be heard and believed when making a complaint about sexual misconduct.
Analysis of the annual reports of 100 Bombay Stock Exchange-listed companies found the number of sexual harassment complaints filed had increased by 14 per cent in the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Meanwhile, more women are filing police reports against sexual harassment over phone calls and text messages.
Courtesy : SCMP