The #MeToo movement came to India in 2017 when law student Raya Sarkar compiled a list of alleged sexual harassers in the Indian academia. The idea of women speaking up years after the alleged incident and even making these accusations anonymously threw up several questions – and over a year later, they are still in the air.
The last time around, however, the debates and conversations mostly happened in the liberal arts spaces, social media and a section of the mainstream media. In this fresh round of #MeToo, men in stand-up comedy, cinema, politics and journalism have been accused. Their high profiles and presence in the public eye have meant that the questions that were asked in 2017 are being asked again, much more loudly, about the survivors.
Here are some FAQs that we have put together to help you understand #MeToo better.
1. Why did she not speak when the incident happened?
If this question is specific to Tanushree Dutta’s allegation about Nana Patekar which triggered the new bout of #MeToo, you should know that the actor had spoken up about it in 2008 as well. She had also filed a police complaint. However, nothing came of it. Despite video footage of her car being attacked (which she said was at the behest of Nana Patekar), Dutta’s allegation was dismissed as a “tantrum”.
Her experience shows us why so many women do not choose to speak up when an incident of sexual harassment at the workplace happens. Nobody believes them. They are tagged as “trouble makers” or “tantrum throwers”. They end up paying the price for speaking up in a patriarchal society – their careers, personal lives and reputations.
2. Why is she speaking now?
The #MeToo movement is one of solidarity and sisterhood. The premise of the movement is that survivors will be believed and their stories will be heard with empathy. This has given a lot of women the courage to speak up about what happened to them after so many years.
It is not only cathartic for survivors to share their stories and begin to heal, it also serves as a warning to other women who may still be working with the concerned man.
3. Why does she want to be anonymous when she’s naming the perpetrator?
Many of the men who have been accused of sexual harassment at the workplace are in a position of power to influence the career of a survivor. If you go through the stories that women have been sharing, you will understand how this happens – the perpetrator may isolate the woman colleague at the workplace, ensure that her work is undermined, stop promotions and pay hikes, and deny opportunities for growth. She may even lose her job if she is reporting to him directly.
4. Why doesn’t she just quit and leave if it is that bad?
Not everyone is in a position of privilege and financial security to take such a decision. Besides, considering how prevalent the problem sexual harassment is, what is the guarantee the same issue will not crop up at a new workplace? Career growth also depends on networking. The perpetrator, who is in a position of power, may be able to stop her career growth even if she leaves the organisation and goes elsewhere.
5. Where’s the proof?
Several women in the #MeToo movement have shared screenshots of conversations and emails their perpetrators have sent them, which clearly suggest sexual harassment. In many cases, one woman’s story about a particular man has encouraged others to speak up about him.
In some cases, their testimonies have been supported by others who knew of the incident when it happened. For instance, in Dutta’s case, journalist Janice Sequeira has confirmed the series of events. The comedy group AIB has issued a formal statement, accepting the organisation knew about the sexual harassment charges against one of its members. Phantom Films was recently dissolved after Anurag Kashyap admitted that he knew about his partner Vikas Bahl sexually assaulting a woman. However, it is to be noted that in most of these cases, nothing was done until the survivors came out in public and spoke about the incident and the organisation was forced to take a position.
Sexual harassment often happens when the perpetrator is alone with the victim and the latter may not have any proof beyond her testimony. But as mentioned above, the first step in the #MeToo movement is to give survivors our trust. Besides, even with proof, ranging from documentary to medical evidence, survivors are often neither believed by society nor the patriarchal legal system.
6. Isn’t it unfair to the man?
Men accused of sexual harassment have seldom paid the price for it. In many industries, people are already aware about the behaviour of such men which tends to follow a pattern. However, nothing is done about it because he is in a position of power and considered to be an asset to the organisation or industry. Often, a man’s “talent” is considered more important than his behaviour and he is excused because “boys will be boys”. The number of women who have dropped out of the workspace because of him is not taken into account.
When an accusation is made, a process of fair inquiry must be initiated. However, many organisations do not have a functioning internal complaints committee as mandated by the law for workspaces that have at least 10 employees. In instances where there is a committee, it is often the case that the accused man is either a part of it or in a position to influence it. It is the survivor, therefore, who ends up bearing the brunt of the inquiry. The accused continues in his position of power and privilege, with no damage done.
When a criminal complaint is filed, too, the process can be extremely traumatising to the survivor, with the police and the court resorting to character assassination to put her down. Legal aid can also be unaffordable, especially when her career is already at stake.
#MeToo is not a substitute for the legal process. It is a movement that encourages women to speak up when the entire system around them has pushed them into silence. Some of the survivors who have shared their stories as part of the movement have also filed formal complaints, heartened by the support that they have finally received. Some organisations have conducted internal inquiries and removed the accused person from their position after satisfying themselves of the veracity of the allegations.
7. What about false allegations?
The #MeToo movement is neither perfect nor organised by any institution. It is often an organic process where a survivor starts speaking, triggering an outpouring from others. There is certainly a possibility that a false allegation can be made. However, considering the fact that existing legal processes in the country are weighed heavily against the survivor, the possibility is negligible. This is especially so when the survivor has put her name to the allegation and is running a huge risk to her career and personal life.
Sometimes, survivors choose to identify themselves to a trusted person in the public space who then puts forth their story anonymously. In the first round of #MeToo, it was law student Raya Sarkar who went through testimonies, spoke to survivors and made The List. In the new bout, journalist Sandhya Menon and others have been following a certain vetting process before putting up the allegations.
Still, it must be understood that these are accusations and the person who has been accused can challenge these if required – on social media, in the internal complaints committees or in court as required.
8. Why should mainstream media cover this?
Because women make up half the population in the country and their voices matter. The #MeToo movement is historic and has had an impact all over the world. Powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, who could not be touched earlier, have had to relinquish their position because women dared to speak up at last.
It matters because the existing systems do not work, and we need fresh ideas. These are unprecedented times when technology has enabled women across the globe to connect and speak freely. The mainstream media should document this turn in history, this moment when women have stood up and said “Time’s Up”.
This article was first published on The News Minute.