The Infuriating Culture That Normalises Harassment & Discrimination

Since the dawn of civilisation, a group of conservative cis hetero men have committed one mistake after the other, from starting world wars to suppressing one-half of the human race i.e. women.

This has been going on for centuries. But in the past 100 years, thanks to the feminist movement, women have come into the limelight. But both patriarchy and the ensuing damages are still prevalent and we have a long way to go.

Women’s participation in all sectors and their right to occupy public spaces is still a matter of debate, evident in the rise in the number of sexual assault and harassment cases. In India’s case, it is still taboo for women to work late into night, go out alone, or travel alone.

In some cases, a woman being able to choose her career is a luxury thanks to parental and spousal pressure, as well as, certain factors at the workplace that keeps them away. Women are still soft targets, blamed for the atrocities happening against them and given (over)protection as opposed teaching men not to commit these atrocities.

Recently, TVF’s CEO Arunabh Kumar was accused of harassing women in an anonymous blog post. The catch is that, although TVF deemed it as a false accusation, after this many women came forward with their stories of harassment.

Arunabh responded by saying: “The kind of insinuations the FB post makes are untrue. I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong? Having said that, I am very particular about my behaviour – I will approach a woman, but never force myself.”

First of all, yes, we should not judge a book by its cover. But, when multiple women come forward with the same complaint then questions related to its veracity intensify. And, Mr Kumar himself agreed to the fact that he is a heterosexual man who likes to approach a woman whom he finds sexy.

Do people actually think that it is ok? Even if he doesn’t force himself on that girl? Are we forgetting a little thing called consent?

TVF initially released a statement terming the allegations as false.  However, they later released a statement accepting the mistake. In wake of TVF controversy, women’s safety at work has become a matter of discussion.

I came across a Huffington Post article which stated that the number of working women in India are falling steadily. Well, along with fear of harassment and turmoils of going through all the legal work (once the complaint is lodged) women are also given unsolicited advice like, “if you can’t handle harassment at the workplace then don’t go to work”.

The current leader of the free world’s son echoed a similar statement during his campaign for the big seat. How can it not reflect in the society and around the world?

When union minister (WCD) Maneka Gandhi requested that it be made mandatory for private companies to reveal whether they have an Internal Complaints Committee to inquire into sexual harassment complaints of women employees, Minister Arun Jaitley (Finance and Corporate Affairs) turned this proposal down saying that “such disclosures may not be desirable”.

And so, women facing such atrocities in private firms are on their own.

On 3rd September 2012, Lok sabha passed the law against harassment of women at work: 

An Act to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Clearly, sexual harassment results in violation of the fundamental rights of a woman’s right to equality under articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and her right to life and to live with dignity under article 21 of the Constitution and right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment;

Additionally, the protection against sexual harassment and the right to work with dignity are universally recognised human rights by international conventions and instruments such as Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which has been ratified on the 25th June, 1993 by the Government of India.

Understandably, it is expedient to make provisions for giving effect to the said Convention to protect women.

And yet, I came across a lot of chilling stories from women who were harassed at work.

Housekeepers and maids face this issue the most, followed by women who work late. Every industry, ranging from conventional to creative fields, has this issue.

Actress Rekha was harassed by her co-star Biswajeet when she was just 15 years old and this was something that happened in front of the cameras.

Actress Maria Schneider was forced to act in the infamous “butter rape scene” in the Hollywood cult film “The Last Tango In Paris” and when she spoke out about this, no one paid any heed (something any typical victim in her position faces) until director Bertolucci admitted to it.

What can be done?

Consent is a lesson that should be reflected in society. As long as it is limited to an “idea”, women will continue to be unsafe.

While both media and society reiterate that women should speak up about what they face, some sections still brand those who speak up as liars.

Amber Heard and Kesha faced this scenario. The fact that false accusations take place cannot be denied, but how is every situation limited to that?

Survivors, especially the ones who show proof, should be given due attention and above all, should not be shamed into silence.

At the end of the day, it is not easy to speak up about the harassment one has faced in this conservative society where survivors are shamed and men who committed the heinous crime are convinced that they have the upper hand.

Sexual harassment should not be a weapon that should be used against women’s right to work. As long as women who speak up are shamed, the ones who participate in the shaming process, men and women alike, contribute to the undying rape culture.

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