It is both interesting and saddening to note that the List of Sexual Harassers in Academia (LoSHA) didn’t get the attention it deserved, probably because the list was published by an individual who is neither upper-caste nor heterosexual. Also, it didn’t receive the backing it deserved from the larger feminist circles.
One of the possible reasons for this could be that a lot of the survivors who chose to speak up in the second wave of the ‘MeToo’ movement didn’t do so anonymously and they recounted details of their experiences. These factors must have contributed to the consolidation of their general perception as trustworthy individuals. Since students on LoSHA who outed their professors as abusers remained anonymous and in many cases, the column under ‘description of complaint’ in the list remained blank, public opinion didn’t have voyeuristic details to latch on to.
But a whole movement can’t be dismissed on these grounds. We need to acknowledge the bravery of the women who mustered the nerve to publicly speak up and therefore relive odious incidents at the grave cost of losing their jobs and social capital, compromising on their mental health, and antagonising some very powerful individuals.
An unidentified woman, who was a junior court assistant wrote a letter to twenty-two judges of the Supreme Court of India spelling out how the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, had sexually harassed her. According to her, when she tried to resist his advances, it led to her being fired, and a criminal case being registered against her family members under false pretence. An in-house panel gave Gogoi a clean chit. The committee found “no substance” in the accusations which were listed by the survivor against the Chief Justice. In this act of gross injustice, the committee which was made up entirely of Supreme Court judges and didn’t have a single external member, refused to appoint an amicus curiae, or allow the survivor to have a lawyer present and didn’t share a copy of the report with her. The survivor refused to participate in the proceedings of the committee owing to its unfair composition and conduct. “I am on the verge of losing faith in the idea of justice,” she said. Here was a woman who was willing to follow due process and she knocked the doors of the highest court in the country with the hope of a fair and free inquiry into the alleged, despicable behaviour of the Chief Justice. “With great power there must also come — great responsibility.” (The irony of the fact that the writer of this quote, Stan Lee, has also been accused of sexual misconduct by several women hasn’t escaped my attention). Alas, the Supreme Court didn’t follow its own guidelines.
The ‘MeToo’ movement has impacted the society in a robust (even if limited) manner, where powerful men in important positions had to face real consequences for their actions. For instance, ‘All India Bakchod‘, arguably India’s most popular comedy collective, had to dissolve after allegations surfaced against two of its four founding members being complicit in instances of sexual harassment, directly or indirectly. Lucrative deals worth crores of rupees with big companies such as Hotstar, Amazon didn’t materialise because some women had the courage to call them out on their reprehensible, sexist behaviour.
One should also credit the movement for starting a conversation about consent, the blurring of boundaries, our complicity in the system of toxic behaviour, accountability, desires, and ethical workplace behaviour. It has allowed (a certain section of) women to come together and establish solidarity with each other against a common oppressor, which is no mean task.
The Indian ‘MeToo’ movement is not sufficient to root out the evil of sexual harassment at the workplace. Decades of activism and the strength of women from productive castes such as Bhanwari Devi has led to legislations like the landmark Vishakha guidelines, which was then superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The movement is at a fledgling stage and needs to become broader to tap into the collective consciousness of the Indian masses. Other movements of sisterhood establishing solidarity need to emerge from it. Take, for instance, the 2017 ‘Women’s March‘ or the ‘March for Life’ in the United States of America. These were marches involving mass mobilisation, with intersectional goals, cutting across the lines of colour, class, and genders. Sister movements and protest marches are examples of what is lacking and required in India to draw more attention to women’s issues and to advocate for the implementation of legislation which has been put in place to protect them, to push for implementation in spirit and not just in letter.
India has a stifling atmosphere of sex-negativity. We think it’s shameful to talk about anything remotely sexual despite having one of the fastest population growth rates in the world. There is a lot of stigma associated with even consensual sexual behaviour, unless it is within the confines of marriage and the privacy of one’s bedroom. Oddly enough, married women in India don’t have the right to say no to their husbands because marital rape is not a crime here. Even after numerous attempts by activists to get marital rape legally recognised, successive governments have helped men hold on to this misogynistic privilege. The Modi government said it could “destabilize the institution of marriage.” The same government which speaks about ‘beti bachao beti padhao‘ (save the girl child, educate the girl child) refuses to recognise a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and her reproductive rights. We need to combat this hypocritical attitude by creating room for positive dialogue around sexual engagement between consenting adults.
I have heard a lot of men say how they are now afraid to freely interact with women because of the ‘MeToo’ movement, how they’re forced to think about every single move of theirs in the fear that it might get misconstrued. I have also become more mindful of how my actions and words can affect people. I have reflected on my own conduct and am conscious of the fact that I have overstepped boundaries too. But I aim to do better. That’s how it should be. We should be aware of the impact of our behaviour on others, especially when there is a power imbalance inherent to that interaction.
Readers Can Access Part I Here