[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he movement to call out sexual harassment at workplace, which gained momentum in the United States last year, has reached India for good. #MeToo has become the language of women all over the world to come forward and talk about the atrocities suffered by them at the hands of powerful men (and occasionally women), the dominant carriers of society’s toxic patriarchy, sexism and misogyny. #MeToo is a scream for help as well as a call to action — by women from all walks of life, united in their demand to end rape culture in general and sexual harassment at workplace in particular.
The emergence of this revolutionary movement in India started last year with a “list” put out by a young scholar Raya Sarkar, which “outed” several prominent names in Indian academia. Popularly known as “LoSHA”, or “List of Sexual Harassers in Academia”, it blew the lid off what many knew to be true of the Indian university spaces — that they are a cauldron of sexual harassment perpetrated by towering male academicians and budding scholars. This year, Bollywood entertainment industry witnessed one of its most popular actors — Nana Patekar — being accused of sexual harassment by actress Tanushree Dutta.
In due course of time, many more victims of sexual harassment bravely came to fore and voiced their suffering, often borne silently for want of outlets and forums to speak their minds on. Women journalists like Sandhya Menon, Anoo Bhuiya, Priya Ramani, Rituparna Chatterjee, among others, spearheaded the campaign on Indian social media to foreground survivor accounts of sexual harassment over several years, across industries and sectors.
The movement has has forced many powerful men from various industries, who have sexually misbehaved with or harassed women, to step down from their high-profile positions, as is evident from the resignation of M J Akbar from his enviable post of the Minister of State for External Affairs. Akbar has been accused of sexual harassment by Priya Ramani and 19 other women, mostly journalists, most of whom encountered the man as a formidable editor while working at the English daily The Asian Age. Other famous names like Binny Bansal of Flipkart, several top-rated journalists with cushy jobs in prominent Indian media houses, have been either asked to step down, or have been removed from their significant positions pending inquiry into the allegations.
Right from women interviewers who were harassed while on professional duty conversing with eminent personalities/artists/authors, to female employees of corporate undertakings, it is evident that the #MeToo movement is largely related to sexual harassment at workplace. But is it only restricted to the workplace? The answer is a clear “No”.
Sexual harassment is also faced by women in their houses where they are forced to have sexual intercourse sans consent. It is rampant in public places where instances of inappropriate touching are common. It has to be borne in mind that when we talk about sexual harassment, it is not just physical harassment but also includes verbal harassment, for instance, making sexually coloured remarks. Therefore, sexual harassment is not a narrow term which is confined only to a workplace but has a very broad connotation and implication.
With education’s gender ratio going up the world over, the workforce has seen a major increase in the number of female employees. While the old notion that a woman is a homemaker and the man is a breadwinner has been somewhat dented over time, women in various industries are working shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts, but also suffering unwelcome sexual advances, a hostile work environment that is sexually aggressive against women.
The #MeToo movement has indeed had some influence in addressing the issue of gender disparities prevailing in India by sending a strong social message that women have equal rights at the workplace and their rights are to be respected. This includes right to work, equal pay for equal work, non-discrimination, non-aggression of sexual nature at work, among others.
Missing from #MeToo: Focus on class
The #MeToo movement in India is there to stay and has aided to a great extent in shining a spotlight on the problem of sexual harassment of women at workplace. However, there’s still a strong class angle to the movement, which remains, so far, restricted to cities and social media-savvy urbane spaces, which are accessed by educated, upper-/middle-class women with professional commitments.
The most important question which #MeToo movement has till now failed to address is how to reach the marginalised sections of women in the society, who are more prone and vulnerable to sexual harassment, and in most cases, sexual violence and rape. As of now the movement has attempted to voice the grievances of the women working in big industries with high visibility, but has still not focused on the pain and suffering of women working in small-scale industries and rural sectors, or migrant women labourers in cities, as well as our villages.
[Note: The #MeToo tracker is a collation of all the names that have been accused of sexual harassment so far in India in the wake of the 2018 movement. It shall be updated in case more names come to fore.]