The #MeToo Movement After an Year…
It has been an entire year since the #MeToo movement overtook the country as a fight against sexual harassment in India. As a social justice movement, not only did it shake the beliefs that sexual harassment was rare but it also bought into light the present scenario in laws against sexual harassment and its drawbacks.
After 70 years of independence, we are unable to provide a safe, non-discriminating environment for our women where they do not have to fear harassment in any manner and can turn to due process of law when they seek justice. An attempt to achieve the same was the #MeToo movement and here is an overview of everything you need to know.
What is the #MeToo Movement?
The #MeToo movement was an attempt to encourage victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment to come forward to seek justice through an en masse hashtag on social media which acted as a tool connecting millions of women from various countries and sections of the society who faced harassment, especially in workplaces.
It was launched in 2006 by civil social activist Tarana Burke. It gained popularity in October 2017 after American Actress Alyssa Milano shared her story of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstien. It encouraged women to share their survivor stories and come together to acknowledge the prevalence and stigma of sexual harassment. Social media became the uniting factor and slowly it gained prominence as a major social justice movement across the world.
#MeToo Movement in India
The #MeToo Movement in India began with actress Tanushree Dutta accusing veteran actor Nana Patekar of sexual assault in the sets of their movie “Horn OK Please” on September 26th 2018. This began one of the most widespread fight against sexual harassment in India with scores of women from all fields – education, entertainment, media, and even public office reporting their survivor stories against powerful or influential men.
In a patriarchal country like India, it was indeed a surprise to see women fighting for their voice to be heard albeit through social media. But, it also shook the notions of trust in various institutions and organisations and brought into surface the pains a women must go through in reporting such cases.
Sexual Harassment Laws in India
Civilian rights form the most crucial, substantial part of our constitution. Sexual Harassment is a violation of the fundamental rights of gender equality and the right to life and liberty, under articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian constitution.
Simply put there are 3 levels of sexual harassment laws in India – first in the POCSO which is gender neutral and for minors, second is the UGC guidelines against sexual harassment for educational institutions and the third is the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal ) Act 2013 based on the Vishaka guidelines for any organisations or “workplaces.”
The #MeToo Movement basically exposed the flaws in the last two which recommend the formation of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Redressal. The ICC did not exist in most institutions and organisations. Even in places where it did, it was unconstitutional, biased and plainly dormant.
In particular, the #MeToo Movement exposed two kinds of cases – one, where the ICC was not contacted , exposing the barriers to seek justice, and two , where the ICC was not trusted , exposing the biasness, redundancy and simply, flaws of the law.
Cases in the #MeToo Movement
The #MeToo Movement saw cases mainly in 4 sectors: Academia, Entertainment, Media and Public Office.
Raya Sarkar, a student then in California created a list called List Of Sexual Harassers in Academia or LoSHA where students could anonymously enter the details of their experience and publicly name professor who sexually assaulted them.
This caused a huge uproar in the academic circles and the public as about 70 eminent professors from various universities were named.
Bollywood and other entertainment mediums like the AIB was yet another major sector where famous personalities like Sajad Khan, Vikas Bhal, Utsav Chakroborthy and Salman Khan were accused by multiple women. Cases which were as old as 10 years ago came into the surface which exposed the dark side of the glam world.
Media was yet another field which saw multiple allegations. Resident Editor of Times of India, KR Sreenivas, Political Editor of Hindustan Times Prashant Jha, The Wire anchor Vinod Dua were among the major people accused of misusing their positions.
What was concerning was that the victims ranged from fearless journalists to hopeful interns who all were facing harassment in a place where truth was bought in front of the society – The Media.
Public officers were also accused of sexual harassment in the #MeToo Movement with the most infamous case being that of MJ Akbar. The case against the Chief Justice of India was a rude shock to the entire country. Many accused here were law makers and it was disheartening to see the culture of power abuse in the country.
Why Victims Choose Social media
Since the beginning of the #MeToo Movement the necessary, role and impact of social media was questioned. It is true that social media was the heart of the movement. It not only connected women who were united by a similar experience but it also acted as a medium for naming and shaming the assaulter publicly. This has invited both appreciation and criticism.
Women often resort to social media, to threatening their own privacy and personal lives, simply to obtain justice. Sometimes, they do not have awareness on whom to approach and most ICCs have a time limit of six months to report the case. Further procedures will require expenses and knowledge of the court proceeding which all women don’t have access to.
#MeToo Movement saw a rise of accusations against influential men, which would probably be impossible without social media. There is also a sense of distrust with the justice system when women use social media and is usually due to an outburst of anger and frustration. The anonymous feature of social media is yet another advantage.
1. Breaking the Culture of Silence : The biggest impact of the #MeToo Movement is that it broke a culture of silence in India. In India, victims were never encouraged to talk about their experience in the open before. Not only did this lead to the abuser being undaunted but it also undermined the victim’s experience. By breaking this culture of silence, the #MeToo Movement has today created some amount of fear in minds of those who look for an opportunity to harass a woman.
2. Creating Awareness : In a country where sexual harassment is never spoken about and often its existence is forgotten, the #MeToo Movement did a good job in bringing awareness towards its prevalence and its presence at all levels in the society. Further, the need for stronger laws and various loopholes/ illogical demands to report sexual harassment came into light. This in turn led to educating women on the options of Redressal available to them and creation of committees like the SAKSHAM committee for achieving gender sensitization at various levels.
3. Exposing Serial Abusers: Another impact of the #MeToo Movement is exposing serial abusers. In cases like that of MJ Akbar, many women came forward to share their experience after one woman used the #MeToo Movement to reveal her story. This not only brought into light how influential people misuse their position but it also revealed that such men are serial abusers and are a threat to the society. Many men from media and even academia were exposed as serial abusers and removed from their positions to prevent further harm
4. Initiating Investigations : There is no doubt that the #MeToo Movement shook the foundations of trust in the legal system a year ago. The system was also fast to make attempt to correct its image. Some allegations if not most led to investigation and conviction of the abuser. Many such men lost their reputation and jobs. More investigations were initiated towards sexual harassment cases than ever in the last one year and this is the first step towards justice.
5. #MenToo: A rather surprising but welcome impact of the #MeToo Movement was the #MenToo Movement which arose. In India, sexual harassment of men is often considered impossible and even our laws except POCSO are not gender neutral. The #MenToo Movement not only broke this stigma but it also created awareness on sexual harassment of men. This acted as a ray of hope to all looking for gender neutral sexual harassment laws.
1. Defamation Suits – A major challenge faced by the #MeToo Movement was the accused filing defamation cases against the victim in order to pressure the victim to withdraw her claims. Various activists and the National Women Commission took up this cause and worked with such women to encourage them to not give into such deterring factors. In the US, there exists a law against Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which prevents such suits from being filed but no remedy is available in India.
2. Victim Shaming– The culture of victim shaming has not only prevented many from coming forward and sharing their stories but has also put forward the sad state of affairs in our society. Many of the accused were influential and popular with huge fan following. They indulged in victim shaming by accusing her of doing so for attention and even body shaming her. The case of Tanushree Dutta is the best example
3. False Cases: In spite of everything else, the biggest challenge the #MeToo Movement faced was not being able to fact-check these cases. The social media is a cruel place sometimes and a few innocents were also blamed for revenge and hence became the victims for vigilante justice. It was saddening how some women used a mechanism which could have continued to benefit many for their personal selfish use and thus brought in doubt on even genuine cases raised through the mechanism.
In a modern democratic world, justice must be accessible to all- yet sometimes it is not. The ideals of equality, justice and fraternity which form the basis of our constitution were the result of the struggle during French Revolution. Women have been prejudiced against throughout history and have had to fight to obtain their rights – be it the right to vote in 1920 or the right to a safe environment today by the #MeToo Movement.