Yes, there is no physical encounter here, nor is there any inappropriate touching, but despite the interaction being virtual, we must not trivialise its effects on a survivor. Inappropriate text messages cause mental and emotional trauma and hence is sexual harassment. Yet, for some people sending lewd messages isn’t harassment. How can an act as harmless as sending texts be called harassment, they ask? Nobody got touched or injured, so on what grounds are we calling one a perpetrator?

One such person is Punjab’s All India Congress Committee in-charge, Asha Kumari, who said, “Sending a message does not become a case of #MeToo. Sexual harassment is different from messaging.” According to a report on NDTV, Kumari made this statement in defence of Punjab’s state Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi. The minister is being asked to resign for allegedly sending an “inappropriate” SMS text to a woman official a few weeks ago.

Kumari’s statement reflects how most people, including women, still, do not comprehend what all comes under the ambit of sexual harassment. How it is more about abuse of power, standing or gendered entitlement than the physical act of touching a person inappropriately.

Any act of abusing power to gain sexual favours or force sexual will is harassment

Sending women lewd texts is not as naïve an act as Kumari wants us to believe. Here a man with power felt entitled to send a female officer an inappropriate message. It shows ‘abuse of power’ and disregard to the ‘woman’s consent.’ These are the keywords everyone must keep in mind, to understand what sexual harassment means. Did the woman approve of this man sending her lewd texts? Did this minister seek her permission beforehand? If one party resorts to sending inappropriate texts to another, without their approval, then it counts as harassment, and this stands for both genders.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • All India Congress Committee in-charge, Punjab, Asha Kumari has said that sending a message does not become a case of #MeToo.
  • Sending any women lewd texts is not as naïve an act as Kumari wants us to believe. Here a man with power felt entitled to send a female officer an inappropriate message.
  • Making a woman uncomfortable at her workplace by sending sexually suggestive messages, which she must endure because of the predator’s powerful position, is sexual harassment.

Harassment is often perceived to be a physical act. The idea that it is the use of physical force to subdue women, has ended up defining a vast and diverse category of offences.

Sexual harassment is also about psychological domination. Making a woman uncomfortable at her workplace by sending across sexually suggestive messages, which she must endure because of the predator’s powerful position, is also sexual harassment. These cues can be verbal, virtual, direct or even indirect. But if they are sexual in nature, then the act is indeed sexual harassment.

This defence that sending lewd messages cannot be bunched under #MeToo once again removes the onus of good conduct from the man’s shoulder. The message we are sending with #MeToo is loud and clear. No form of sexual harassment is acceptable. No man can now hide behind petty excuses like this and carry on abusing his power. This isn’t about categorising which offences can come under #MeToo and which can’t. This is about drawing a clear and bold line between acceptable and unacceptable conduct and to stop questioning our victim-hood and shielding men.

Picture Credit: The Hindu

Also Read : Where Do North-Eastern Women Stand In #MeToo?

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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