Last one month has put India on the #MeToo global map quite extensively with scores of women naming and shaming their harassers, abusers and assaulters. Alleged predators, holding positions of power in the media industry, have had to step down. But the movement itself in the country is largely virtual and limited to the digital realm. Courageous women are putting out their stories on social media and while at any other point in time, it would have been dismissed or even discouraged, this time it is garnering a huge amount of support from across the country. But entire India is not on the social media and there is a need for us to see if we can see a similar impact of the movement aside from its online presence?

What are the struggles of the marginalized communities and how can #MeToo help?

  • Dalit women find it hard to rise beyond the power structures, hence gender justice is a far-fetched dream.
  • No space for Dalit women in powerful decision-making scenarios.
  • Sex workers take matters in their own hands by beating up the men who misbehave. For some, the lines between work and assault are blurred.
  • Trans women have just acquired the right to live but every trans woman has a story of abuse to tell.

DALIT WOMAN STRUGGLES

When we think about the marginalized sections of our Indian society, Dalit women stand fairly on top by virtue of them being Dalits and women. For decades, we hear about the atrocities that these women have had to face living in India. But the fact that the society has suppressed Dalit women’s voices is a major issue and this is exactly how the #MeToo movement is empowering women regardless of caste. In light of this, a Dalit women’s collective—Dalit Women Fight released a statement regarding the movement and stated, “We have been wondering about the ‘me’ in #metooindia and have not been able to locate ourselves in this current.”

“The perpetrators that have been outed thus far in #MeToo are primarily of dominant caste backgrounds. Their positions in the institutions have been fueled by caste power. This understanding is crucial in every act of resistance against structural oppression,” it further said.

The collective then went on to explain how structural violence and intersectional impact of caste and gender is manifold and the appropriate response multi-pronged for Dalit women.

Dalit activist Mruduladevi Shashidharan spoke to SheThePeople.TV and said that she is in full solidarity of the campaign because it has allowed women to raise a voice. “We need social justice against sexual harassment. But at the same time, I condemn the lack of positioning of Dalit women in this campaign. Even in this movement, we have to ask reservation within reservation because of the prominent and dominant caste system is prevailing even inside the MeToo movement.”

Dalit women have to fight against male dominance in general and Dalit men’s domination in the country. Shashidharan goes on to tell the challenges of Dalit women and one of the main challenges she found is the alienation of Dalit women in decision making. “Both men and Dalit men think that a Dalit woman’s brain is useless. We find the same problem with upper-caste dominating feminists also. A Dalit woman and an upper-caste woman are two different people altogether and caste decides the value of the opinion of a woman especially in crucial matters,” Shashidharan pointed.

ALSO READ: #MeToo Is A Complicated Process. It’s Not Black Or White. It’s Grey.

Another Dalit activist and General Secretary of All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, Asha Kowtal also talked about the divide in the women’s movement. She said, “Unless the Sawarna women activists are not able to dismantle the same power structures from which they have benefited then how will they ever understand our struggles. In this case, most of the perpetrators who have been outed how did they think that all of those men assumed those positions of power in institutions that anyway carry caste biases?”

Certainly caste-based violence overpowers most struggles in India. When it comes to sexual violence, it is no hidden truth that Dalit women stand abused, exploited and harassed without any outlet for resolve.

SEX WORKERS AND METOO

Indian women are divided in varying categories of subjugation. One other category that stands ostracised and marginalized in the mainstream is that of the sex workers. Harsh as it is, the reality does not change for most sex workers in the country. Is there ever a MeToo movement that can overthrow dominance in this community?

While most people would dismiss sexual violence that happens against the women of this community on the pretext of their area of work, sex workers remain clear of the boundaries they create for themselves. Lalita Devi, President of Society for Participatory Integrated Development that works for sex workers, said, “It is a whole different life for sex workers. They can raise their voice when they want and they don’t raise their voice when they know that wouldn’t lead to anything. They do take their cases to the police when their client misbehaves with them and then the police also takes action. In many cases, the sex workers also beat up their clients if they try to harass them. So it is not like they are submissive and they don’t have to be.”

However, another activist and founder of Sex Workers Kat Katha, Geetanjili Babbar disagreed with Devi’s view and said that these movements are all for us but on GB Road it is all about harassment and no get away from it. “Those women have stopped raising their voice altogether. They feel that all these campaigns are for the women in the mainstream. They know that everybody knows that they are harassed and raped every day of their life so MeToo doesn’t matter to them. It would have mattered when they probably were 13-14 years old and trafficked,” said Babbar.

Another extremely important community that we often overlook in any and every movement that starts in India is that of the trans women. Even after the Supreme Court read down Section 377 that criminalized homosexuality just a few weeks ago, the trans women’s voices are grossly absent from the #MeToo narrative. Because of society’s non-acceptance towards trans women, a major section of them end up doing sex work to earn money. Even today, one would barely see trans women working in the corporate or any other sector. Being prone to sex work and selling their bodies for money also comes with a lot of exploitation and sexual abuse.

Both men and Dalit men think that a Dalit woman’s brain is useless. We find the same problem with upper-caste dominating feminists also. A Dalit woman and an upper-caste woman are two different people altogether and caste decides the value of the opinion of a woman especially in crucial matters,” Shashidharan pointed.

TRANS WOMEN FINDING A SPACE

Thus far, even some of the popular trans women for the country are silent in India’s #MeToo moment. However, Nitasha Biswas, Miss India at Miss International Trans Queen 2018 told us, “MeToo movement is not just a woman’s movement but a mankind’s movement who has faced harassment in any way. It is necessary to name and shame the perpetrators so we can safeguard our future. But it is true that trans women’s voices are not much out there and if nobody steps up, I am going to be the first one to raise mine.

The LGBTQ community as a whole has maximum stories of harassment. We have very recently just got the basic rights to live but there will be millions of stories coming out soon. I want to say that all our community needs to join hands and stand up in the MeToo movement as well because we all have a story to tell.”

Dalits, sex workers, LGBTQ community, women in the rural, tribal women and the other communities which are not present digitally and aren’t aware of the MeToo movement, all of them have a story of abuse wrapped in regret and guilt somewhere deep in their subconscious. We need to remember that the movement doesn’t just empower a few while leaving a huge mass of abused women behind.

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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