The last few weeks have been extremely exhausting with all the outpouring of stories concerning the MeToo India movement. In the United States, the entire country has been gripped by the ensuing drama of the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Judge Kavanaugh and the testimony of Dr Christine Blasey Ford accusing him of sexual assault when they were teenagers.
it is important to understand what comes next and how do we deal with it - Elsa
In India, in the past few weeks, a dam seems to have burst open with actress Tanushree Dutta filing a sexual harassment complaint against Nana Patekar and Ganesh Acharya. The #MeToo movement which surfaced last year, has largely been a Western phenomena. But this complaint has changed all that.
Since then, several Indian women, journalists and actors, have come forward naming their perpetrators. They have stories to share, screenshots of conversations, recollections of incidents and there is even a list circulating with at least a hundred names of prominent men. This is further to the list by Raya Sarkar, last year naming South Asian academics who have perpetrated some form of sexual violence.
This avalanche of “outings” by women who have rightfully found the courage to break the silence, seems to be the tip of an iceberg.
Some of these cases will go through a formal complaint process whilst others might just resort to “naming and shaming” their perpetrators on social media. Like in the US, we can expect some men in India to lose their jobs or be asked to resign. Only if the complaint is made through the criminal justice system and if proved guilty, will the perpetrator be arrested and have to serve a jail time. But in reality, given the backlog of cases in our criminal justice system, this might take forever, leaving most women feeling bitter and helpless in the meantime.
Therefore it is important to understand what comes next and how do we deal with it. It is indeed painful to relive the memories of the incident and come forward with one’s complaint. But most often, what does the survivor want from the perpetrator - acknowledgement of his or her crime, an apology or a life long sentence? In practical terms, do we have the resources to deal with so many complaints and house as many people in jail? And how much punishment is enough? With sex offender registries now being introduced, people will forever be branded as a sex offender without being rehabilitated. Further, the Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi has announced that she will set up a committee of retired judges to examine complaints of survivors and facilitate “swift” justice.
Some concrete steps for everyone concerned would be:
- Insist on pre-emptive measures like providing sex education, gender sensitivity awareness programmes and consent education in schools, colleges and workplaces so that people know how to behave and recognise what is a violation of a person’s rights.
- Ensure your organisation or institution has a formal mechanism for complaints and redressal.
- Make use of these formal mechanisms to seek justice and file one’s complaints.
- Educate yourself on recognising sexual harassment, abuse, misconduct and violence. Then educate your peers and family. Do not justify behaviour that is abusive, call it out in a timely manner, support the victim and offer appropriate help if necessary.
- Hold formal institutions accountable in providing you with safe environments to study, work and live in. This means voting right people into power and making institutions like municipal authorities and police accountable as well as demanding more from your workplace and educational institutions.
- Finally, it might also be prudent to focus on what comes post the complaint and how do we reintegrate these offenders into society.
- Restorative and Transformative Justice might be the answer.
It is a relatively new field which is not based on punitive measures but on reconciliation, respect, responsibility, relationship building and relationship repairing. The first step in this process is for the accused to acknowledge and apologise for his or her transgression, taking responsibility for his or her crimes and the actual harm done. The next step is for mediation and agreement. It means giving the person who has committed the wrong doing to come forward, apologise and make things right. It believes that the accuser also needs assistance and seeks to identify what needs to change to prevent future re-offending.
Through trained facilitation, the accused and the accuser sit together in a circle and go through a series of facilitated questions which seek to restore and repair the relationship. We can definitely learn from this process in South Africa where it was used to address apartheid related racial crimes, genocide in Rwanda and is being modified to help school children deal with bullying and harassment in Oakland, California. The schools are using a three tier model of prevention, intervention and supported re-entry. Community is central to all three processes. The University of Michigan has been using restorative justice for the last three years to address campus sexual violence.
We owe it to ourselves to use this momentum to push for the right solutions that will be sustainable in the long run.
It does put a lot of responsibility on the survivor to forgive and choose this option as a way forward. But if we build it into the system of pre-emptive measures - creating space for dialogue and discussion to address transgressions right from the school system to the workplace, we might be successful in creating communities that are responsible and inclusive.
Till then, we will struggle with this wave of #MeTooIndia being a bitter and seemingly one-sided movement that will continue to amplify women’s stories as “shrill complaints” encouraging men to discount them. We owe it to ourselves to use this momentum to push for the right solutions that will be sustainable in the long run.
Views are the author's own