The #MeToo movement in India has erupted. It began as a trickle with Tanushree Dutta, and now it is a roar of stories that form part of the experiences women faced in their place of work. The shaming of men who made advances, physical grabs, textual assaults, and who participated in a bro culture that made women into objects, has begun. While #MeToo is a spontaneous, organic gathering of women who are sharing their individual trauma, by naming the men who put them through hell – the big question is what happens next? What happens to the process that brings the accused to book? Is it just about social media exposure and shaming, or is there going to be more?  How do we evolve a system where the office Is a safe and equal space for both genders?

It started a fortnight ago, with Tanushree Dutta repeating her decade-old allegations of sexual harassment against Nana Patekar, during the shooting of the film “Horn OK Pleassss”. In her interviews, she shared her horrific experiences not just during this film, but another film as well.  She had spoken a decade earlier, an act that led to her leaving the country and starting life anew somewhere else. The brotherhood of men put up a wall of silence and defence that was difficult to break.

She had spoken a decade earlier, an act that led to her leaving the country and starting life anew somewhere else. The brotherhood of men put up a wall of silence and defence that was difficult to break.

As the tremors from the Tanushree Dutta earthquake subsided, came another completely unrelated incident that triggered the #MeToo Tsunami. A cruise ship with 1300 Indian men, derailed into drunken romp replete with burlesque dancers, drunk men, and men who thought it was their divine right to ogle and paw women who were on the ship. The men were from a gutka company – salespeople and distributors. Twitter broke into outrage, with the more woke men mocking their not so urbane counterparts. One of the men was Utsav Chakraborty, a writer for the popular comedy house – AIB. One woman saw this, and something broke. Because Chakraborty had sent her and other women pictures of his private parts, suggesting they do the same. And, as this story came out, so too did others. Women shared the stories of harassment that often drove them from the work they loved. These were primarily stories from newsrooms, and the sexual harassment meted out by multiple men in various organisations. And, the dam broke.

Some Takeaways

  • If the momentum created by #MeToo to create safer working spaces has to be sustained, there has to be a systemic long-term solution.
  • The alleged harassers have to be given a hearing too. There has to be justice, not online lynching.
  • We need to hire more women in decision-making positions, have consistent gender sensitivity training, in addition to making every person understand what all construe sexual harassment.
  • Create a culture that allows people to speak about harassment so that remedial action can be immediate.

Women shared the stories of harassment that often drove them from the work they loved. These were primarily stories from newsrooms, and the sexual harassment meted out by multiple men in various organisations. And, the dam broke.

Women of all ages began putting out their stories. Some named names, others did not. Some revealed their names, others chose to remain anonymous. And, yet others saw the outpouring of anger, rage and grief – and felt a sort of catharsis in knowing that they were not alone. Right now, on social media, the stories that you are seeing, and hearing are tales of betrayal of trust, abuse of power, a culture of rampant sexism that allows harassment to thrive. And, as more and more women come out with their stories, it is horrifying to see the extent of the rot. In some stories it is not just about harassment, it is about sexual assault and rape. And, I do not use these words lightly. In other stories, it is about men who persistently pursue a woman, like stalkers, despite her having said no repeatedly. There are women who don’t work in the media anymore, something they trained for, and wanted to pursue, because of their horrific experiences at their workplace. I believe it has taken tremendous courage for them to speak up, and their voices need to be heard. And, their wishes – on whether to pursue the matter to a legal conclusion should be respected.

Right now, on social media, the stories that you are seeing, and hearing are tales of betrayal of trust, abuse of power, a culture of rampant sexism that allows harassment to thrive.

While we believe the women and what they say; one question remains the elephant in the room. What about the men who have been named. Do they have the right to their say? Do they have the right to be heard? Do they have the right to be presumed innocent until a due process? Do they even have the right to a due process?

It is, as Tanushree Dutta said, as she fired the first salvo, war. And, in war there is collateral damage. Should we consider a few men collateral damage in a war which has claimed so many women?

In an article in the Atlantic, Emily Yoffe writes “If believing the woman is the beginning and the end of a search for the truth, then we have left the realm of justice for religion.” And, I believe that is what we must ponder on. I believe the women wholeheartedly, but the alleged harassers have to be given a hearing too. There has to be justice, not online lynching.

I believe the women wholeheartedly, but the alleged harassers have to be given a hearing too. There has to be justice, not online lynching.

From an organisational standpoint, these allegations of harassment are serious. But as organisations do you hold an enquiry, or is there an immediate termination of the alleged harasser? Do organisations act on someone “feeling threatened” by verbal or nonverbal communication or does there have to be more definitive grounds? What happens where stories of dates going wrong, or of someone asking another person for a date, and your employee is named?  How do you even deal with everyday casual sexism that seems to be rampant in the newsroom?  And finally, how do you create a culture where a woman will be more comfortable talking to the HR of your company, rather than make her anguish and anger public on a digital platform?

But, the bigger question is what next after #MeToo – what is the change that needs to be brought to workplaces to reduce sexism, and its offshoot sexual harassment. The easiest answer is to hire more women in decision-making positions. The second, is to have consistent gender sensitivity training, in addition to making every person understand what all construe sexual harassment.  The third is to create a culture that allows people to speak about harassment so that remedial action can be immediate.  If the momentum created by #MeToo to create safer working spaces has to be sustained, there has to be a systemic long-term solution.

Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender, and society;  and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences. She is a writer, filmmaker, and consults on digital strategy. The views expressed are the author’s own.
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