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Women finally speak up! Is India's #MeToo here to stay?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Survivors are ousting men across all industries for inappropriately behavior and harassment. Tanishka Sodhi talks to experts to find out what the social implications of naming and shaming are, and the options available for survivors, should they choose to go the legal way

Although this isn’t India's first brush with the #MeToo movement, it's definitely one that has picked up maximum momentum in the past few days. Since a week now, social media has been flooded with women speaking up against men who have harassed them and behaved inappropriately, often at the workplace.

Names like Suhel Seth Alok Nath, Kailash Kher, Chetan Bhagat, Vikas Bahl, Rajat Kapoor, the two co-founders of the comedy group ‘All India Bakchod’ — Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba, and co-founder of ‘Terribly Tiny Tails’ Chintan Ruparel have popped up, along with prominent names from the media industry like Prashant Jha, K.R. Sreenivas, M.J. Akbar and Meghnad Bose. Besides the obvious violation and trauma, what is also alarming is that a lot of these men are influential members of the society, who advocate for feminism and women's right on social media, and have even produced content on these issues- ultimately gaining professional gains from issues pertaining to the rights and safety of women, while being complicit themselves in the harassment and discomfort faced by women.

While actor Tanushree Dutta's 10-year-old complain and accusation of sexual harassment by Nana Pateker has been in the limelight since the past 3 weeks again, it was the naming and shaming of comedian Utsav Chakraborty by writer-comic Mahima Kukreja on micro-blogging site Twitter that prompted others to speak up about Utsav harassing them. This lit the match for women to call out their harassers across industries like media, film, comedy, advertising, etc.

Although not all the survivors are choosing to take legal action against their abusers, the social impact of this movement in India has already begun. ‘All India Bakchod’ has issued a statement saying that its co-founders, Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba, who were accused anonymously on Monday, will step away from their association with the group. ‘Queen’ director Vikas Bahl has been dissolved from Phantom Films and may soon be out of the Hritik Roshan starrer ‘Super 30’. ‘Terribly Tiny Tales’ has also issued a statement disassociating it's co founder Chintan Ruparel from the company indefinitely.

Although this is India's #MeToo movement that has reached across several industries, law student Raya Sarkar deserves due credit for initially kick starting this movement in India last year. The list curated by her, called LoSHA (List of Sexual Harassers in Academia), was put up on social media after Sarkar asked fellow students to send in their experiences with people from academica who have sexually harassed or were sexually predatory towards them, sparking debates and discussions across the country.

Rutuja Shinde, an advocate practicing in Mumbai, has offered her legal assistance for free to any women who has faced sexual harassment at the workplace who would want to sue. She is willing to even appear in the courts for these women. Talking to Afternoon D&C about what pushed her to open her doors-and inbox- she says, “The first few days, watching and reading women speak up about harassment they gave gone through, I felt frustrated and helpless. I decided to put out a tweet offering my legal assistance as something had to be done. There was a lack of awareness regarding how to take this further legally, in case the women wanted to press charges. Also, if an accused wants to file a defamation case against the woman calling him out, she should know what steps she can take,” she says, mentioning that her inbox already has around 10 different women seeking legal advice/ assistance from her. “It is sad, but at least now I have the satisfaction of knowing that these women have the power and agency to take the needed steps. I am more than happy to offer all of help. It is emotionally draining, yes, but it is nothing compared to what the survivors must have gone through.”

There are women who have taken up to speak for those who want to remain anonymous. One of them is poet Harnidh Kaur, who also spoke on behalf of the woman accusing AIB's Khamba. “This movement, it has been long overdue. India has needed it's Me Too movement for a long time. Raya Sarkar's #LoSHA movement began the necessary conversation. A lot of the harassment that women are speaking up about, does not fall under the legal aspects, so right now it is more about changing the narrative. Those who can go the legal way, though, should definitely go ahead with it- due process is needed.” Talking about what encouraged her to speak for the women who need a voice, Harnidh said, “Why? Because when I was young, I needed someone like this, someone to hear me. I am trying to be what I needed. There have been an incredible amount of women who have contacted me about their harassers across all platforms. I am grateful that they trust me, and I hope we can do justice by them. The impact of this movement is already showing-slowly, but it is.”

Women's right lawyer Flavia Agnes speaks to us about the movement, and the legal aspects to it. “For legal action to be taken, the survivor cannot be anonymous. If the women are ready, they should approach the police station, who will then decide if the complain can be taken, after which it will move to the court,” she says, “Even if the women decide to not take legal action, the naming and shaming seems to be having the necessary impact, which is a good beginning.” She reminds us that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was introduced only in 2013, before which, Vishakha Guidelines, an informal set of procedural guidelines, were the only thing working women had to protect them. “The notion that people have is that women lie about these allegations. But if 100 women are coming out and naming people from across industries, there is definitely an impact, and hopefully the mindset will also change.” Flavia advices that the survivors should be clear about the issue, if they are going the legal way. “They should be able to say what happened and when. If the details are vague and lacks substance, it will not help them legally.”

Advocate Abha Singh said, “The #MeToo movement is enabling women to speak up and not keep quiet. It is also exposing the government, as after the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013, every company is compelled to have a committee to look after such matters, and have someone to approach. Unless it is rape or a heinous crime, a petty crime or harassment will not be valid after a certain time limit, according to the Limitation Act, 1963,” she says, further highlighting an important point, “The past few days have showed us that women in the unorganised and private sector are more vulnerable, since they are afraid that speaking up against their harassers could cost them their jobs.”

"The past few days have showed us that women in the unorganized and private sector are more vulnerable, since they are afraid that speaking up against their harassers could cost them their jobs."
- Advocate, Abha Singh

"I decided to put out a tweet offering my legal assistance as something had to be done. There was a lack of awareness regarding how to take this further legally, in case the women wanted to press charges."
- Rutuja Shinde, Advocate

"For legal action to be taken, the survivor cannot be anonymous.  They should be able to say what happened and when. If the details are vague and lacks substance, it will not help them legally."
- Flavia Agnes, Lawyer

"There have been an incredible amount of women who have contacted me about their harassers across all platforms. I am grateful that they trust me, and I hope we can do justice by them."
- Harnidh Kaur

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