#MeToo movement reaches India

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One year after the movement started in America, following the revelations of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein published in The New Yorker, #MeToo has finally arrived in India.

It started in Bollywood, one of the biggest film industries in the world, with actress Tanushree Dutta accusing fellow actor-activist Nana Patekar of sexual harassment on the sets of a film they were co-starring in in 2009. On Oct. 4, writer Mahima Kukreja tweeted that popular standup comedian Utsav Chakraborty had sent her unsolicited photos of his private parts.

Then the dam burst open with female journalists leading the way. Several male journalists and popular editors were named and shamed. Journalists Ghazala Wahab, Shutapa Paul, and CNN scribe Majlie de Puy Camp have accused MJ Akbar, the current Minister of State External Affairs of the Indian Government of sexual harassment and molestation during his time as the editor of some national newspapers.

Directors and actors were revealed to have been seeking sexual favors and harassing actresses and their other female coworkers on set. Chetan Bhagat, one of the most popular authors of fiction novels in India, was also accused of harassing a female journalist who’d once interviewed him. Women in the music industry too came out with their stories of harassment.

Throughout the last month, as #MeToo gained more momentum, the movement remained free of political involvement, with no major political party coming up to try to claim the movement. And that is the uniqueness of the movement as it takes place in India. Women like journalist Sandhya Menon, social news writer Sonia Mariam Thomas, and popular singer Chinmayee Sripada, have led the movement, calling out men in their respective professions for harassing women and tweeting the DMs that they receive from women who wish to share their experiences anonymously. In this way, #MeToo has become the very symbol of sisterhood, the age-old culture of women supporting and helping each other in times of difficulty.

And these are times of difficulty. The #MeToo movement has irrevocably changed the very cultural, socioeconomic and political structures of India, challenging the hierarchies that shield men of power from justice.

It is the culmination of all the events of violence against women, a number that has increased since the horrific gang rape of Nirbhaya in 2012, following the broken promise of the current government of safety for women, one of the reasons why they’d come to power in 2014; the horrific rape and murder of an eight-year-old child in Kathua, politicized to the anger and frustration of the people; the Unnao rape victim’s father’s murder by the goons of a politician belonging to the same party as the one she’d accused of raping her, and the numerous victims of acid-attacks by men whose advances they’d spurned.

This is an expression of rage and frustration of women in India, but there are other classes of women in India who #MeToo cannot provide a platform to speak up for: women belonging to the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum have access to neither the technology nor the power, to speak up. Especially for women who were forced into the Jogini or Devadasi system, in which girls as young as 7 are “dedicated” to the god and then are raped by men of power in the village or locality. The Devadasi practice had been outlawed in India in 1988 but still continues to illegally exist in several pockets of the country. Women belonging to “lower” castes in India and Dalit women also face violence — physical, sexual, verbal — meted upon them by upper caste men or by men belonging to their own caste. Girls are also forced into the Human Trafficking market for sexual exploitation or bonded labor, which, although illegal, continues to be a significant problem.

These women have internalized this violence, accepted it as their fate. They do not have access to better opportunities beyond what education offers, and access to proper pedagogical resources, too, is nearly impossible for them.

Even as conversations on the #MeToo platform continue to encourage other women who have the access to technology and the internet to speak out and provide support for each other, a parallel conversation should also be conducted on how to empower women who do not have this access. The goal of #MeToo will be left incomplete without the inclusion of all these women, because every woman left behind in this conversation, without the knowledge that a system of support exists for them, is a failure of the society’s duty to provide safe spaces for people who have experienced violence of all kinds.

This celebration of sisterhood, of feminism, in these times of societal and personal difficulties, as we come face-to-face with revelations made by several women and men of the violence that they faced in their lives, should continue, along with reaching out to other marginalized women too.