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#MeToo

Kingson Chingakham

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#MeToo movement brought a storm in revealing how women have been sexually harassed by men at workplaces.Started by Tarana Burke in 2006,this movement did not get much attention due to the immaturity of social media at that time. But Alyssa Milano last year brough a rejuvenated version of #MeToo and many well know celebrities and government servants from the west came into the limelight.

The Big Picture

In India,people were taken by shock and surprise when actor Tanushree Dutta accused actor Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her some down 10 years back.Then there came allegations against various media professionals,film personalities and academics.The most striking accusation was against the Minister of State of External Affairs,M.J Akbar which has resulted his resignation from the Council of Minister.

Exactly after a year when Raya Sarkar,a student studying at the University of California,Davis released a list of around 60 names of several prominent Indian academics, alleging sexual harassment,#MeToo movement has again gained momentum in the same time of the year.In the case of Raya Sarkar’s list,the details of the incidents were unclear.

But women who have spoken up in the Me Too movement have succintly described the incidents although the alleged cases did not happen anywhere in the last 3 months [according to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, a complaint is to be made in writing by an aggrieved woman within 3 months of the date of the incident.The time limit may be extended for a further period of 3 months if, on account of certain circumstances, the woman was prevented from filing the complaint.]

Other side of the Picture

It is very important to analyze why the top women leaders did not speak up.During this whole process of revelation and accusation, Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development and Brinda Karat,the first woman member of the CPI(M) politburo seemed to be the only women politicians who were vocal about this movement.Otherwise,we do not see former Congress President Sonia Gandhi,Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee,Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vashundara Raje and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati speaking about this movement.

Termed as one of the elitist and upper-caste women movement,there have been streams of criticisms.Evidently,women who have spoken up are educated,well established in their career or had some good experience in their fields.This is considered to be a movement for those women who have already advanced in their career.While the movement is going on,it is possible that the cases of sexual harassment are going along with it.But those who are new in the industries will not risk to speak up.There are also many unheard cases from the rural areas where people are less aware of social media and movements like #MeToo.It is also possible that the nature of women suppression due to the patriachy has silenced these women.

We also should analyze how wise it is to accuse someone of sexual harassment when the incident happened 10 year back or so.There are many examples of women violating the provisions of Sexual Harassment to serve their own interests.Once a woman accuses a man of sexual harassment,his reputation immediately goes down the drain.Media in the race of TRP will continue their media trials by constantly highlighting the details of the accused without any prove.In this case, M.J Akbar has filed a defamation case against the journalist who accused him.

Loophole in Act

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 is modeled on the Vishakha guidelines which have served as the case law to curb instances of sexual harassment at the workplace since 1997. One of the important guidelines instructed to the companies/organization is the necessity to set up an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC).Though the National Crime Record Bureau and National Commission for Women data shows a rise in the number of cases after the implementation of this act,the effectiveness of the ICC has been questioned.

A survery conducted by Ernst & Young resulted in proving that nearly 31 per cent of the respondents claiming that their companies were not compliant with the Act which mandates ICCs being constituted to address complaints related to sexual harassment.Though the Act mandates a training for the ICC members,either the companies have failed to train the ICC members or the training has proven inadequate to handle sensitive cases.

It is very important that the companies spread awareness to the employees regarding sexual harassment and protection listed in the Act.But most of the companies do not take any interest in spreading awareness among the employees.Declarations signed during the joining do not mention of such awareness.Also proper adverstisement withinn the companies through poster,pamphlets,discussions and meetings are not done.The survey by Ernst and Young also highlighted the fact that ‘44 per cent of the respondents’ organizations did not display the penal consequences of sexual harassments at conspicuous places’.

While companies may be willing to support the aggrieved women employees, how will they ensure that these women will feel confident enough to approach them if they do not have mechanisms to address these issues in the first place?

Will the movement blowback?

Taking the case-study of the United States,we can deduce that the movement achieved its peak with several celebrities and government officials made accountable of what they did in past.But the momentum has faded.The US President appointed the accused lawyer Brett Kavanaugh as the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States despite many criticisms.It becomes really hard to prove the case and provide justice to both the complainant and the accused when there is a delay in filing the complaint.

The movement has been criticized for publicity but it definitely takes a lot of courage to come out of the closet and share their horrifying experiences.But the lesson to be learnt from the movement is that ‘if you believe that someone is harassing you,one should immediately take the help of law to get justice.Silence will only encourage the harasser to commit more such crimes’.

Personal Blog. For details please mail me at observersindia@gmail.com

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