Even as cyclonic storm ‘Titli’ is all set to hit Odisha early on Thursday morning, there is no sign on the state’s radar of another storm that has hit both mainstream and social media in India for nearly two weeks now: the #MeToo campaign that has already put a host of celebrities from the world of cinema, TV and the media in the dock. The list of worthies already arraigned by their former colleagues for ‘sexual harassment’ includes such stalwarts as maverick actor Nana Patekar, India’s favourite ‘Babuji’ in films and TV Alok Nath and celebrated journalist and author MJ Akbar, currently the Minister of State (MoS), Ministry of External Affairs. And make no mistake; the list is all set to grow longer, much longer in the days ahead with more and more women victims overcoming their inhibitions and sense of shame and mustering the courage to speak up.
If you think there is no ‘naming and shaming’ of sexual predators in Odisha because men here are paragons of virtue and treat women with utmost respect, banish the thought. Men in positions of power here are as lecherous and as keen to leverage their power for sexual favours at the workplace as their counterparts in the rest of the country. I can’t speak about other professions, but I know for sure it is rampant at least in the entertainment and media industry and, of course, politics. Even as I write this, I am sure some woman somewhere in the state is resisting, warding off or succumbing to sexual advances of some influential person at the workplace. May be those who have been at the receiving end of sexual exploitation are fighting the demons in their minds. What will the people say? What will family members, neighbours and colleagues think? What if the predator uses his power and influence to harass me? In any case, why rake up something that happened in the past? How do I answer the question, “Why now”?
In a conservative society like India, with its well-entrenched patriarchal system, these are formidable odds that a woman has to overcome before she can dare to come out in the open. The consequences on one’s social, marital and family life can be devastating if she dares to challenge the status quo and take on the predators. That is why we must doff our hats to every woman who has joined the #MeToo campaign and unmasked the wolves masquerading as harmless sheep in society.
It calls for even greater courage for a woman to come out against predators in an underdeveloped, more conservative state like Odisha because the very first question that she would be confronted with in case she decides to name and shame is: “Why did it take her so long to reveal this?”, the insinuation being she must have raked it up now after being denied some favour by the predator or to seek publicity. The question is designed as a defence mechanism by sexist, misogynistic men to deter the woman. Take Tanushree Dutta’s case, for example. As soon as she made the charge against Nana, she was trolled with the “Why Now?” question by countless male chauvinist pigs (MCPs). No one bothered to find out that she had raised the issue even in 2008 when the alleged incident happened. But no one listened or acted, not even the Cine and TV Artists’ Association (CINTAA), which has now apologized for not acting at the time.
Even assuming that she did not, does it deny the right to raise it now as long there is truth in her allegation? Anyone who flings such obnoxiously sexist questions must read Ghazala Wahab’s heart-rending account of her violation at the hands of habitual offender MJ Akbar while working as a sub in The Asian Age in the late 1990s in thewire.in today to understand the trauma that a woman goes through while fending off her boss’ amorous advances. Far from being mocked, ridiculed and pilloried, a woman actually needs to be complimented for speaking up, even if she does so 10/20 years after the incident. For, a failure to speak up emboldens the predator and endangers other women in the process.
Akbar’s philandering ways have been whispered about in media circles across the country for as long as one can remember. The fact that he got away unscathed with all his ‘conquests’ must have convinced him that no one would dare point a finger at him because of his stature. That is precisely the reason it was important that his bluff was called. That is why every victim owes it to prospective victims in future to call the bluff of such men.
It is, however, nobody’s case that there are no cases where the woman accepts the sexual advances of her boss or senior willingly (or even invites such advances) to rise in her profession and calls him out when a favour is denied. But to extrapolate that and assume that all those raising incidents of harassment from the past are willing ‘partners in crime’, who have chosen to speak up only because a favour has been denied or because they are ‘publicity seekers’ is to trivialize the immense courage that it takes for a woman to risk facing the barbs aimed at her by a sexist society. Conversely, there could be cases where the victim is a man. As of now, Indian law views only men as ‘predators’. I am sure this anomaly is going to be removed from the law books in due course, just as Sec 497 of IPC (adultery) was outlawed by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it discriminated between sexes and was thus violative of the fundamental rights of equality before law guaranteed in the Constitution. But for the present, let us salute the women who have conquered their inhibition and joined the #MeToo movement.
I am looking forward to women in Odisha, taking courage from the movement, to break their silence against the perpetrators.
Predators, be aware! This movement, like Cyclone Titli, has gathered enough momentum not to hit you at some point. And prospective predators! Mend your ways or be prepared to blown away by the sheer force of the storm!
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)