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A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: About time we spoke up

Yes, #MeToo may scare you right now, but it’ll help us evolve. It will.

columns Updated: Oct 13, 2018 18:48 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
Me too,#MeToo,Sexual misconduct
Speaking up against harassment has to be gender-regardless.(iStock)

My head is spinning. So is my soul. Shaken by the force and nature of the #MeToo storm that has hit us bad and hard. I’m left with the same confusions and questions as most of you are. I am not qualified to comment on the legal aspects of what all this means for both — the ones speaking up, and the ones they have called out. And, I deliberately did not use the terms man or woman in this sentence because in the fair world, speaking up against harassment has to be gender-regardless. But yes, as things stand right now, more women are speaking up, and more power to their courage. A lot of men are supporting them in speaking out, and much more power to them, too.

You may have dilemmas and confusions about the entire revolution — Why were these people silent for so long? Can it not be misused to malign someone? Will it not lead to a culture of fear, etc etc. There are answers to each one of these and they are being given out in a very sensible way by the experts in the matter. But one thing is certain, this revolution is going to shake a lot of systems, processes, mindsets and prejudices into better sense. It is making us think already, it will make us think more and hard in the days to come.

If I were to give my personal opinion on some of the most common questions that I have seen people around me raise about sexual harassment at workplace, I’d just say this:

— Before you make the loose remark of brushing off a #MeToo case as that of an affair gone wrong, a bad date or ‘harmless’ flirtation, just read the accounts of what some of the women or men speaking up have narrated across sectors. You will shudder at the gross nature of some, you will cringe at the extent of the abuse of power, and the sense of entitlement in others.

— Before you make the loose remark of saying that women are speaking up to grab attention, do realise that very few people would want this kind of attention coming their way.

— Before you make the loose remark of saying ‘Now men will have to be scared of every woman they interact with’, understand that there are men, too, who have been at the receiving end of unacceptable, inappropriate behaviour at the hands of women or men at workplace. And behaving sensibly does NOT require you to be unfriendly or scared. It just requires you to behave, well, sensibly. And deep down, most people know where that not-to-be-crossed-line is.

READ | A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Let’s turn pain into a joke

Today’s newspapers must be full of advice, opinion, news on this subject anyway. So, my attempt at giving gyaan about things you already probably know would be unnecessary. I’d like to talk about something that we recently took up as a special feature in this paper, which focuses on popular culture and entertainment, and how it has impacted our mindset vis-à-vis harassment. In the said feature, we recalled the lyrics of some of the hit Bollywood songs over the decades that we have grown up singing. And how it didn’t occur to us at the time when that song became famous that it is glorifying something that’s obnoxious and inappropriate, especially now when we are better informed. Sample some:

1973 (Jugnu): Tera peechha na main chhodunga soniye, bhej de chahe jail mein

1980 (Dostana): Bahot khoobsoorat jawan ek ladki, sadak par akeli chali jaa rahi thi, fakat naam ko usne pehne the kapde, ajanta ki moorta nazar aa rahi thi/ Koi diljala us se takra gaya, mere dosto tum karo faisla, khata kiski hai kisko dein hum saza

1999 (Haseena Maan Jayegi): Kab tak roothegi, chheekhegi, chillayegi, dil kehta hai ek din haseena maan jayegi

2011 (Thank You): Razia gundo mein phans gayi, isko na sone denge, kisi ka na hone denge/kahin ka na hone denge issey

2013 (R..Rajkumar): Raja beta ban ke maine jab sharafat dikhayi, tune bola hat mawaali bhaav nahi diya de/ABCD pad li bahot, thandi aahein bhar li bahot, achhi baatein kar li bahot/ Ab karoonga tere saath - Gandi baat

The idea is not to criticise these particular songs, their lyricists, their stars, or even ourselves — because yes we sang along and made these and many other such songs famous. The larger point is to reflect on how, for years and years, we have subconsciously given validity and sanctity to thoughts such as:
— It is okay to stalk a girl even if she says no, because ‘uski naa mein haan chhupi hai’
— If she doesn’t agree, it is macho and fine to do something about it
— It is somehow justified to go after a girl who is wearing clothes that you think are ‘less’

The songs are just a very small representation of the malaise that goes much deeper. Films, as they say, are simply a reflection of how we, as a society, think. At the time when such songs became popular, we thought it’s okay. Now, we don’t. We have evolved. And that’s exactly what I hope happens after the #MeToo movement is done.

For years and years, we have thought that it is okay if a man in power makes unsolicited advances. That it happens. Yeh toh hota hi hai. If a girl is ambitious enough to want a career, especially in a glamorous profession, she does it with full knowledge that ‘compromising’ comes as a part of the bargain — why are they crying now. She could always say no. And by the way, I’ve seen as many women say these sentences, as men. But from now on, our generations — all genders — will evolve. They’ll understand that in a situation of power imbalance, it is not as easy to say no. Also, it is not acceptable that a girl has to ever, ever choose between her career, her dreams and her dignity. Or consent. Most importantly, as we evolve, we will understand that it’s not okay to use sex as a tool for any transaction in work life. By a man, by a woman, by anyone. I stay hopeful.

Sonal Kalra honestly never knew that Chaddhaji’s nickname was ‘Mittoo’. He doesn’t step out of the house anymore. Share your thoughts and views at sonal.kalra@hindustantimes.com or facebook.com/sonalkalraofficial. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra

First Published: Oct 13, 2018 18:42 IST