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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

A year since MeToo, what it achieved — and didn’t

A conversation that began post the December 16 Delhi gangrape has grown louder. We may be miles away from a world free of sexual assault, but we are certainly a few notches closer

columns Updated: Sep 20, 2019 20:24 IST
If India’s MeToo movement has achieved anything, it is awareness, among corporates and employees, of the law; among predatory bosses that it’s #TimesUp; among women of the power of their collective voice
If India’s MeToo movement has achieved anything, it is awareness, among corporates and employees, of the law; among predatory bosses that it’s #TimesUp; among women of the power of their collective voice(AP)
         

So, was it worth it, after all? One year after India’s MeToo movement, it isn’t out of place to paraphrase TS Eliot’s existential question.

On the face of it, there is plenty to be depressed about. A law student who has accused former minister Chinmayanand of raping her had to threaten suicide over the failure of the State to act. Police action was much delayed, though the accused has now been arrested.

The Bombay High Court has quashed a 2004 sexual harassment case against angel investor Mahesh Murthy, since the delay is not “properly explained”.

Actor Aamir Khan, who, in 2018, stepped down as the producer of Mogul after the director, Subhash Kapoor, was accused of sexual misconduct, is back in the film playing the lead. Khan says he was troubled that his decision might have cost Kapoor his “right to work”.

In October 2018, unshackled from decades of silence, an army of women in India joined a global outpouring against sexual harassment. This movement across 195 countries, expressed via 25 or so sister hashtags (#BabaeAko in the Philippines; #SendeAnlat in Turkey), garnered over 36 million impressions between 2016 and July 2019, found a United Nations report, “What Will it Take?” It “enabled conversations and connections that together have shaken hitherto stable systems of abuse and power”, notes the report.

In India, the results aren’t immediately obvious. Men accused by multiple women continue to write, be feted and find work. Others brazen it out. After facing a barrage of accusations, including rape, former minister MJ Akbar has brought charges of criminal defamation against one of his accusers, the journalist and my friend Priya Ramani. “This case has come at great personal cost to me”, she told the court.

And, yet, if India’s MeToo movement has achieved anything, it is awareness, among corporates and employees, of the law; among predatory bosses that it’s #TimesUp; among women of the power of their collective voice.

A conversation that began post the December 16 Delhi gangrape has grown louder. We may be miles away from a world free of sexual assault, but we are certainly a few notches closer.

Is it a coincidence that two cases of sexual assault that predate the MeToo movement have recently surged forward in the courts? The Supreme Court has rejected Tarun Tejpal’s plea to quash charges against him, and asked the Goa trial court to wrap up proceedings in six months. And, in a Delhi court, a researcher has begun her deposition against RK Pachauri, four years after she filed a complaint against her former boss.

“No woman now believes she has to remain silent”, says writer Mahima Kukreja, one of MeToo’s early accusers. Speaking up still comes at a cost, but it’s a cost that many more are now prepared to pay. Every step forward, no matter how tiny, whittles down the foundations of patriarchy and takes us one step closer to a world of equal dignity. Yes, it was worth it. It always is.

Namita Bhandare writes on gender
The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 20, 2019 20:24 IST

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