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No naming names: India’s Harvey Weinstein moment is passing by in deafening silence

The price of speaking up is simply too high. We have a law, but most companies remain mindful of hierarchies that make it easy for powerful men to prey on subordinate women. When it comes to the crunch, who’s more dispensable, the boss or the one who reports to him?

columns Updated: Oct 20, 2017 15:54 IST
Harvey Weinstein,sexual harrassment,RK Pachauri
Our Harvey Weinstein moment is passing by in deafening silence. Sure, #MeToo tells us how depressingly pervasive sexual harassment and assault is all over the world. And, yet revelations that Hollywood’s most powerful producer is a creep has not emboldened similar whistle-blowing here in India.(AFP)

Did you know he…?

Oh, we knew better than to enter his cabin alone.

Yeah, she complained but left the job when no action was taken.

This should have been the moment when the gossip swirling around water coolers burst into the open, leading to discussion on social media, letters to newspapers and outrage on TV.

This should have been the moment that sent powerful men scurrying for cover.

Instead our Harvey Weinstein moment is passing by in deafening silence. Sure, #MeToo tells us how depressingly pervasive sexual harassment and assault is all over the world from Malawi to Malegaon.

And, yet revelations that Hollywood’s most powerful producer is a creep has not emboldened similar whistle-blowing here in India.

Everyone has a story to tell: The editor with wandering hands. The art director who wants to discuss ideas over drinks, after work. The groping bureaucrat. The leering judge. But so far, we’re walking on eggshells, hinting, nudging, whispering.

It took the extraordinary courage of a handful of film actors including Ashley Judd to come forward and expose years of predatory behaviour, leading to the sacking of Weinstein. But, Bollywood’s silence is deafening – as is the silence from every other industry.

Why aren’t we naming names? Why are we shielding these sick abusive men?

Several reasons. Foremost is society’s instinctive reaction to turn the spotlight on the victim. Even in light of the Weinstein allegations, so many asked why the women had remained silent for so long. Almost instinctively, we look at women who complain as trouble-makers. We ask, could be that she was denied a promotion?

The price of speaking up is simply too high. Pick any high profile case. TERI? Now the court cases languish while the victim has quit her job. At Greenpeace India, three separate charges filed against the same individual resulted in zero action and a belated realisation from the organisation. At a Hindi news channel, one traumatised woman tried to kill herself; the powerful editors hushed up the case and the woman quit her job, quit town and quit the profession. If this is what happens in high profile cases, imagine what happens at smaller establishments, shops, schools.

Still wonder why we aren’t naming names?

We have a law, but most companies remain mindful of hierarchies that make it easy for powerful men to prey on subordinate women. When it comes to the crunch, who’s more dispensable, the boss or the one who reports to him?

#MeToo breaks the culture of silence. Now that we know a great, universal sickness exists, what next? How do we end the sense of entitlement?

And, until we come up with an answer, here’s my addition to the debate: #MeToo.

Namita Bhandare writes on social issues and gender

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 20, 2017 15:22 IST