#MeToo juggernaut is rolling; some gains are visible
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#MeToo juggernaut is rolling; some gains are visible

Only when voices like those of Dutta rose above the collective silence and were joined in by others that the law was taken seriously

mumbai Updated: Oct 11, 2018 00:32 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
mumbai,sexual harassment,metoo
Since 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act has been in force. (HT file photo)

When Tanushree Dutta lit the spark last week, it did not seem to immediately resonate and turn into a movement. But over the last one week, after a woman comic called out a fellow comedian, the juggernaut has rolled on.

A number of women across different sectors have come out with their stories, either of regular everyday sexism they faced at work or horrific, gut-wrenching stories of how they were sexually abused and harassed by men in positions of power at their workplaces.

Yes, the #MeToo movement has caught on – and not just in Bollywood but across the entertainment industry, news media organisations, the comedy sector, and even the political world.

In the last week, men accused of sexual harassment have had to quit their high-position jobs or were marginalised: a happening film company – Phantom Films – was dissolved, Netflix is reconsidering working with some of the men who did nothing when apprised of harassment, a top-rated actor like Hrithik Roshan stated it would be difficult to work with someone accused of sexual harassment like Vikas Bahl, the industry’s favourite “cultured father” Alok Nath’s creepiness stands exposed, writers and poets and filmmakers whose names elicited awe for their work had to apologise to women on public platforms.

Also, organisations discovered – or re-discovered – the sagacity of taking the law on sexual harassment seriously and instituting a working Internal Complaints Committee; a few people in Bollywood are at least discussing how to make the workplace safer. And the movement reached the doorsteps of the Central government as women journalists accused junior minister in PM Narendra Modi’s cabinet, MJ Akbar, of sexual harassment in his previous avatar as a top-notch editor.

Most importantly, organisations such as the National Commission for Women and Maharashtra’s state commission have picked up the stories and asked for formal complaints to be filed against the men named. Meanwhile, Dutta has filed a police complaint, the industry association – Cine and TV Artistes Association – seems to be backing her and is willing to reopen her case.

These are some gains already. There may well be more. One’s scepticism about the movement in this column last week turned out to be misplaced. There have been attempts to derail and delegitimise the #MeToo movement, question its credentials and reach.

Typically, some men have challenged the relevance of these accusations ten or nearly 20 years after the incidents occurred. Unsurprisingly, instead of quietly listening to the women’s stories, introspecting and changing workplace behaviour, men have tried to tell women how to address the issue.

Worse, they have attempted to start a parallel campaign. While anyone abused or harassed sexually deserves to be heard irrespective of their gender, this has been women’s burden given the years of sexism and misogyny they have had to put up with, given how patriarchal social systems and organisations are. Sexual references have been thrown women’s way whether she is an actress, a journalist or a maid.

For years, there was no law. Since 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act has been in force.

Yet, till a movement like #MeToo spread and touched offenders past and present, the existence of the law had little meaning. It is only when voices like those of Dutta rose above the collective silence and were joined in by dozens of others that the law was taken seriously. It’s when the naming and shaming happened that the law was read up on.

Even so, it touches only a section of the women workforce. What would make the difference to lakhs of women – maids, farm workers, construction labourers, others in the informal sectors and down the caste hierarchy, those who do not have access to social media to name and shame – is if their offenders were brought under its ambit and made to pay a legal price. That may still be some distance away.

First Published: Oct 11, 2018 00:32 IST