#MeToo Movement in India

Breaking Silence To Win The War

Introduction

In the mid and late 1880s, social movements for Equal Rights of women started in Europe and the word ‘Feminism’ came into light, which has its root from French.[1] In the early 20th century, the Suffrage Movement[2] in Britain was another such example of women fighting for their equality across the globe.

India has been a patriarchal society for an extended period, and various crimes against women have been underreported. In 2018, during new year’s eve celebrations in Bengaluru,[3] there was a national outcry over the issue of street sexual harassment. Senior government officials & politicians were massively criticized over their remarks as they stated the cause to be western attire and values.

Over the years, the fight for equality has gained massive momentum. Various instances have inspired women to come together collectively and voice for their rights. In the current world, women are taking the support of causes, such as #MeToo movement that started in the U.S.  to show their outrage towards the various offences committed against them.

Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be scared. Don’t bury. Don’t let it fester. And corrode your soul. Let’s speak. Let’s keep this fire going.

Sandhya Mridul

What is #MeToo Movement?

The #MeToo movement is a movement against sexual abuse & sexual harassment, where people publicize their allegations of sexual assault committed by powerful and prominent people.

The movement focuses on the experience of sexual violence survivors, where they share their experience. By sharing their experience, they show how prevalent sexual harassment is and how casually it is treated. The experience is shared so that people become aware of this and tolerance for such crimes decrease, whereas support for victims increases.

Background: Where it Started

The phrase “Me Too” was first used by social activist & community organizer Tarana Burke in the year 2006, where she started a campaign[4] against sexual abuse known as “MeeToo”.

The campaign worked on empowerment through solidarity and empathy to show the world that how prevalent sexual harassment is and by telling the survivors that they are supported & are not alone in this fight.

Tarana Burke got inspiration from a 13-year-old girl to start this campaign as the girl shared her story of sexual abuse & assault with her in a youth camp. Initially, the phrase didn’t get much popularity. Later in 2017 when American actress Alyssa Milano used the term to share her story on the social network against one of the film producers, the term gained more popularity, and many women came forward to use the term and shared their own story. The term was used in spades in the entertainment industry, and slowly it became known in many other fields such as the corporate world, in colleges, in politics etc.

#MeToo Movement in India

It was October 2017 in the U.S, and it was October 2018 in India. The time which marked the beginning of outrage by women’s against Sexual harassment & abuse. Some spoke out in the hope of justice, some in the hope of getting heard and some in solidarity.

In India, during October in 2018, the hashtag #MeToo became a scream, outrage and a semaphore. As many women shared their experience on social media of being sexually harassed at the workplace by colleagues, supervisors or by other influential people under whom they work in the course of earning their livelihood.

The movement in India started after actress Tanushree Dutta and comedian Mahima Kukreja shared their experience of harassment in the film industry[5]. After they shared their experience, many women got inspired not only from the film industry but also from other fields, to come out and share their experience of sexual harassment publicly on social media.

Why it is Needed?

The intensity of maltreatment by men in high workplaces has been an open secret. Numerous ladies across industries have been subjected to obscene comments, lewd behaviour and assault and have frequently been penalized for rejecting such advances.

Tanushree Dutta’s decision, in September 2018, to speak our against her exploiters gave courage to many other women to empower by the #MeToo platform to have the option to take on bullies. A significant aid for women’s rights, #MeToo has additionally given ladies an apparatus against oppressors in influential positions. Sexual harassment is viewed as a  severe offence when demonstrated past a sensible uncertainty. The men remain to lose not only their wealth but also their social reputation. Social media networking has, in this way, been an enormous platform in helping ladies to have the option to communicate their difficulty as well as discover solidarity and support.

Many individual accounts of outrage and blame buried under prolonged periods of silence rose out to open media because of this ongoing effort. The movement created awareness about sexual violence and revealed a significant drawback in the legal and systemic provisions formed against the harassment. The women who suffered silently for years are now angry enough to put their faith in a name and shame mechanism.

This movement also aims to change the power dynamics between males and females by exposing the abuse of power by men, who are in an influential position for sexually harassing the women around them. The campaign also allows people to find coverage to name the accused.

Legal Impact of #Metoo Movement

With the spread of #metoo movement, there was a massive cry among people to punish the perpetrators. It led to various changes in the legal system of different countries, and the need to provide safety provisions on women’s rights which were neglected since very long was focused. New laws were enacted to overcome this problem.

Article 21[6] of the Constitution of India considered it to be the violation of women’s fundamental Right to live with dignity. In India, guidelines regarding sexual harassment of women at the workplace were initially laid down by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Vishakha &Ors V. State of Rajasthan[7]. It also came to be known as Vishakha guidelines. These guidelines laid the foundation of an act known as Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013[8]. The act provided procedure and guidelines for inquiry and complaint. It also provided laws to punish the accused. Section 26 of the Act dealt with penalty provision who are found guilty of Sexual harassment & abuse.

The act provided the procedure to set up an internal complaint committee at every office, where the number of employees is 10 or more than it. The internal committee was set up to make the procedure easy for women to file a complaint against the accused. The committee was guided to start the inquiry within 90 days of the complaint. In the case where the internal committee fails to inquire into the matter, the aggrieved person can approach a court or report to the police station. Under Section 509[9] of Indian Penal Code, there is a provision which states that any word, gestures or act which is intended to insult the modesty of the women by any person is liable for maximum one year jail with fine.

As per a survey of domestic workers in 2018 in and around India’s capital, Delhi, it was found that around 29% of domestic workers were sexually harassed at work. These figures are low when compared to studies from the formal sector, where rates of reported harassment range from 88% in the business process outsourcing sector to 57% in the health sector[10]. Thus it shows that women are still unprotected, and the efforts of law to maintain a healthy and safe environment for women at the workplace has not paid off.

Looking at the safety of innocent men on false allegations, several laws regarding Defamation have been amended. It was done because several false allegations were put by women against innocent men to settle their scores. The law states that in case a woman fails to prove her allegations, she will be held liable for defamation.

Economic and Cultural Impact

Recently since many notable names from the film industry called out for their misconduct, many actors are taking the stand of women by dropping out from certain projects as the director and producer of the project has been accused of sexual misconduct. On the one hand, it is seen as an extremely commendable move by some of the artists not to associate themselves with certain projects. Still, at the same time, many livelihood are at stake who are solely dependent on the film industry.  The support from various artist shows that they condemn the toxic and misogynistic workspace and encourage safer, conductive and healthy working environment. Still, many artists and other professionals in the creative field are subdued under the influence of big actor or filmmaker as they can ruin their career if anything defamatory is said against them.

From a very long time, the Indian entertainment industry is guilty of promoting the culture that often celebrates toxic ideas of masculinity as the ultimate norm of society. A culture has been created around the film industry, which still supports the patriarchal norms. These norms are deeply internalized in our society and in our culture, where the male lead is paid much higher than the female lead. However, slowly we are moving towards a culture that is moving towards gender equality and is attempting to break away from the sexist trends. Nowadays, there are more films that are being made with a female protagonist in the lead role and many actresses are paid equal to their male co-actor.

Social Impact

Indian culture has always been an epitome of a collective way of living as well as intense family values, various factors like financial independence and education resulted in a breakdown of joint families to a nuclear family where there is more freedom. With young individuals becoming more aware of feminist trends when compared to the previous generation, it is changing the values of urban middle-class families. The current generation if more free-thinking and outspoken when compared to the previous generation, which was scared of breaking free from their already existing values and norms.

In dealing with feminism in India, one of the essential issues that come up is of casteism. There is always a question that arises that what does the #MeToo movement signify for the lower caste women?

Ruth Manorma, a social activist, stated that it is good that women are speaking out in the movement, and the culture of silence should be broken out. She talks about the suffering of Dalit women who suffered for many years at the hands of dominant caste men, and they spoke about it but nobody heard them[11]. According to her, when Dalit women suffering are heard as well as the women in this movement support them, then this movement will be called as successful.

Criticism

The #MeToo Movement empowered a lot of harassed women to find the courage and the support to come out and identify the culprits and demand justice. It served as a powerful platform to even take on influential bullies. With everything that holds power, comes a great sense of responsibility. The MeToo movement is no different.

As a sexual offence is a grave matter, both in the court of law and in the eyes of the public, such an allegation on anybody can destroy their whole career and tarnish their reputation beyond repair. Unfortunately, we have come across some cases where the men have been falsely accused by the women, to satisfy some personal vendetta. The same has also been pointed out by Sujata Manohar, former Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court who helped pen the Vishakha Guidelines.

The credence of such a sensitive and necessary movement gets questioned if allegations which are personal and untrue are added to the voices of those women who have faced trauma. Anonymous accusations on social media and refusal to involve the police by many women further add doubt whenever a new allegation is raised. This movement needs to be reformed a little. The fairness of each accusation should be checked, the sex workers must be included, and steps should be taken to minimize the trauma faced by the victims by publicly reliving their ordeal.

Conclusion

As we live in a world, where the fairer sex has been discriminated, oppressed and abused since centuries and in many parts of the globe, the trend continues even now, the advent of the #MeToo movement was a dire necessity. It was borne out of years of paranoia, sexual abuse and misogyny suffered by women. It has served as a great platform worldwide for women to voice their concerns and to identify the perpetrator publicly. Sexual abuse victims have found support, understanding and solidarity alike from the phrase “MeToo”.

Like any other movement, it has its flaws, and it needs some reformations, but its concept is sound, and its need is vital. It is still evolving and serves as an essential tool for today’s women.

References:-

Questions:-

  1. How do we define #MeToo movement?
  2. Where did it originate?
  3. How did it affect India?
  4. What are its impacts overall?
  5. What are the drawbacks of this movement?

[1] http://www.helsinki.fi/science/xantippa/wee/weetext/wee214.html.

[2]https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/overview/startsuffragette-/.

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-asia-india-38504186.

[4]https://www.ajc.com/news/world/who-tarana-burke-meet-the-woman-who-started-the-too-movement-decade-ago/i8NEiuFHKaIvBh9ucukidK/.

[5] https://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/when-and-how-metoo-movement-started/1348743/.

[6]https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_of_india/fundamental_rights/articles/Article%2021.

[7] AIR 1997 SC 3001.

[8] http://legislative.gov.in/actsofparliamentfromtheyear/sexual-harassment-women-workplace-prevention-prohibition-and-redressal.

[9] https://www.indianpenalcode.in/ipc-509/.

[10] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-47025662.

[11] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/metoo-should-include-sufferings-of-dalit-women-says-activist-5410969/.

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