Why the #MeToo campaign resonates in India
The #MeToo campaign has touched a raw nerve among Indian women.
There’s hardly any woman here who has not been a survivor of verbal and/or physical molestation – I deliberately choose not to use the word victim,.
After allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape against Harvey Weinstein surfaced, survivors of sexual offences have taken to social media, sharing their own stories using the hashtag #MeToo.
On the streets, on buses, public transport, almost any woman is game in India.
Indian media, with a few exceptions, even now use the inane euphemism ‘eve teasing’ for revolting men who do the rounds – groping, bottom pinching, breast touching.
The legislation in India changed after the infamous 2012 brutal Delhi gang rape of a young woman, which made international headlines and resulted in Delhi being dubbed ‘the rape capital’ of the world.
The media named her ‘Nirbhaya’, the fearless one. Because she fought back fiercely, though she was one 23- year-old woman against six rapist men.
Then, prolonged protests took place in all major Indian cities, with women and supportive men, braving police barriers. They refused to give up their marches until the government promised action. The young woman didn’t survive the gruesome assault. When she died, more people took to the streets.
The central government ordered a judicial committee to redraft the Indian Penal Code pertaining to rape. For once, the committee was truly committed.
It analysed about 80,000 suggestions and petitions received from the public and produced its report in a record 29 days. The comments came from women’s groups, eminent jurists, lawyers and NGOs.
For the first time, the definition of the word rape was extended to include other sexual acts besides vaginal penetration. I quote, ‘The new definition broadened the scope, covering crimes previously outside the Act, such as penetration of penis or any object or any part of the body to any extent into the vagina, mouth or urethra of another person or making another person do so. All these acts have become punishable under the new law. In the same breath, the applying of mouth or touching private parts of a person also is considered as the sexual offense.
‘The section also clarified on the ambiguity about the extent of penetration and lack of physical resistance. This clarity helped the judges to term the act as a sexual offence in more clear terms. The new bill extends the quantum of punishment under new provisions from seven years to the imprisonment for the lifetime. Only in exceptional cases, the death sentence would be given under the new act.’
Although this was a huge step in judicial terms, in my view we, Indian women, are in many ways less safe on our streets than we were four decades ago. And women of my age will concur. We haven’t come a long way, baby.
The #MeToo campaign has had Indian actors, celebrities and ordinary women sharing their experiences in an almost cathartic outpouring of anger and shame.
Because yes, even though your brain tells you it’s not your fault, you feel sullied, dirtied and shamed by an unwanted touch.
And you always know, in every fibre of your being, when a filthy lech is staring at you, mentally stripping you, undressing you, making you squirm.
It’s not your fault, but that doesn’t make you feel better. The younger you are the more difficult it is to fight men in power, especially older men.
Delhi has always been a cesspool for sexual crimes. I recall being enormously, visibly pregnant in 1986 and being groped on a Delhi bus.
I was outraged then (rather naively, I now realize when I look back). Not at being groped, because most Indian women expect to watch out for gropers on public transport. But that someone would grope a woman who looked eight months pregnant. But there are those who rape 80-year-old women too.
Kolkata has always been better. Sexual predators could expect to be beaten to within an inch of their lives – they are not as brazen as Delhi’s.
I’ve seen innocent men beaten by thugs for the fun of it, so I don't advocate violence. But the fact that bystanders will intervene to help a woman deters Kolkata predators. Whereas in Delhi, local non intervention helps them get away with impunity.
Outing these disgusting predators, everytime, everywhere, will definitely make women win.
Not now: it is a battle for our daughters and grandchildren. So let the #MeToo battle continue. It should permeate to people all over the globe. It’s about time, too.