India: men and #MeToo

Why are Indian men feeling unsafe? Nilanjana Bhowmick reacts to the 'unease' expressed by Indian men in today's #MeToo era.

In October, right after a second wave of #MeToo had hit Indian newsrooms and taken down a few top editors and journalists, a post was doing the rounds. ‘As long as women who accuse men of sexual attacks are believed without evidence or due process, no man is safe,’ it read.

It went on to invoke mothers, daughters, wives and sisters to rally behind Indian men to save them from women who won’t stop saying #MeToo.

‘I am not safe. Your husband isn’t safe. Your father isn’t safe. Your son isn’t safe. Your grandson isn’t safe. Your male friends aren’t safe,’ the post, widely shared on social media, claimed.

Pitting women against women. Hiding behind women to safeguard against being named in India’s second #MeToo moment, which has seen women, especially from the media and entertainment industry, speak out against rich, powerful and influential male figures.

In India, which topped a global survey in June for being the most dangerous country for women in terms of sexual violence, reported cases of assaults against women rose by 83 per cent between 2007 and 2016, yet men are feeling unsafe. But do they actually know what that means? An allegation or accusation that can be challenged does not make you unsafe.

I was seven when I was repeatedly abused by our family physician, then in his late eighties. He insisted on examining me alone in his chamber. My unsuspecting parents trusted him; he was old enough to be my great-grandfather. But his leering frog-like face, hands all over my body, kneading my barely-there chest, still haunts my nightmares. I am now 42. I am still uncomfortable about being alone with a doctor. That’s what unsafe feels like.

I was in my late teens when I was abused again by a man, at least 10 years my senior, who called me his ‘little sister’. I would never forget the shock when I felt him grab me from behind. I continue to distrust men who try to ‘sibling’ me.

Then there are the countless times men pressed up against a 16-year-old me on the way to college on public transport, co-workers deliberately brushing past me in work places, cracking lewd jokes within earshot, commenting on the tightness or shortness of my clothes – it’s a miracle I am still out here, and mostly sane. There are women who haven’t been able to manage that. They have lost careers, choosing the safety of home over the workplace. They have been depressed and mentally scarred for life. Some have not been able to keep themselves or their young daughters safe from more serious assaults. Remember the gruesome murder of a Delhi student in 2012? Those men did not just rape Jyoti Singh but abused her with a metal rod and threw her from a moving bus to die. Do you still feel unsafe?

Indian men are scared not because they fear false allegations. There’s no lasting shame for men in our societies. They are scared because for the first time ever they fear repercussions for their well-thought-out as well as thoughtless actions. They see their entitlement slipping.

#MeToo has made it clear that Indian women won’t be scared or shamed into submission any longer. Social media has given them a voice, an audience and a sisterhood. #HimToo is as inane as #NotAllMen. Don’t dump the emotional labour of protecting your insecurities and fears on the victims, your mothers, daughters, sisters.

Feel sorry for yourselves, if you must. But understand this is how women in this country have felt for years. For the first time you feel their fear, their insecurities.

Welcome to the other half of the sky.