“It has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity.”
– Kofi Annan
As the country is caught in the #MeToo wave, the moment of truth and reckoning seems to have arrived for many of those who have exerted their position of power — real or perceived — to sexually assault, abuse, harass, and persecute women. The forms may vary from physical, verbal, non-verbal to chat, text — but the crime in question remains the same — sexual abuse. India’s #MeToo moment is here with editors, actors and now a minister being publicly accused of behaviour that ranges from outright sexual harassment to routine sexism. The #MeToo campaign, started in October 2017 as a hashtag on social media with women sharing incidents of sexual assault and harassment, especially at the workplace, was triggered in India virtually by Tanushree Dutta’s allegations of sexual harassment by veteran actor Nana Patekar. Slowly it started to take the shape of a working woman’s revolution against sexual predators and abusers at the workplace. So far over half a dozen casualties have come forward to reveal their stories naming directors, actors, comedians, journalists, authors etc.
The effect is visible — senior journalists are stepping aside, a film production studio has closed, and one of India’s bestselling authors Chetan Bhagat has issued a public apology. Bhagat, the author of Half Girlfriend, wrote an apology on Twitter after a woman posted screenshots in which the married writer said he wanted to “woo” her. There is no denying that the issue has sparked a debate about consent and complicity. An emerging director, Vikas Bahl, dissolved his film company on Saturday, the same day a news paper published an investigation accusing him of misbehaving with a co-worker after a party in 2015. All these allegations should be investigated properly to take a harsh stand if need be. However, the biggest problem in India is that there is no proper mechanism here, unlike the global campaign, to verify and validate the allegations.
The campaign now has hit the corridors of power. On Monday the swell of accusations reached the Indian government, when several women alleged that the country’s junior foreign minister, MJ Akbar, had made unwelcome passes at them during his previous career as a journalist and editor. Akbar, who was the founding editor of The Telegraph and has been associated with the Times of India and the Deccan Chronicle and founded Asian Age, has, reportedly, three women journalists on his tail, so far. The celebrated former editor, who is yet to comment on the allegations, is accused of inviting ‘the victims’ to job interviews in hotel rooms where he made sexual advances. But Akbar has found support from fellow BJP MP Udit Raj whose contention is that “women are no less predators than men and they too ought to be called out….” Raj is clearly out of line. After Priya Ramani’s revelations, Prerna Singh Bindra, another journalist, said that Akbar “made life at work hell” when she declined his sexual advances. The Congress is already calling for his resignation, forget the fact that Akbar was a Congress leader before he joined the saffron party. The big question is — will Prime Minister Narendra Modi now sack Akbar? One has to wait till he returns from Nigeria as there is very little in terms of corroboration to nail him. But #MeTooIndia cannot be a political weapon to settle scores.