FYI 19th May, 2020

Looking Back At #MeToo And How Our Legal Systems Can Catch Up.

In this era of technology, social media and great connectivity, it’s not very hard to let people know about you and your vacation plans to even those whom you’ve never met but have been connected to through social media. People from across the globe have been able to share their views and feelings to everyone within a few seconds – forming a new global community. This global connectivity has not only helped us make new friends and get to know about the lives of our favourite celebrities but has also informed us about what’s going on around the world. From 9/11 and 26/11 to the Nirbhaya case. 

People from this global community have shown their support for these kinds of issues and problems which have affected many, because of the widespread power of social media. Massive support was also given to one such movement – which was termed differently by different societies but the essence and significance remained the same. From #MoiAussi in French to #AncheAMe in Italian – they have all stemmed from one hashtag which started this revolution against sexual harassment faced by women in their workplaces and that is #MeToo. 

The #MeToo movement caught fire from the spark which had been generated by sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke. Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement because she wanted to help women share their experiences of sexual harassment and feel supported. This movement gave them the assurance that they weren’t alone in this fight and like others, they also needed to unite and fight against harassment. She has also worked upon the documentary on ‘Me Too’ which came out last year.

#MeToo as a hashtag started getting viral when American actress Alyssa Milano tweeted saying that the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment is immense and people started knowing about this more when women around the globe who have faced harassment started writing ‘Me Too’ in their statuses. Many other actresses came forward to share their stories of sexual harassment faced by them in the industry.

From #MoiAussi in French to #AncheAMe in Italian – they have all stemmed from one hashtag which started this revolution against sexual harassment and that is #MeToo.

In India, this movement started catching pace with the 2017 Facebook post of a law student named Raya Sarkar, which comprised the names of professors accused of predatory behaviour. The professors and academics who have been listed in her post were from different academic institutions such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Film and Television Institute of India and private institutes such as Manipal University and Asian College of Journalism. 

Then again in 2018, statements by Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta against the actor Nana Patekar raised an uproar in the form of the #MeToo movement in India gathering momentum. In one of the entertainment channels mainly covering Bollywood news, Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her while she was shooting for the movie Horn OK Pleasss. After this incident, many other allegations against famous personalities working in the industry surfaced.

The sexual harassment case against AIB’s standup comedian Utsav Chakraborty for sending vulgar messages and photos to women via messaging apps was exposed. Not only Utsav, but many other standup comedians of this organisation have been accused of sexual harassment. Kaneez Surka, who worked under the same organisation, accused Aditi Mittal of forcefully kissing her on her mouth without her consent. Vikas Bahl has been accused of harassing a former employee of Phantom Films on the sets of the movie Queen and later Kangana Ranaut supported the employee and called out Vikas Bahl for sexual misconduct.

The numbers in this list are countless and yet so predictable for women. Another point to be noticed here is that though many accusations have been made – but there might be some stories which haven’t come into the limelight perhaps because they weren’t levelled at some celebrities or famous personalities. Or even if it’s against one of them, the narratives are still untold. Many of these incidents are unreported because many of us choose to not let abuse and harassment surface, for various reasons such as: 

  • Who will go to the police as it’s a very tiresome and lengthy process, even after the complaint has been registered? Narrating the whole incident, again and again, could increase emotional pain and burdens.
  • The perpetrator, while stroking their own ego, could harm the complainant.
  • “What will people say?” 
  • Loss of future opportunities and career establishment and so on.

These are the reasons that came to mind as soon as I asked myself why wouldn’t I want to know about the incident and why I wouldn’t want to report it. People posting about the sexual harassment they experienced but not reporting it to the police gives us a hard reality check. Society should know that we are the ones who should be supported and empathized with rather than being stigmatized and being talked about as if we are the culprits.

People posting about the sexual harassment they experienced but not reporting it to the police gives us a hard reality check.

The reasons mentioned aren’t exhaustive if we start to think about other scenarios. These reasons have been constructed in our minds because society and its institutions are lacking the sensitivity and sympathy to work on these issues and to realize the gravity of these situations. The law represents society and changes in accordance with the needs of society. As such, there is a major need to come up with laws that deal with the ingrained nature and practices of gendered violence – so deeply rooted within the mentality of perpetrators that most of the time they don’t even consider their actions as something wrong. 

Unlike the ‘Me Too’ movement in the US, the movement in India has differed. In the US, the movement started with allegations made against Harley Weinstein and the investigation that was launched soon after. However, the same wasn’t the case in India. Here the allegations surfaced in social media and the investigations regarding the same were immensely delayed and staggered. On top of that, defamation suits were getting filed against the women who were making their statements on social media.

There is a serious need for better implementation and functioning of the 2013 Sexual Harassment Act – emphasis on ‘2013’ since it’s 2020 now. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act has provisions for the safety of women in the workplace. Due to the commencement of this act, the rate of filing complaints under the ICC (Internal Complaint Committee) – the formation of which is mandated by the act to receive the complaints of women who have faced sexual harassment – has increased. It is a good sign that women are coming forward and trusting the systems for justice. A wide definition of sexual harassment has been helpful to understand that sexual harassment needn’t always be physical but it can also be verbal or through gestures. The act also provides for a wide definition of the term ‘workplace’.

While the act does look good on paper, the problem is in the implementation. Said legislation provides safeguards for women against sexual harassment at the workplace but there are certain lacunae in its implementation. The major problem that comes along with the non-implementation of laws is their internalization (or lack of) by society. No matter how good the law is, if it can’t be internalized by society then there’s no use for such a law. 

The reasons for the non-internalization of law could be many starting with patriarchy in the education system. It’s because of patriarchy that the provisions under the act couldn’t be brought into practical reality. Engrained patriarchal notions have prevented sexual harassment from being seen as a serious offence. Moreover, it makes the women who face sexual harassment stand out as those who have done something wrong and not people against whom the wrong has been done.

Culturally, women are taught from a very young age to behave ‘nicely’ and ‘appropriately’ and place others before themselves whereas these kinds of things are never demanded from boys. They are never taught from childhood as to how to talk to women or non-binary persons. The lack of such education could result in sexual harassment, bullying and microaggressions. These kinds of things are often done without even realizing that it can affect the targeted person emotionally, psychologically and mentally because we are never sensitized towards what constitutes abuse. Due to these patriarchal views and normalised un-empathetic behaviour – those who are brave enough to come out and make statements are also criticized and ignored.

According to the data released by FICCI in 2015, 36 per cent of Indian companies and 25 per cent of MNCs have not yet constituted ICCs.

The problem with patriarchy is that it not only hurts women and non-binary persons, but it also creates a problem for men. Like the act itself has been made only for women. Where power and domination are two of the tenets of patriarchy, the fact that abuse and sexual harassment faced by men is not considered under its ambit is a serious issue. So another problem is that the act is not inclusive of all gender identities and sexual orientations. 

The primary education system can play an important role in sensitizing students from a young age about gender equity and equality. Education systems like that in Japan start teaching young children about morals and values in the first 3 years of schooling. This can really help in the development of sensitivity. The students don’t take any exams until they reach grade four. They just take small tests. It is believed that the goal for the first 3 years is not to judge the child’s knowledge or learning but to establish good manners and develop character. Children are taught to respect other people and to be gentle to animals and nature. They also learn how to be generous, compassionate and empathetic. They are also taught qualities like grit, self-control, and justice. 

Under the UNESCO guidelines, teacher education can help students understand underlying gender-biases and how to tackle them. Under these guidelines, the importance of the teacher’s assistance in educating children about gender sensitization can make children reflect on these biases and overcome it

Other reasons as to why the implementation couldn’t be done are: 

  • Lack of monitoring mechanisms – According to the data released by FICCI in 2015, 36 per cent of Indian companies and 25 per cent of MNCs have not yet constituted ICCs. About 50 per cent of the 120+ companies that participated in the study admitted that their ICC members were not legally trained. The law imposes a penalty of up to Rs 50,000 on employers who do not implement the act in the workplace or even fail to constitute an ICC. But the number of employers who do not fully comply with the law indicates that there is very little monitoring. Problems also arise when the ICC is formed by the head of the company and when they get accused of sexually harassing an employee. The previously mentioned surveys by various organizations can be used by the government to monitor company compliance to the provisions of the act and to strictly make them liable for not adhering to it.
  • The evidentiary requirement to decide the case by the ICC is also one of the issues faced by the companies as the act doesn’t clarify on the standard of proof. Most instances of sexual harassment take place in private, which may not result in any written evidence or first-hand witnesses. Although the courts in India have held that the standard of proof must be employed in domestic enquiries – the same can also be used by companies to decide a case by using a balance of probability as a standard of proof to decide the case. 

There are certain insufficiencies in the law itself which can be dealt with by amending the provisions and providing better means to receive justice. But it’s crucial to understand that the law won’t play its part in isolation. The intersectionality of violence and harassment also needs to be comprehended by us. We need to question the wrongdoing as to why this practice is so prominent and then work towards the solution – as opposed to just introducing the law and punishing those who are proven to be guilty.

I believe in the saying “hate the sin not the sinner”, and thus as I have mentioned the system of education and the laws relating to education to be modified in such a way to educate people from a young age about the values of equality, equity and liberty. Law by itself won’t be of much help if we don’t start teaching the value of consent and to be sensitive towards people around us. Criticism can be generated against my notion of understanding about the issue and I am open to it.

Also Read: In Times Of #MeToo, Here Is A List Of Laws We Should Know About

Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Pinterest

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