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#MeToo: Checks and Balances

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Parth Bhardwaj
Parth Bhardwaj
Student of BA LLB 2nd year at National Law University,Lucknow.

#MeToo campaign is gaining heat in India over social media as well as over the 4th pillar of democracy. Emerging as the strong platform of women who couldn’t gather courage to speak out against their sexual predators yet, this campaign has taken into grip many celebs, journalist, actors, politicians, etc in last few days.

#MeToo spread virally on social media in October 2017 to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual assault, especially at workplaces. This trend on social media followed soon after the sexual misconduct allegations against an American film producer Harvey Weinstein by a film actress Alyssa Milano. She tweeted her accusations against Weinstein using #MeToo and also encouraged other sexually assaulted women to use #MeToo on social media platforms to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Milano later said that the premise of her hashtag was to create a platform where women had an “opportunity without having to go into detail about their stories if they did not want to”.

Now after a year #MeToo has gone viral again, this time in Indian context following the allegations on Bollywood actor Nana Patekar by Tanushree Datta. The actual momentum of the #MeToo movement in India started heating up after the Kerela Nun rape case got into limelight in September 2018. A Nun in Kerela spoke up robustly against a Bishop of raping her 13 times over a period of two years. What makes this case particularly tragic is that in every step of the way, the powerlessness of the individual was pestered by the state and the priest of the Church. When the victim was facing institutional suppression and sought the state’s help, she was let down again.

One independent MLA from Kerela PC George went to the shameless extent of calling the complainant a prostitute. George’s misogynist attacks on the nun failed to provoke the outrage which we saw during the Kathua case where two BJP MLAs who appeared in a rally in support of the accused MLA were forced to resign. This happened because whole of the state mechanism tried hard to deteriorate the case. Hence the righteous fight of the Nun lost into the labyrinth of vote-bank politics. Soon after this the allegations on high profile people faded away the minutiae memories of the Nun case which worked as the spark for the #MeToo movement in the real sense.

Due to collective accusations and wide spread media coverage, it may be possible to prevent sexual harassment at least in the elite class to some extent at this juncture as they would be cautious for their reputation. But reality is that even after twenty-one years of Vishakha Guidelines and five years of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, we have miserably failed in ensuring the safety of women at workplace. According to recent report by Oxfam, 17 out of 100 women in both formal and informal sectors face sexual harassment at workplace in India. On 12th October, Union Minister Mrs. Maneka Gandhi proposed to form a 4-member panel to look into #MeToo cases. Mrs. Maneka further said, “I believe in all of them. I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complainant”. The committee will look into the legal and institutional framework for handling complaints of sexual harassment. The quick reaction from the Government of India shows that it realize the graveness of the issue and is keen to provide a stable situation.

According to Livemint, the reported instances of sexual harassment at private workplaces are higher than those at workplace owned by the state. This means that women at government workplaces feel unsafe to report against their perpetrators than those at private workplaces. The mechanism at state owned workplaces need to be improved.

The hits on the social media are only a beginning. The #MeToo campaign started just by revealing the acts of the sexual predators, should only be called off after the extinction of this great social evil of eve-teasing, sexual harassment etc. We are on board for a long journey but the challenges to continue this campaign with credibility is quite a difficult task to handle. The major challenge is to fight against “false accusations” just to get cheap limelight for a while. The accused are not being given a chance to put anything of their story and the public judge them shredding their reputation with no qualms. Any woman saying anything using #MeToo is being construed as the truth, and one has to ask whether justice is being served when all of this is based on “facts”, except who knows what the facts are?

Hoping this nationwide campaign to help woman getting respect and power at workplaces, one can easily imagine the self-consciousness and light hearted humouric conversation between the two genders while working together because who knows what can offend a person sexually. One can drown even in three feet of water and the other can survive even in the ocean. Considering the fear of being judged by the society negatively, the team spirit and the team work at workplaces will be on the life support system too.

So, to overcome these challenges and creating a “sexual harassment” free nation, only the online outrage is not enough, justice is to drag the predators into the court too. The courage which the women have now found standing solidarity against their sexual predators should come to a logical end.

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Parth Bhardwaj
Parth Bhardwaj
Student of BA LLB 2nd year at National Law University,Lucknow.
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