India’s Me Too movement took off this month as several women in powerful and influential positions took to different forms of social media to call out rape, abuse and harassment at the workplace. The accused have included several big movie stars, names of bankers and scores of prominent personalities in big powerful sectors.
More and more women today it seems are feeling emboldened to reveal their personal accounts of harassment on social media, and use the medium to shine a light on the elephant in the room. This is a positive development that is sure to shake the culture of silence and custom of dismissing or excusing men’s behavior with causal and otherwise toxic sayings such as “boys will be boys”.
As the Me Too movement develops, what has been even more distressing to witness has been revelations of the way the authorities have handled the complaints of victims.
According to a survey by the IndiaSpend media analysis firm, registered cases of sexual harassment at Indian workplaces shot up by 54 percent, from 371 in 2014 to 570 in 2017. Moreover several surveys have reported that over 75 percent of sexual harassment cases in India go unreported and violence against women is hardly ever discussed despite it being widespread. This is partly because of the shame associated with the individual suffering and is also partly because of the fear of retaliation, especially in a work environment.
The issue itself seems to have crept out of the shadows and taken center stage on popular news channels, which is despite being a small win, still a win for several countries engaging in the discourse. Similarities have been drawn between India’s #MeToo movement and that of the United States, which began last year when at least a dozen women came out in quick succession to corroborate allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
As the Me Too movement gains grounds in Pakistan as well, it is important for society to collectively deliberate how to support victims and create a safe environment for stories to be told. It is also important to ponder over how to protect these women against powerful men in society that have for so long benefitted from the tradition of silence. As far as the larger society is concerned, it has a shared responsibility to give both sides the opportunity to speak their truth without feeling scared for their safety. As the world’s largest democracy takes a stand against patriarchy, it remains to be seen how far discourse on Me Too changes attitudes and the incredibly worrying tradition of silence and oppression.