India says times up

#Me Too Singes

By Poonam I Kaushish

Last week India was agog to Her Story. Two diametrically opposite tales which showcased the dichotomous position of women in 21st century India. One, wherein she emerges victorious, the second where she is victimized. Both, culminating in victory with the God or devil taking the hindmost!
In a landmark 4:1 majority verdict the Supreme Court did the unthinkable: It allowed menstruating women between 10-50 inside the over 800-year-old Sabarimala temple abode to the eternally celibate deity Lord Ayyappa. Asserting a dualistic approach in religions and prohibiting women entry as a form of untouchability which results in lowering dignity of women, it added, “Subversion of women under garb of biological and physiological factors can’t be given legitimacy and can’t pass muster of constitutionality and religion can’t become a cover to exclude and deny basic right to worship… nor can physiology be a reason.”
Yet, despite the judgment, none from the “banned” age group could make it to its hallowed precincts amid a welter of protests, chaos and violent clashes. On the fallacious plea that entry of women of menstruating age was an age old tradition and antithetical to the celibate nature of the deity. Big deal if it stereotyped women as seductresses and stripped India of open-mindedness, equilibrium and tolerance!
As the fight between Hindu Renaissance and Obscurantism rages another battle front exploded of hundreds of instances of courage which singed male celebrities in the #MeToo inferno. From journalist-turned-junior Union Foreign Minister Akbar who was forced to resign, Congress NSUI President, actors Nana Patekar, film director Vivek Bahl, music composer Anu Malik, author Chetan Bhagat, adman Suhel Seth, male journalists, stand-up comic was accused of sending explicit images, another filmmaker accused of masturbating on a colleague, one more of sexual harassment and assault etc.
It all started with a small-time actress Tanushree Dutta recounting her story of being sexually assaulted by Patekar in 2008 on a film set. When she objected the actors goons misbehaved making her quit the film, industry and country. Twenty women journalists named Akbar for propositioning them, groping their breasts and violently assaulting them. Raising a moot point: Why are women viewed as sex objects? A plaything of males to satisfy their libido and massage their egos? Why are we so complacent when it come reporting sexual crimes?
Clearly, in a society which lives with the regressive mindset that freedom and equality for women tantamount to promiscuity, we swing between two extremes. One where a girl child is bad news and nurtured on a “conform” paranoia: Not to rock the boat, be fearful of what lies around the corner and subjecting them to countless restrictions in the name of women’s protection.
For many girls even talking about periods is taboo and life freezes for five days: confined to a room, disallowed from entering the kitchen and temples lest they dirty it. Whereby fathers make the rules, husbands enforce them and male bosses reiterate them, speaking out against someone’s wrong doing is tough.
A girl raped by one of her male relatives in locked in the precincts of her home, is told to keep quite to avoid repercussions on the facetious pretext of ‘what will people say’ and ‘nobody will marry you.’ Several women who face sexual abuse at work stay quite in order to avoid further harassment and unwanted attention. Or are hesitant to speak out fearing they will be dubbed ‘loose charactered’ at best or ostracized at worst. Either which way the damage is done. Getting married and raising kids is the core of female existence. Sic.
Not a few women complain that they are viewed as sex objects and mince-meat for male lust camouflaged as human animals to either comply or reconcile to battling it out at every level. To rise professionally they need a ‘godfather’ who can make or break them.
A profession where sexual abuse is rampant is the film industry. Actresses complain of “couch” tactics where it is extremely difficult to land a film. Not only are actresses asked to show lot of skin but visit the director, producer, actor after shooting. In the advertising world colleagues’ comment that women should wear things that make them look luscious, some pinch while greeting you,
Perhaps it has something to do with our patriarchal lineage and misogynistic culture. Whereby, we show utter disregard and disrespect for women…. rape, marital rapes, sexual assault and systemic harassment et al. A culture that believes that the worst aspect of rape is the defilement of the victim, who will no longer be able to find a man to marry her – and that the only solution is to marry the rapist.
Pertinently, till date Prime Minister Modi has never been held to account-by an increasingly pliant mainstream media or the public-for his behavior toward women. He has maintained a calculated silence in the face of countless rapes across the country. Be it BJP colleague, MP or MLA accused of sexual harassment or molestation he has chosen political opportunism over the rule of law. Rape accused Unnao MLA is still in the BJP. When he speaks it’s vague, calling it “shame of daughters establishing his patriarchal thinking of a woman’s place in a ‘man’s world.
Alas, despite umpteen promises of empowering women, the Government has failed the Women’s Reservation Bill reserving 33% of seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women. Neither has he taken proactive measures to improve female labour force participation, which stood at a dismaying 24% in 2015-2016, down from 36% in 2005-2006.
All eyes are on what happens in the Akbar defamation case. However either which way, women have identified their predators and they will determine what happens next. True, lies have no legs but truth is the best defense.
Notwithstanding the #Me Too campaign, in a culture where the national narrative conditions people to think that sexual harassment has no consequences; where sex crimes are dismissed as result of an imbalanced sex ratio; and where women have little or no cultural respect, it is going to be a steep uphill to change what is just par for the course.
Where does one go from here? Given that this oppressive atrocity against women will get worse, not better. Clearly our leaders need to pay heed and address this seriously. For starters why haven’t our policing laws been strengthened? Laws tightened which would deter men to think thousand times before they commit crime?
Our education system needs to emphasise the importance of gender equality and eradicate the sick male mindset. We need to change our approach to sexual harassment. One option is radical feminism to make a social impact and safety of women should be an important article of faith with people, society and Government. Along-with dignity, equal opportunity and independence of thought and action.
To that end, we need stricter laws that ensure that those found guilty of workplace harassment are punished. The Vishakha judgment guidelines provide many safeguards, like having an “appropriate complaints mechanism with a complaints committee” at all. Political Parties should constituted a Internal Complaints Committee.
Tough times call for tough action. A revolutionary change is needed. The Constitution has given equal rights to women. Merely mouthing platitudes of freedom will no longer work. We need cry a halt to women being playthings of voyeuristic men. Will women continue to constitute the weaker gender? Continue to rot at the hands of lecherous, predatory or pedophile men? Will we break new ground and unshackle women? A time to introspect and say TIMES UP. Enough of sexual harassment! —- INFA