#MeToo: Little progress towards resolution
The impact of the ‘Me Too’ movement has been considerable. It has brought a sea change in terms of creating awareness about sexual harassment and assault, the plight of women and the demand for accountability from their violaters. The reach of the movement was felt in India as well, most significantly when a former minister of state for external affairs, who faced numerous charges of sexual harassment, was forced to resign. And yet, the path to awareness and accountability can be long and hard, especially in a country where societal, political and institutional resistance to both is stiff. In spite of the furore in the wake of the allegations, little progress seems to have been made towards conviction as well as resolution. No wonder then that over 5,000 survivors of sexual assault congregated at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan after a countrywide march to protest against the persistent culture of silence surrounding rape and the subsequent stigmatization of survivors. A significant number of these women belong to India’s remote regions and underprivileged communities. The march is a rare instance of voices from the margins being assimilated into a narrative that allegedly remains urbane and privileged.
It stands to reason then that a large part of the protest also involved bringing to light the institutional propensity to stall retributive or corrective measures against the perpetrators. This deliberate delay of justice finds a particular kind of expression in organized industries. Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, companies are mandated to establish a sexual harassment complaints cell. And yet, the dated origins of several cases that emerged in quick succession highlight the time that has lapsed since the alleged transgressions. This proves that institutions, including the media and the bureaucracy, have not exactly been fleet-footed while addressing the concerns. A broader — more militant? — kind of intervention, thus, is required against such a culture of suppression. Is the Dignity March an answer then? The stories of the women also reveal the role played by power, in its myriad forms, in sexual assault under Indian conditions. In Bhanwari Devi’s case, the alleged rapists were acquitted on the grounds that upper caste men cannot possibly rape an ‘untouchable’ woman. In the light of this, it becomes clear that sexual assault and even justice are not merely questions of upholding law and order. Very often, violations and their redressal are influenced by complexities arising out of the nexus between power and prejudice that the Dignity March is demanding that India reflect upon.