23 September 2021 05:29 AM



‘Men’ of #MeToo, What Say You?

It is not about ‘men’ versus ‘women’, but patriarchy versus feminism

As a ‘modern’, ‘radical’, ‘feminist’ translator I did not want to quell voices of conservatism, which need greater attention than the showcasing of only politically correct material.

– Rita Kothari, in 'Translation, Mediation, Borders: English and Other Worlds'

In Damera yesterday, according to reports, B. Mahesh threw acid on K. Rajitha, aged 26, after first attempting to rape her while she was alone in her house. “When the victim refused his advances,” narrates Nampally sub-inspector of police Vijayakumar, “the accused abused her in the name of caste and attacked her with acid. After she cried for help, locals came to her rescue and nabbed the accused.”

For now, B. Mahesh is under arrest. Many others haven’t been arrested, and continue to pose a danger to us. We don’t know who they are. Overwhelmingly often, rape and abuse occur within the family. We know something of the pressures that compelled Tarana Burke’s founding of the MeToo movement in 2007, and Raya Sarkar’s 2017 List of Sexual Harassers in Academia, and the current wave of revelations in the media-entertainment industries. So what are the pressures acting in the other direction, and how do they reveal themselves?

In Bhateri 26 years ago, state government employee Bhori Devi (whose name is typically Sanskritised to Bhanwari) tried to prevent a child marriage in a Gujjar household. In Bhateri, Gujjars claim to be from a “high caste”, and this claim is accepted by the community. Bhori Devi, a child bride herself, was unable to prevent the child marriage. But on September 22, 1992, as she has repeatedly told the media and the courts, a gang of upper-caste men raped her. She filed a case and, three years later, the fifth judge to be assigned to the trial acquitted all the accused, reasoning according to reports that: A village head cannot rape; Men of different castes cannot participate in gang rape; Older men of 60-70 years of age cannot commit rape; A man cannot rape in front of a relative; A member of the higher caste cannot rape a lower-caste woman, for reasons of purity.

It is because of the movement resulting from Bhori Devi’s fight that the Vishaka Guidelines of 1997, and later the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal) Act, 2013, exist to be implemented in workplaces in the so-called formal sector, which according to the ILO employs only 6.5% of India’s 470 million strong army of paid workers – unpaid domestic labour still doesn't count.

But strengthening ‘due process’ is only part of the fight. Surely the biggest weapon in the hands of the rapey colleague or boss is the sheer weight and risk of due process, whether through internal committees or in the courts. So why shouldn’t ‘women’ name and shame these ‘men’, and at least negotiate a safer, more equal workspace for starters, perhaps preventing attacks on others?

Alok Nath and his wife Ashu Singh have filed a defamation complaint against Vinta Nanda, for accusing Nath of rape. They say the allegation has left them too “terrorised” to even step out of the house. In a statement through her lawyers Nanda says she is ready to fight the case in court. Alok Nath has also been accused of harassment and assault by Deepika Amin and Sandhya Mridul.

In a similar response to numerous allegations of molestation, harassment and general creeping, Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar has vowed to consult his lawyers and “take appropriate legal action.” But five of his accusers have since said they stand by their statements and will take their fight to the courts. (At the time of writing, Akbar is reported to have filed a criminal defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani, which she says she will contest.)

Why was Akbar silent all this while? Because he was in Nigeria. Bharatiya Janata Party sources who wished to remain anonymous told PTI a few days ago that the final call on Akbar’s resignation would be taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Indeed, silence has been the standard response of the accused. Those associated with them in various ways have typically been more vocal, either in support or running the other way. On the way, they too have found reason to complain. As Nisha Susan writes, the baffling dissolution of Phantom Films, meant perhaps to be seen as a masterstroke, was followed by this unrelentingly cynical tweet from Vikramaditya Motwane: “Yes we burned it down. It was huge and loud and a fucking spectacle. I hope you enjoyed it.”

Perhaps silence is the wiser route to take. Since Ira Trivedi accused him of lunging at her despite a No, clearly expressed, Chetan Bhagat (affectionately known as C-Bag) has on Twitter and Facebook concurrently dissolved into a very public, shivering mess of apology, denial, and counter-accusation.

Given that Akbar is still a blustering minister, are we to assume, from those unnamed BJP sources, that the prime minister has assented to his continuing in government? Many of us remember well how “Saheb” and Amit Shah, then confined to Gujarat, were said to have used the state intelligence services to stalk a student in her early twenties. But our suspicions proved unfounded when the woman’s father, Pranlal Soni, issued a statement saying it was he who had orally asked the then chief minister of Gujarat to “take care” of his daughter, as he was worried about her safety. Modi and Shah maintained a studied silence on Snoopgate throughout.

Similarly, those of us who were shocked at the alleged gangrape and burning alive of Kausarbi, wife of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, reportedly on the orders of Amit Shah, were also proven wrong, as witnesses kept disappearing or turning hostile. The latest in a string of silences comes from Justice B.H. Loya, now deceased, who was investigating Sheikh's killing, to which Kausarbi was reportedly a witness. A few relevant pages of the guest register at Ravi Bhawan, where Loya was staying at the time of his “cardiac arrest”, have also gone silent, as the Caravan recently reported.

Meanwhile, if all this is just dirty politicking, where is the Congress in all this? Congress MP Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri’s petition alleging a conspiracy to commit genocide on the part of Narendra Modi’s government in Gujarat in 2002 was rejected a year ago by the Gujarat High Court. Ehsan Jafri was hacked alive, beheaded, and his body burnt during that pogrom, which claimed the lives of over 1,500 Indians. Even if the Supreme Court does somehow hear this plea, its seniormost judges, in their own MeToo moment, publicly stated earlier this year that “democracy is in peril.”

Dumbledore said that Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity among his opponents is very great. It has been remarked, by people who think of themselves as men as well as women, that in the space of the oppressor’s silence, the oppressed are reduced to fighting each other. As with the mostly female accusers of male attackers in the latest wave of MeToo allegations, so too with what’s left of the Left, in the past many years, in the face of a concerted onslaught of shiny trishuls and big money.

(If the masculine–feminine hierarchy works in tandem with those between straight and gay, majority and minority, rich and poor, or man and nature, it is worth keeping in mind that both Shambhu Lal Regar, who hacked to death and burnt Afrajul Khan, and Hari Om Sisodia, co-accused in the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq, have been offered tickets to contest the next Lok Sabha elections from Uttar Pradesh.)

Perhaps MeToo ought to be seen in the same light as Wikileaks, with its many rounds of revelations, of classified videos of US military pilots making sport of unarmed Iraqi doctors and civilians, and of documents purporting to be transcripts of private conversations and deal-making. Surely the responsibility for making sense of MeToo, for disentangling textual harassment from rape, for keeping track of multiple allegations or changeful single accounts, lies with readers and the press, not with the accusers. And surely it is more important to shine a laser light upon the accused, than to say for the millionth tired time, “But what was she wearing?”

Rohith Vemula wrote, “Someday, you will understand / that there are traps beyond the fences.” As we leave our gender-segregated upbringing, with very few models of male-female equality or friendship, and enter an increasingly ‘feminising’ workforce, we need to keep an eye out for the traps beyond the fences. As a friend and colleague once remarked, “The problem with pedestals is they’re very small. If you put someone on a pedestal, they’ll soon fall off – or you’ll have to knock them down.”

I think we should try and avoid this trap. It is not about ‘men’ versus ‘women’, but patriarchy versus feminism. The fight will have to grow beyond the 1% bubble of the English-speaking social media, and past the self-limiting effects of corporate workplace revolutions, to develop connections, on an equal footing, with everyone else.