Aata Majhi Satakli - 2

Oct 14, 2018, 07:53 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

She was responding to my column Aata Majhi Satakli! of November 5, 2017, in which I had described how most Indian women experience various kinds of sexual harassment lifelong, including my own experiences

Aata Majhi Satakli - 2
Illustration/Uday Mohite

One of the most moving, and disturbing, responses I have received to my Sunday mid-day column, came from an anguished mother. She was responding to my column Aata Majhi Satakli! of November 5, 2017, in which I had described how most Indian women experience various kinds of sexual harassment lifelong, including my own experiences.

She told me about an unspeakable incident that had happened when their daughter was 13; the parents found out about it only much later. The daughter was mature beyond her years. "Would you have given me all the freedom and opportunities I've had, if I had told you?" she asked. Probably not, the mother replied. Most likely, the parents would have prevented her going out or coming home late, and monitored her friends and phone like hawks. Forced to choose between a hellish cage and a golden cage, she chose the former.

Mostly, so far, the recent #MeToo accusations in India have been made mainly by urban, film and media personalities, in a social media enabled-environment. Already many heads have wobbled, if not rolled, and many more will. At the time of writing, several women have made public allegations of sexual harassment and/or rape against many men, including director Vikas Bahl, actors Alok Nath and Nana Patekar, and MJ Akbar, editor turned Minister of State for External Affairs. Writer-producer Vinta Nanda has posted a horrific allegation about how Alok Nath raped her in her own home, while editor-author Ghazala Wahab's allegations in The Wire include a stomach-churning account of being molested by MJ Akbar.

Yet, there is some concern about what will happen next. Some cases could die out for lack of evidence. Or we can expect a welter of legal cases, and counter defamation cases. Some, like Phantom Films, have dissolved their company; in other cases, the accused has resigned from his job, or been suspended. In a rare show of solidarity in Bollywood, actor Akshay Kumar has cancelled the shoot of Housefull 4 for now, following allegations of sexual harassment against the film's director Sajid Khan and co-actor Nana Patekar.

I'm not sure if any of this is sufficient "justice" for the victims. Of course, when naming and shaming alleged perpetrators, the survivors must be prepared for retaliation, which may include physical attacks, acid attacks, divorce, job dismissals, transfers, defamation, or worse. Obviously, it is challenging to secure evidence for such private experiences, usually occurring behind closed doors, and which often happened years ago. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, describes sexual harassment as including not only physical contact, but also "unwelcome behaviour" experienced when the victim feels bad or powerless. Still, legal action needs evidence.

Apart from most men claiming the cases are false, women themselves, and village panchayats, will doubtless continue to advise rape survivors to marry their rapists to become "respectable". But what happens when the rapist is someone in your own family? I suspect most families will simply close their ranks, as they always have. The rest is silence.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com.

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