INDIA: Go! India (Chak de! India, 2007)

#metoo in India

by Priyanka Koliwad

The Me Too movement has taken the world by storm, reaching developed and underdeveloped countries alike. Specifically, in India, a nation considered to be the most dangerous country for women, this movement has brought to light the varying levels of harassment women face in all walks of life. This video essay highlights various films with strong female leads and juxtaposes them to interviews done by some of the same actresses on how they are treated in the industry.

One of the most high profile cases was that of Tanushree Dutta. In September of 2018, Dutta spoke to Indian media about how she was ignored when she claimed sexual harassment back in 2008. She accused Nana Patekar, a veteran Bollywood actor, of touching her inappropriately on the set of a movie they were shooting. Dutta is now pursuing legal action against Patekar, who has denied the allegations (Khan).

This was the catalyst for the Me Too movement, inspiring more and more women to speak out in varying disciplines. There have been many men in powerful positions have been called out and have had to face some sort of consequence. Among the most high-profile men accused this week is M.J. Akbar, once a celebrated newspaper editor and, currently, the junior minister for foreign affairs. He was first accused by columnist Priya Ramani, who had written about Akbar — without identifying him — in an October 2017 article for Vogue (Dutt). She recounted the night he asked her to his hotel room and made unwanted advances, including asking her to sit on his bed. She was 23; he was 20 years older and her prospective editor. Since then, six other women revealed how
they were harassed and violated by Akbar. “The rage of younger women who had been through much worse pouring out like lava onto my Twitter timeline forced me to question why I was keeping quiet,” Ramani told said during an interview (Dutt).

India’s patriarchal and conservative society and the divides between regions and languages have so far limited the reach of #MeToo to most elite sectors of society and urban areas. But activists believe it has to start somewhere, and they see women, coming forward and naming themselves as survivors, as a turning point (Zonunmawii).

Although the list was heatedly debated by Indian feminists on its effectiveness in battling the issue of sexual harassment and assaults, it opened up a gateway for survivors to speak up, which has finally led to this outbreak of reporting on cases of sexual harassment and misconduct at the workplace (Kirby). #MeToo is cathartic for survivors of rape, sexual assault, and harassment as it finally gives them the opportunity they have been vehemently seeking: to acknowledge the injustice they have been internally battling with and, most importantly, the opportunity to be heard and pursue justice (Zonunmawii).

The outpouring of women coming out and naming their harassers is a positive sign that India is slowly moving toward creating a safe environment for survivors. But the “war” has only just begun. Reporting cases of sexual violence is the first step, but the rest of the pathway to justice is mired with concerns for survivors.

In 2014, the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), an Indian government body, released data showing that 53.2 percent of the 2,743 complaints of rape filed between April 2013 to July 2014 were found to be false (Zonunmawii). This data has been quoted extensively by men’s rights groups to drive their point home on how Indian women have been misusing rape laws to extort money or to execute personal revenge against men

The inconclusiveness of this data lies on the fact that the classification of “false cases” included all cases that were dropped before reaching the courts. The collation of this data failed to take into account an extensive reasoning on why these cases were dropped. A 2015 study done by Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ), a Delhi-based non-profit organization that provides legal and psycho-social support to child victims of sexual violence during criminal proceedings, notes that a key factor that impacts the withdrawal of such cases is the pressure received by the victims and their families to do
so (Zonunmawii).

Very often, victims receive pressure through physical threats and harassment and this occurs at all stages of the criminal proceedings. Sometimes, the offender’s relatives might even file false police-complaints against the victim’s family members with an intention to intimidate them (Kirby). In order to emotionally manipulate the victims, the perpetrators also have resorted to threatening to circulate explicit images and video recordings of the victims during the abuse. All these factors have led to witnesses and victims turning hostile and withdrawing their cases. The study also shows that there have been a number of cases where the police and the accused have tried to compromise registered cases by pressuring the victim and their family to accept an extrajudicial financial settlement which led to the victims withdrawing their complaints before their cases reach the courts (Dao).

While this is an important step and has brought India further in social progress, it is important to remember that this new movement isn’t helping all women in India. Caste in the feminist movement can be analyzed through the idea of hauntology. Hauntology refers to the idea that there are certain “ghosts” that make themselves felt even as they are absent in a material way (Kirby). That is, caste is not spoken of, and yet shapes the interactions between all Indians, including in the feminist movement. Until the ghostly presence of caste and its effects in Indian academia are openly discussed, the
division the list created will continue to persist (Dao).

In the 1990s, Flavia Agnes and others pointed out that the Indian women’s movement, which presented itself as secular, was actually deeply influenced by Hindu language, metaphors, and assumptions (Dao). Today, Dalit feminists are drawing our attention to the ways in which the feminist movement in India needs to be self-conscious about caste. It always matters, perhaps especially, when some claim that it is irrelevant.

What began as a discussion of sexism in the workplace in the United States, quite naturally has become a discussion about how sexism and casteism work together in Indian academia (Kirby). Dr. B.R Ambedkar, considered to be one of the founding fathers of the Republic of India, long ago pointed out that caste and gender oppression are inextricably linked. In the Indian context, to imagine that women’s equality is possible without an end to caste discrimination is simply foolish. The two have to go hand in hand.

Works Cited

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