India has been gripped by the #MeToo movement recently. One originally started in the US in October 2017 by American actress Alyssa Milano, following exposures like that of the film producer Harvey Weinstein. Several women have come out in the open to narrative tales of sexual harassment and exploitation.
The majority have taken most of the harrowing tales seriously but some concerns have also been raised about anonymous allegations and how one would go about ascertaining the veracity of those allegations in the absence of women filing FIRs and a proper investigation being conducted.
While the concerns of cross-checking the veracity of anonymous allegations might not be totally unfounded, some people have made the most outlandish statements regarding the #MeToo movement.
Retired Judge Markandey Katju has written an article on TheWeek where he lampoons the movement. The article headlined “MeToo movement is gimmick & ploy, aping of ‘goras'”, The former Judge has made the following points:
- Everyone knows Bollywood and Media are exploitative. Women are speaking now because the ‘goras’ did it in the USA.
- People are ‘aping the west’ with this #MeToo movement because Indians have an inferiority complex
- Sexual harassment being given prominence now is a ‘diversionary move’
- Sexual harassment ‘should be condemned’ but the much bigger problems of the people are poverty, unemployment, poor healthcare, malnourishment, lack of good education, farmers’ distress, price rise, atrocities on minorities, etc.
- He says that the ‘rulers’ have failed the tackle the ‘major problems’ and hence diverting attention to these ‘lesser problems’ and convincing the people that these are the ‘only problems’.
- He says and we quote, “Some years back, the Nirbhaya gang-rape case was so hyped by the media that an impression was sought to be created that the only problem before India was not poverty, not unemployment, not price rise, not healthcare and not malnourishment… but just rape”.
- Some allegations might be incorrect too.
While Katju has a point in wondering whether some allegations might be false, his other points cross the realm of bizarre. It is one thing to say that the due process of the law must be followed and a completely different thing to say that these “small issues” like sexual harassment are “being hyped” by some politicians who have failed to handle “bigger problems” like poverty and “atrocities on minorities”.
It is also horrifying that a former Judge of the Supreme Court would assert that the Nirbhaya case was “hyped”. To recall, Nirbhaya was the brutal gang rape of a woman where the rapists violated her repeatedly, even with an iron rod to a point where her intestines were pulled out. The victim succumbed to her brutal injuries. This had rightly triggered a tsunami of protests demanding stricter laws to punish rapists.
There are certain incidents that shake the conscience of the society at large. Nirbhaya was one of them. For Katju to even insinuate that it was “hyped” by the media to “divert attention” from larger issues is an atrocity in itself.
The #MeToo movement was a spontaneous coming together of women who have faced harassment and for Katju to imply the hand of “failed politicians” who want to “divert attention” points towards a deep hatred for not only the cause but women in general.
Katju, after writing this bizarre article, took to Facebook to make even more bizarre comments. Katju asserted that “When men are no longer exploited and oppressed by men, women too will no longer be exploited and oppressed by men”. Later, in a bid to explain himself, he added another layer of asinine comments and said “When I spoke of men exploiting men, I meant a minority exploiting a majority. The minority and majority may include both men and women”.
It is, at this point, beyond me to decipher what he really meant, but I am guessing nothing very encouraging.
He also said that ” The MeToo movement will last for a few weeks, and will then disappear, just as Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption disappeared. It is just a tamasha”.
Katju’s only comment in his article, as well as Facebook that made sense, was when he said “I do not say that. What I say is that unless we create a non-exploitative society, women’s oppression and harassment will continue. MeToo can only have a marginal effect”.
It is perhaps true that the aim has to be to create a non-exploitative society. However, the value on calling out individual predators can also not be undermined as a “gimmick” or “diversionary tactic”. It is when the powerful individuals who turn a society into an exploitative one are called out, can the society take a small step towards being wholly non-exploitative.
Joining the cacophony of the bizarre, BJP MP Udit Raj decided not to be left behind. While saying that the #MeToo movement can be an exploitative tool in the hands of women, he also said that there are cases like honey-trap because of which men are now scared to meet women alone. He also said that he believes it is in the nature of man, but women aren’t all saints either.
The trepidations regarding false allegations, misuse of law, misuse of the movement, and defamation based on false allegations are not unfounded. However, the entire undermining of the movement is counterproductive and reaks of sexist. While every case needs to be judged independently and based on merits, saying that the entire movement is an exploitative tool or that it is a ‘diversionary tactic’ seeks to discredit even genuine cases.