Fight to Demolish Feudal Patriarchal culture at workplaces and for Democratic Culture.
In India, the “Me Too’ movement exposes that forcing law enactments are not enough-Movements alone can ensure implementation.
Brave, angry outpourings from women journalists and women in the entertainment industry in Mumbai are reigning over headlines in India. Comparisons are being drawn with the movement with the same name which burst out over a year earlier in the US and it is being made out that the inspiration has been drawn from there, but this is only a partial truth. It was after December 16th 2012 that the floodgates of women’s anger in India burst open in a new way. It was not that women had not spoken about power based sexual violence at workplace or in course of performing duty, earlier. The failed attempt at justice in semi feudal India by a saathin in Rajasthan became the prod for women’s movements which resulted in the Vishakha judgement of the Supreme Court. It called for internal committees at workplace till a law to the same effect was enacted. After that it also set the tone, by violating its own judgement on its own premises.
Several women dared to speak out after Vishakha – in the capital city of Delhi they faced severe backlash despite being backed by support by co workers with one case seeing a powerful movement; there was similar experience in the rest of the country. Due to the overall patriarchal and non democratic culture at workplaces, often women complainants were let down by senior women in the Vishakha committees which existed.
It was the aftermath of 2012 that resulted in a virtual outburst, with working women in various sectors speaking out against power based sexual violence. Young women journalists spoke then, as did women in institutions like TERI against their exalted bosses, as did young legal interns against judges of the Supreme Court itself. The complaints were either converted into FIRs as support at workplace faltered before power or came to naught in the absence of internal committees and hesitation at going to the police. Can one blame the women when not just careers but even the possibility of lasting in the profession is at stake?
The ripples have continued incessantly and women’s speaking up could not be throttled, only there was not so much focus on them. Since the past year there have been outpourings of anger in both the Malayalam and Telegu film industry. In the first case, when the Cine Artists organization mocked the women by reinstating a powerful actor accused of sexual misconduct, the women of the industry responded by forming a platform of their own where both women actors and women supporting staff have organized themselves. In the Telegu industry, one woman actor expressed her protest by a public stripping.
A fresh round of fighting for justice is on as women in various professions recapture relief, recapture the right to be at peace with themselves, by breaking their silence. There are many women who are putting their current high positions in the profession, their lives, their families at stake and voicing their anger and their sense of humiliation at what they were forced to go through so that they could pursue their professions, or how they were denied opportunities if they refused. Women’s organizations and democratic individuals and organizations must rally in solidarity, must salute the courage.
What will become of these voices? The test is of the democratic movement, not of these survivors. The test is of progressive movements. Some of these voices will become FIRs. Some will be silenced by the finger pointings which will inevitably get into action at the behest of the powerful accused and other powerful yet to be accused guilty. Feudal patriarchal values hold sway in this society, the point is the fight against them. There have to be powerful movements in support of justice for those who have spoken. There must be movements for throwing out of the named from public offices and professional bodies, for social boycotts at workplace and for work boycotts. There must be investigations through sexual harassment investigation bodies which should be constituted of persons whose uprightness should be the issue and not their fame. These committees should be set up by democratic processes. But it must be clear to all- justice can only be done if democratic and progressive struggles remain alert and active and continue the fight to ensure gender justice. Getting laws written and committees formed is only the beginning of the battle.
There are several questions being raised though right now they are being spoken in low voices. Why not FIRs, even if the quests for justice are belated? Should there be no limit to the time in which women can throw these accusations? It should be clear- the outbursts represent total refusal by the powers that be to implement healthy gender safe, non feudal workplace cultures. The Vishakha judgement which emanated as a result of women’s movements, showed one way- by forming internal committees and taking internal action. The logic was that there may be several types of suggestive sexual harassments not easy to prove in a court of law before a skeptical judicial and police system (which even the Verma Commission report conceded), but would be common knowledge within the workplace. It is also true that most these committees, even where they were set up, were subservient to power and toothless. This is true of Govt., public and private sectors. The Law on Sexual harassment at Workplace, though quite watered down from what was demanded, is also unimplemented. In all these circumstances, any attempt to deny the affected women the right to speak, must be opposed tooth and nail. These are times of social media, or cell phones that allow visual and voice recordings; all of which have acted as aids to securing justice, to capturing proof. The support struggles for at least middle class women who speak up are now far more enabling than earlier.
There is worry about such opportunities being misused for settling scores especially professional or political ones. They are not misplaced, but such cases are just a fall out of positive steps. The grain will always need separation from the chaff and in this issue, the way out is clear- fair, regular sexual harassment committees at workplace with teeth to ensure compliance and enough power to ensure reach to all levels. Their functioning must be monitored by employees at the workplaces and a democratic culture at workplace must be part of the struggles of all democratic organizations. Without this, feudal cultures prevalent at workplaces have ensured that even senior women fail to stand up for justice for women who face sexual harassment and violence, even if the victims speak up.
It should be clear – an overall powerful struggle against feudal patriarchal values alone can provide the mileu for ensuring both justice for all victims and also more supportive and gender sensitive workplace environments. Only law enactments are not the answer- struggles alone can ensure their fair implementation.