Vol. XLI No. 50 December 10, 2017

Me Too and We Too

G Mamatha

THE National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has come out with its ritual annual report. And the statistics are grim. Like the prices of vegetables, crimes in our country too have a tendency only to rise up, up and above. If only these statistics become weapons, can we see a change.

Let’s recount our achievements as detailed by the NCRB. Data shows that cases under Crime against Women have reported an increase of 2.9 per cent in 2016 over 2015. Delhi once again, being the national capital city, does not disappoint. It ranks first in terms of the crime rate against women. Delhi not only has the tallest brick minaret (Qutub Minar) in the world, but as a union territory, also stands tall in the highest reported crime rate (160.4) compared to the national average (55.2). Forget pollution, with its polluted mindset, Delhi also clinched the top spot for the most number of rape cases, attempt to rape cases, acid attacks, dowry deaths, kidnapping and abduction, sexual harassment, forceful attempt to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking. Probably, the government thinks a little pride does not hurt.

Now, poring through the various crimes committed against women, the NCRB explains that a majority of the cases were reported under ‘Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives’ (32.6 per cent) followed by ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’ (25.0 per cent), ‘Kidnaping and Abduction of Women’ (19.0 per cent) and ‘Rape’ (11.5 per cent). Compared to last year, rape cases have reported an increase of 12.4 per cent. So, Congress or BJP, we have not lost our ‘machoness’.

The NCRB data brings out another feather to be added to our ‘illustrious’ cap – most of the crimes against SCs reported were crimes against women, which include assault, sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism and insult to modesty. There we go. It’s easy to exploit those who are unequal.

According to an article in the UK newspaper Guardian that commented on the sexual harassment on women in the US: “The daily deluge of tales of lechery and trauma holds a hidden but crucial truism: sexual harassment routinely feeds on income inequality (A Pew Research survey in the US found that in 2015, women earned 83 per cent of what men earned). The greater the imbalance of income and power, the more opportunity there is to abuse one’s advantage (and perhaps, a greater temptation)”. And this seems to be a universal experience. The stronger you are, the more you exploit.

The recent ‘coming out’ started when a big Hollywood producer was accused of sexual harassment. From small time actresses to big name actresses, many came forward narrating their experiences. Gaining courage from them, women from media also joined them, detailing how they were/are exploited by their bosses and superiors. Immediately following them, were the women who were abused by politicians. They were undeterred by the fact that a molester has now become the president of the US. All of them have come out narrating their travails with horrifying details. The ball has been set in motion. Many were forced to resign. Some were removed. Some members of the Senate and Congress retired. And of course, there are thousands of them more, continuing shamelessly.

That the problem of sexual harassment is of serious nature is recognised. Washington Post recently published a report on the survey done by it (October 17, 2017). It states that 64 per cent of the women workforce felt that sexual harassment in the workplace was a serious problem. A whopping 94 per cent say men usually avoid facing any consequences for their actions. Women who have faced harassment or abuse at work stated that they felt humiliated, intimidated and ashamed. 83 per cent said their experiences made them angry. It is this anger that is now coming out.

Nearly 6 in 10 of the women said they didn’t notify anyone in a supervisory position at their job. The reasons are related to ‘power’ and ‘position’ of the predator. They are afraid that retaliation often accompanies harassment on such complaints. And this is a point that needs to be underlined: “People who come forward risk isolation and shaming, and they risk short – or long-term damage to their careers”.

Stirred by the tumbling revelations of sexual harassment and in order to ‘encourage’ more women to come forward, a ‘me too’ campaign was started on the Twitter. Within hours, hundreds of thousands of social-media users had responded stating that they too had faced harassment in their lives. In our country too, many had come forward. Some had rightly posed a challenge: ‘interested to know one woman who had not’. How true.

A survey on the impact of sexual harassment on young women found out that young women studying in Delhi University mostly choose a college taking into consideration a ‘safer travel route’, than the ‘quality of the college’. It also showed that safety considerations mean that women’s salaries were 20 per cent lower than those of their male colleagues as the fear of harassment ‘compel women to make relatively poorer economic choices’. Another study done on 52 listed companies of the (Bombay Stock Exchange) BSE, which are among the top 100 Indian companies shows that the number of reported cases of harassment has increased over the years. ‘The ratio of the number of harassment cases to the number of women employees on company payrolls has also gone up’. Note that the largest cases of sexual harassment are reported in services such as information technology (IT), and banking.

Most of the Indian women are working in unorganised sector and many of them are barely literate or hardly literate. They are at the lower rungs of ‘power’ and ‘influence’. These women are the most subjected to sexual harassment and abuse. Most of these cases go unreported.

Various groups and agencies have done many surveys across our country between 1998 to 2017. All of them unanimously conclude that a majority of women employees do not report sexual harassment, prominent reasons being ‘lack of confidence in the organisation including redress mechanism, low awareness about law and procedures, threat of professional victimisation apart from fear of ridicule, stigma and embarrassment’. Another survey done in private sector revealed that for women working there, work place was the ‘most sexually aggressive place in their lives’.

US or India, another universal feature is, victim shaming. Ridiculing the victim, blaming her, stigmatising her are universal features. Our misogynist politicians, have a great leader to look upon – Herr Donald Trump. Hail the lot! All of them join chorus in blaming women – producing a great cacophony.

A report in Economic Times quotes a chief executive of a five-year old company in Bengaluru, who is a SHE. She states: “When you hear of groping in buses and on the streets, how do you expect the behaviour to be any different at a workplace”? Quite true.

How many women do we find walking on the roads with their heads held high? Why are increasing number of young girls donning headphones over their ears? Why do women clutch their bags so tightly? Ever thought about these mundane observations? They do not merit a thought, because women are women, who are supposed to remain women – objects to be lusted. Here is what a woman journalist wrote: “I put in headphones every time I leave the house, even if I’m not listening to anything, so I don’t have to hear gross comments from men on the street; I keep my keys clutched like a weapon in my hand when I walk home alone in the dark, wary of strange men”.

Questioned about heads rolling in Hollywood and about sexual harassment in Bollywood, actor Richa Chadha said: “I don’t see that happening immediately given the culture of naming and shaming in our country. But when it happens, as it is happening in Hollywood right now, the entire power structure will change. People, who you see making feminist films and claiming to be progressive etc, they will all come tumbling down. We will lose a lot of heroes and several people will lose their lives’ work, their legacies”. She states that it might take another four or five years for that to happen.

Let legacies and careers tumble, but we cannot wait to see that happen. Politics, films, industry or any other place. It is time for the high and mighty to be brought crawling down. Harassing women is a crime. Nothing less. They should be told, loud and clear: making sexually coloured remarks, or/and any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature is sexual harassment. And it is a crime and you are a criminal.

All the sexual predators, that lecherous worms crawling around should be made to realise that you might escape the long hands of law, but you cannot escape us. Because it is not just, me too. It is WE TOO. We are not only on Twitter. We are everywhere, weeding out the fields, cleansing the society and fixing its nuts. BE AWARE.

Inessa Armand: “If women’s liberation is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without women’s liberation.”

PS: Me too campaign is chosen as the Time Person of the Year for 2017.