The #MeToo storm that has swept and overwhelmed the film and media world since past week or so may well prove to be a wakeup call. It is being sounded by several women to highlight the sexual harassment and assault that is faced by them often at their workplaces.
Yet, it is a fact that the threat to their dignity and honour is not only confined to their offices and work settings alone, courtesy their bosses and superiors, since this can also begin right from women’s homes, neighbourhood, classrooms and may well cut across myriad other places at different stages of their lives, including the workplaces.
So the main question that arises is: What are the real issues vis-à-vis women behind the latest round of the outcry by a few individual women and their groups both internationally and back home via the Me Too… campaign by these women?
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Significantly, the campaign has been hoisted by somewhat better off, though may not yet fully empowered, women of the Indian society after they took a cue about this from sexual escapades of an American film producer Harvey Weinstein and accusations made against him by several top-notch Yankee women.
Despite the stark differences between America and India and the women of the two countries, their exploitation at their place of work looks to be common. This is more so because of the way it is being countered and fought through social media and maybe through other kinds of recourse.
Yet, it is a fact that by toeing the American example of the fight against exploitation some of the privileged women have greatly narrowed down the debate to mainly their class when women’s exploitation in India is much more rampant than what may be the case with America.
And the discrimination faced by the girl child in India in some cases has been discovered to start right from her mother’s womb. So, the way the problem is being fought nearer home can at best be a window dressing. Yet, it does not mean that the battle against this should not begin in India.
The point simply is that it should be enlarged and widened to take the women beyond the confines of the generally merry making world of the elite and privileged class though with a few honourable exceptions. The issue thrown by #MeToo movement is somehow only limited to the safety of woman at her workplace whereas it should, given its inadequacies, be the empowerment of women in the real sense of the word to benefit all the women.
Since the current battle has started from film and media sectors of the industry its deficient nature vis-à-vis the long awaited battle for women’s empowerment is all the more palpable.
This is so because both film and media in India as well as through the rest of the world have always been liberal and somewhat emancipated spaces in the popular perception that among other things also allow new social mores to germinate, take root and possibly grow without restrictions.
This applies both to the messages that films and media may stream out and also to their internal etiquette. This aspect of the industry is somehow been getting clouded in the debate that has been built by the #MeToo campaign.
In fact, behind the real issue that may have allowed films and media to add frivolity and even sexual promiscuity, or the loss of discretion on the part of some of the players of the two industries, is the kind of money that goes in to prop up the film and media sector.
It is a known fact that both these industries have often been funded through questionable sort of money at the cost of the fact that easy ways and means may well lead to grave consequences.
Thus, though the #MeToo campaign may be a welcome sign of the urge to clean the industry of the raunchy character that it has attained over the years the women and also others who alongside them have finally woken up to hit the alarm bells should not miss the real issue of the actual need of their empowerment without confining the battle to the workplace alone and also to the related issues like the money and accountability that should accompany the funds that come to the industry.
But women’s empowerment cannot ever be possible without the will and support of the political class. The fact that women’s reservation bill in legislatures both Central and State has been lying in the cold for so long points to the lack of both will and urgency on the part of politicos vis-à-vis empowering women.
Though the bill has been installed because of the fears of some of the parties about the possible hijacking of most of the Parliament and Assembly seats by women from the elite class at the cost of rural, backward and tribeswomen, a reservation for these class of women could have easily been made within the women’s quota in the legislature to pass the bill through consensus among all the parties.
Far from taking attention to the actual issues faced by women cutting across class and also caste the #MeToo campaign somehow greatly smarts over the idea that it has stumbled upon a hashtag to hit at the unjust system and turn the social media against it. Yet, expectations of its waking up the political class can hardly be met by targeting a former editor and now a Central Minister alone.
More so since, according to his accusers, he had a jolly good time in his heydays in the newsroom at their expense besides may be of some others and thus far unknown faces.
The Minister may well be shown the door by the Government in the days to come to buy peace with the #MeToo campaigners and silence them. But at the moment the reality is that the women’s campaign suits the Government immensely to deflect attention from some of the real issues like Rafale jet fighter aircraft deal and flight of migrant labour from Gujarat among others.