#MeToo: Akbar falls, No means No, Not Yes!
| Ashok Dixit - 18 Oct 2018

#MeToo: Akbar falls, No means No, Not Yes!

 

By Ashok Dixit

New Delhi, Oct 17, 2018: Minister of State for External Affairs M. J. Akbar’s tryst with the media with regard to his “alleged or proven” #MeToo sexual shenanigans as an erstwhile editor of several prominent Indian dailies may have just got off the boil with him resigning from office a short while ago to confront his named and unnamed “accusers/victims” legally.

His resignation on Wednesday afternoon came as his “victims” upped their ante, determination and spine to take the battle to him, rather than sulking away.

The latest in this sordid “Akbar Vs Rest” drama being played out across all media is that Force magazine Executive Editor Priya Ramani has now been informed that she is not fighting this battle for dignity and self-respect for women in the work place alone.

She has received the indirect support of 20 more (some papers says 17) women journalists (now based in different parts of the country) who have stated that they too suffered “Editor” Akbar’s “touchy feely” hands, eyes and unsuspecting body lunges while working with him at The Sunday; The Asian Age; The Telegraph and the Deccan Herald.

“What Mr. Akbar has demonstrated through his legal action is his refusal to introspect, acknowledge or atone for his actions that have caused immense pain and indeed harm too many women over the years,” said the women journalists collective in a statement on Tuesday. They also expressed their determination to deliver their testimonies against Akbar in court if called on to do so.

Ramani had earlier said that “The testimony against Akbar has emerged as a consequence of the increasing empowerment of women in society in general, and at the work place in particular, over the years. Those who have spoken out have done so at great risk to their personal and professional lives.

Women are well aware of the stigma and shame that sexual crimes inflict upon victims. Rather than cast aspersions on the intent and motives of these women, we must reflect on how to improve the work place for future generations of men and women…”

Akbar’s charge that sexual harassment accusations are nothing but defamatory in nature and a political conspiracy has failed to evoke support.

One school of thought claims “bold Akbar”, seemingly backed by his current political masters till a short while ago, “had emerged as a savior for males who have become VICTIMS OF THE #METOO CAMPAIGN.”

Another critique queried whether this campaign might lead to giving women “Timeless freedom to file complaints against such harassment's at any point in their lives…”

I do not subscribe to either of these two contentions, but do feel society at large would do well to reflect.

At present, at the closing in on the fourth week of this #MeToo Movement in India, what we are seeing is a no holds barred trading of legal charges and counter charges between fairly well known personalities such as actors Nana Patekar and Tanushree Dutta, Actor Alok Nath Vs Vinta Nanda (Nath has rejected the notice of the Indian Film and Television Directors Association (IFTDA), forcing it into considering stronger actions), Film Director Sajid Khan Vs Saloni Chopra, Karishma Upadhyay, Simran Suri and Rachel White (He too has rejected the IFTDA notice).

Film Director Subhas Ghai is facing a charge of harassment from an anonymous person as too singer Kailash Kher and actor Rajat Kapoor. Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) CEO Rahul Johri has been asked to proceed on leave by the Committee of Administrators (COA) to legally resolve his alleged sexual harassment case reportedly at Discovery TV, and so on and so forth. Point being that there is currently no sphere of activity, be it politics, media, sports or entertainment that has not been singed by #METOO.

Where do we go from here? One article in an English daily says that the #METOO movement essentially has its roots in the West (Harvey Weinstein et al, or even traces it further back to the time when black feminism was at its peak in the United States. The article says “#MeToo has finally arrived in India, let us take a cue from this context that it is undoubtedly ‘Western’, yet instructive for its intersectional roots…. The lesson from our own movement and that of the West is the same: that sexual harassment is dictated not only by sex or gender, but also by factors like people’s race, caste, religion, colour, region, age, disability and sexuality.”

 

Editorials published in The Hindu and The Hindustan Times recently had predicted that Akbar’s continuance in the Union Cabinet would become “untenable” and that he “ should have done the only right thing in the circumstances—resign”.

The Hindustan Times editorial said earlier this week that while every individual was entitled to legal remedy, “The Government of India is the country’s largest employer… and would have done well to have set an example…. It should surely have robust mechanisms in place to ensure that its male functionaries don’t cross any red lines or, at least, to address allegations of the kind that have been made… This was an opportunity for the government to show that it means business when it comes to protecting womens’ rights. So far, India’s largest organisation has failed in this respect.”

Noted journalist Tavleen Singh’s contention that the #MeToo Movement will soon disappear from the (media) pages and conversations on various television channels has a ring of truth to it. Her criticism is that the campaign is confined to urbanised India only, for which she has received her share of flak on all platforms of information exchange. Her view that “Media must ensure that every rape or abuse of an Indian girl or woman gets the same attention as the (present) #MeToo Ladies has merit.

The logical need of the hour is to do the following:

•             Implement the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 as decided by the 3-member Justice J. S. Verma-led Committee.

•             Create effective and efficiently run Internal Complaint Committees (ICCs) and make it a point to inform all employees of the same.

•             Acknowledge and accept that we still have a long way to go in understanding (in the Indian context) what acceptable and unacceptable behavior is.

•             Acknowledge, understand and accept that by and in law that sexual harassment is defined or limited to just to physical contact, but includes sexually coloured remarks, and that harassment surfaces in many forms and varying intensities.

•             That there is a need for proactive sensitization in all spheres of work and home

•             That the #MeToo movement provides an opportunity in India to reflect critically and work towards radical change of social mores

•             There is no room for patronising or patriarchal behavior, but space for healthy camaraderie, personal and professional engagement.

•             Conclusion: There is a lot of cleaning up to do in everyone’s front and backyards! The sooner the better!

Photo courtesy – Lok Satta

(Ashok Dixit is a senior journalist with 24 years of rich cross-editorial functional experience in covering and reporting on developments in South Asia. He had been associated with ANI as a Senior Editor for more than two decades. He can be contacted at ashok.dixit26@gmail.com)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indian Observer Post and Indian Observer Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.


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