#MeToo Campaign – Powerful; And Just The Beginningby Opinion Express October 12, 2018 0 comments
#MeToo is now finally reached the film industry and women all over the world are outpouring testimonies of abuse and harassment, making a powerful impact. Although the movement has started on the right foot, this must just be the beginning of a reckoning – a structural change is needed.
In the past few weeks, there has been an outflow of horrific stories of varying degrees of sexual assault against women. Women from most spheres, including journalism, politics, Bollywood, among others, have bravely called out their aggressors online. The #MeToo movement has finally forced India out of its slumber of convenient ignorance in order to recognise a problem that plagued the country much before the advent of the Internet.
The ‘MeToo’ movement is a global phenomenon which has seen rising allegations against figures across the world. As the campaign gathers pace, it is pertinent to highlight that at the end of the day, the primary reason these incidents remained tucked away in the closet, rather than being out in the open, is because there is a power dynamic mismatch between men and women. To all the people, whose response to the movement is: Why these incidents are only being highlighted now, the fact is that this power dynamic mismatch in all probability did not let women think that there would be any real benefit to come forward as their aggressors would get away and they would be ostracised. Of course, this is only one possible reason, there could be many other reasons, such as trauma caused to the victim etc.
As someone who is not a victim of this form of harassment, it will be unfair of me to comment with any expertise on what these reasons could be. In any case, what we must remember is that it should be absolutely irrelevant why women waited this long to come forward. But we should be glad that women now do feel as though they can actually come forward with their stories of horror. They have had to stay silent for much too long, but now that they have come forward, the least we can do is listen.
As empowering as the #MeToo movement is for the women, I believe, it may unfortunately be relegated to just a spark rather than a fire that moulds lasting change. I am aware that these are depressing words and while I am completely in support of the movement, systematic change cannot be ensured unless tangible structural reforms are introduced. While I may not be able to personally identify with the agony of the victims, sexual harassment, like a number of social evils, is a crime that requires intervention from the state and I hope to offer some insights on how it can be better tackled.
For starters, actions are classified as crimes when there is adequate social pressure to classify certain acts as criminal. The amount of importance and attention that is given to tackling these acts is a decent indicator as to how these social evils are viewed by our society. With respect to crimes against the body and the unabated increase in the frequency of such crimes, especially against women (which I have repeatedly highlighted in these columns), it is obvious that our society does not treat these acts with the degree of seriousness that a decent society should.
This would also explain why in cases of rape, there is a stigma that is attached to the victim, which in turn discourages reporting of such cases. Therefore, since the society itself is not at a stage where these crimes are treated with the seriousness that is required, it is imperative for the state to step in and create structures that enable serious examination of crimes against women.
One way in which this can be done is to enable the registration of FIRs and complaints online. While some police forces, like the Delhi Police Force, allow for registration of FIRs online, most police stations do not have such a facility. This means that women, who have been molested or raped or sexually assaulted, need to physically go to a police station to register a complaint and an FIR.
It is a recognised theory of behavioural economics (and frankly common sense) that in order to encourage people to do a particular act, one should attempt to reduce the barriers that are in the way of the concerned person. By making women go to a police station, there is a high probability that they would not want to subject themselves to the judgment and opinions of a male-dominated police station.
This brings me to my second point on how we have a male-dominated police force. As per reports, only close to 7.3 per cent of India’s police force comprises of women. It is imperative that the police is made a more viable option for women so that those who have no option, but to go to a police station to register their complaint, are able to do so in a more comfortable environment.
In addition to including more women in the police force, it is important to have gender sensitisation for the officers at a police station so that they are less inept at handling complaints of such a sensitive nature. While it may seem radical, I have always advocated permitting individuals outside the police force to be trained to register complaints and FIRs. This would help in two ways: First, it would reduce the burden on an already burdened police force and second, it would provide a clearer estimate of the actual number of crimes that are committed in India.
This because the police has an incentive to register fewer FIRs as this would automatically improve the crime numbers of each police station. I have often said that the crime statistics in India is only a reflection of two to three per cent of the crime that actually takes place in the country because the police makes it extremely difficult to register an FIR. Of course, the police is already burdened but a clearer reflection of the crimes that take place will automatically incentivise the state to recruit more policemen.
A final point that I would like to discuss is the role private organisations, such as companies, guilds etc, can play in tackling instances of assault against women. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, was a welcome step which requires employers to have an internal complaints committee. However, based on my discussions with people, employees are often unaware of such a committee being in existence in an organisation. It is crucial for employers to take greater responsibility in checking any form of sexual harassment at work and encouraging greater conversation on this issue. This is especially important because most forms of sexual assault on women are by individuals who are known to the women, which means there is a high probability of such instances occurring at work.
It is also important for employers to be pro-active because in my experience, offenders typically escalate the nature of their acts over time. For example, a rapist would in all probability have molested many women before attempting to rape them. Private organisations, therefore, can help check these offences at the initial stage itself, which could serve as a deterrent to the offender.
To conclude, it is imperative to use this momentum of MeToo so as to encourage structural change. In this regard, I read this wonderful tweet online against people who talk about how there are instances where men are being unfairly targeted in some cases under the MeToo movement.
In response to this, the person tweeted about how much outrage there is about an imperfect movement as opposed to the ‘systematic’ abuse of women. I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment and, therefore, would hope that this systematic problem forces us to come up with a systematic and institutional solution.
(The writer is Jharkhand PCC president, former MP and IPS officer. Views are personal)
Writer: Ajoy Kumar
Courtesy: The Pioneer