As important as “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” campaigns are in the landscape of India where education for a girl still remains a dogma, the everyday harassment faced on the streets by these “betis” have long been brushed under the carpet. Be it to remain on a favourable side of men in power or to deal with more important issues at hand, the larger feminist discourse had shied away from discussing sexual harassment openly. Until the #Metoo movement gave voice to the everyday encounters of women with sexual perpetrators on the street, workplaces and even educational institutions. While the movement saw rippling effects amongst the elites, the trickle-down effect on the less privileged remains to be questioned. So, today, as we move closer to the six months mark of the movement, what should the next step of the movement be?
One of the biggest reasons that the #metoo movement gained the potential that it did was because it shattered one of the biggest criticism of feminism in India that blamed a lack of solidarity within the community. Social media, which became a powerful medium of resistance, connected women from all parts of the country sharing their personal anecdotes that contributed significantly to creating a powerful force. In understanding the discourse of feminism, this inward-shifting narrative is paramount as it takes the conscious of feminism from an external, third-person point of view and places it in a personal and more intimate environment. The Nari Shakti never had such a booming roar as it did during this movement and precisely due to which the movement can claim to have success as evident in the resignation of MJ Akbar or the boycott of Alok Nath and Hardik Pandya. While the legal ramifications are highly debatable and contradictory in certain cases, what the moment propagated was the women’s right over their sexual life and the idea of consent, an abstraction unfamiliar in the patriarchal framework.
What most men found oddly strange in every narrative was where these women were drawing their line of consent, and how unfamiliar this line was to them. The famous Amitabh Bachan dialogue from Pink rang in collective minds- “Kissi bhi ladki ko kissi bhi ladke ke saath baith kar sharaab nahi peene chahiye. Kyunki agar vo aisa karti hai, to ladke ko aisa indicate hota hai ki ladki agar mere saath baith kar sharaab pi sakti hai, to vo uske saath sone ke liye bhi katrayegi nahi” (No girl should sit and drink with any man. Because if she does so, the man is indicated that if the girl can sit and drink with me, then she will also not object to sleep with me)
The line of consent and its complexity is particularly visible in the allegations that came Varun Patra’s way, the co-founder of Homegrown. While the ‘woke desi boy’ Patra had often voiced his support in the feminist cause, claiming himself to be one, and was even one of the initial supporters of the movement. However, the allegations against him problematize the idea of consent, where the women involved agreed for sexual intercourse but was not okay with a particular act, to be precise, the fingering of her asshole, and despite her refusal time and again, could not persuade him to stop. To top this, our very own ‘feminist boy’ Patra even filmed the entire act in order to provide proof of the girl’s consent to the act without asking her permission to be filmed. In such a complex web of consent, where there needs to be ideally, a YES at every step, how and where do we place men, who do not have the vaguest idea about consent, as enemies, or as allies?
A breath of hope came one’s way during the entire movement from the men was in the figure of Varun Grover, the writer and stand-up comedian. Despite having allegations against him and a mob of angry Indian women attacking him, the way he handled the situation can, in a way, teach men how to be better allies. When a batchmate called him out for assault during the college years, Grover, himself made the initiate to call all the women both from his batch as well as his juniors personally to verify the same. After this, he called out to the woman to lodge an official complaint, all the while keeping the significance of the movement above individual cases.
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All of this could be made possible due to the decisive role played by social media, it is also however imperative to understand its limitations with a view to enhancing its growth. The sexual violence against the poor, and the uneducated class on the streets and at home does not seem to end with the mode of resistance, of social media, being used. Like every major social movement, a second stage: that would move beyond the online to the streets creating safe spaces for people belonging to all strata of the society, was needed to make the movement more powerful and inter-sectional.
The PinjraTod campaign, that started way back in the year 2015 was one such initiative where female students protested against the discriminatory policies across campuses in Universities. From restricting curfew timings to the ban of a certain choice of clothes for female students, the movement on 14th February 2019, was successful in the abolishment of the pooja of the Virgin Tree at Hindu College that stood as an emblem of a chaste Damdami Bai, usually portrayed as a Bollywood actress. Similarly, the Dignity March, that started in December 2018 in Mumbai and ended on 22nd February 2019 in Delhi, drew over 5000 sexual assault survivors from all parts of the country in an effort to spread awareness about rape. The march included women not merely from the upper-caste, elite strata, but had representations from the lower-castes as well.
Not everything is, however, as inclusive as the Dignity March, the last year saw over a dozen female members of the Pinjra Tod campaign quitting the collective, citing injustice pelted to them owing to their caste or religious identities. This is one such example where the narrative of a few privileged sections takes an upper-hand, neglecting the plight of those who are less privileged. For the #Metoo movement to live up to its name, it is imperative for women, especially those bestowed with a certain set of privileges, to be aware of the absence of intersectionality within the community. It is time to create safe spaces for women, from all walks and paths of the society to share their narrative, and this can only be done when both men and women become allies, across gender and caste.