360° Analysis

Why #MeToo Won’t Succeed in India

In a country where male chauvinism is applauded, and women are scared to walk on the streets, the #MeToo phenomenon sticks out like a sore thumb.
India news, India #MeToo, India violence against women, India rape culture, India sexual harassment, Bollywood #MeToo, can #MeToo succeed in India, India women’s rights, Bollywood sexism, #MeToo movement news

Jodhpur, India © travelwild / Shutterstock

December 18, 2019 10:10 EDT

Kabir Singh is a drunkard. He’s also an angry lover. And a sociopath.

Kabir Singh is the archetypal abusive man: He falls head over heels for a woman at first sight, pursues her until she gives in, wards off other suitors by threatening them, and slaps her when he is angry. What does the woman do? She cries her eyes out and accepts his abuse as love.

One would wonder whether such a character even deserves a film. Not only did “Kabir Singh” — a fictitious story of a man who goes down a spiral of alcohol and drugs after his lover is forced to marry someone else — make millions in India, it is now one of the highest-grossing films of the year.

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The success of “Kabir Singh” reflects a deep-seated affection and acceptance for toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes in India. Men are applauded for “keeping their women in check.” Countless women in India are stuck in abusive relationships, and victims don’t even realize that they are being abused — they are simply used to it. Those who are aware are often too scared of the repercussions if they do dare speak up.

Abuse is the tip of the iceberg in India. Women are harassed, raped and killed on an unprecedented scale, and a slack of safe spaces hinders women’s movements. On November 28, Priyanka Reddy, a 27-year-old veterinary doctor from Hyderabad, was brutally raped and murdered, her body set on fire and burned beyond recognition — only the latest of the myriad horrific crimes committed against women in India on a daily basis.

What #MeToo Means for India

In June 2018, the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world for women. In October 2018, an Economic Times report stated that about 80% of sexual harassment cases at Indian workplaces are not reported, despite claims of companies vowing to take action against perpetrators of sexual harassment. Indian technology companies and startups have a particularly dismal record, with few to no cases being reported in regulatory filings. Many startups are small and undocumented, and a woman facing sexual harassment in an office of just four or five  men has no place to go to lodge a complaint, apart from the local police station, which already has a dismal record in fighting crime.

In a country where male chauvinism is applauded, and women are scared to walk on the streets, the #MeToo phenomenon sticks out like a sore thumb. #MeToo, a movement that gained a viral global momentum following the fall of the influential Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, took India’s film industry by storm in 2018, when actress Tanushree Dutta accused a famous male actor of harassment that took place a decade ago.

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He denied the charge. However, Tanushree’s fearless proclamation led to a series of accusations against many prominent actors and directors. Women in other professions such as law and journalism also raised their voices against sexual predators, some of whom have been on the prowl for decades.

#MeToo has created awareness around sexual harassment at work and gave women a voice. But the movement fizzed out as fast as it arose. In India, money and power stifle the voices of the marginalized. Those who have both money and power wield them unsparingly. In 2017, a DJ was chased by two men in a sports car while driving home late at night, one of them a son of a local politician. She wrote an angry post on Facebook, which garnered massive public outrage against the perpetrator. But the man escaped unscathed owing to his father’s political connections. Meanwhile, the girl’s father, a government official who fought for justice for his daughter, was simply transferred somewhere else.

In India, social movements are like fizz in a soda bottle. The moment you open the bottle, the fizz erupts with full force, but dampens as soon as it reaches the neck. India’s top politicians, actors and bureaucrats pay lip service to combating sexual harassment, while every day women in India face the possibility of harassment and rape at work, at home, and on their way between the two.

Appeasement Culture

In a society where there is major emphasis on a woman’s social standing and prestige, being embroiled in a sexual harassment case isn’t the best case scenario for anyone. Journalist Priya Ramani is currently fighting a criminal defamation case in court against veteran journalist and former junior foreign minister, M. J. Akbar. Akbar has been accused of sexual harassment by over 10 women, but Ramani in particular finds herself in the line of fire. If Akbar, who has repeatedly denied the charges, is successful in proving his innocence, then Ramani can face a jail term of nearly two years.

Women who allege harassment have been coerced into submission with defamation suits in the past. Internal inquiries lead to fruitless results, and women are labeled having displayed “inappropriate behavior.” A top magazine editor who was accused of raping a junior colleague in a hotel lift in 2013 suffered little damage following the accusations. The trial against him resumed in October, following his appeal to India’s Supreme Court to dismiss the charges, while he lives a life of affluence.

A movement like #MeToo is carved out for a society where law and order are an effective system. In India, people jump onto the bandwagon of Western movements, forgetting the fact that the Indian system is archaic, in keeping with the country’s customs. Women who raise their voices are stifled by powerful men, and those who manage to get justice are often marginalized. If a woman is lucky, she can continue to fight a defamation suit against the accuser for the rest of her life.

Social media has given many an outlet to speak up, but people are choosing the route of anonymity to steer clear from trouble. An actress who spoke up about harassment has already been trolled and accused for trying to garner publicity. The #MeToo movement subsided in India because Indians are too obsessed with proving that movements are used by those who are eager to get publicity, not those who plucked up immense courage to finally speak up. Above all, a culture of appeasement in India, in which the rich and powerful are worshiped and their mistakes are brushed under the carpet, will never let any social movement bring justice to the marginalized.

The point of #MeToo was to get justice for those who have been afraid to speak up. But India needs to clean up its institutions and curb the power of fame and money before any social justice movement can truly see the light of day.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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