#metoo is here, in India

#metoo movement in a way has arrived in India, or has it? At least, by the nature of it, it seems so. Large number of women are coming out after Tanushree Dutta to take on the privileged dudes of the society, from film actors to journalists. The next step for civil society is to translate this into action.

Meanwhile, there have been ample criticism of the movement from across the spectrum of calling it elitist. On the surface, it does seem one. We also have to be wary of celebrating too early, we have to make sure this trickles down. We have to think hard as to how do we take this to India’s villages, it’s most marginalized people. On my detailed position on this, please read the last article I had published here.

The criticism of feminist movements like these is generally that they are elitist in nature, and that they have hijacked the attention towards a few privileged. But, if so called, ‘privileged women’ with access to social media and courts are facing harassment at their workplace, imagine the plight of women who do not have access to such institutions. I am an ardent critic of ‘arm-chair’ movements. This one, on the contrary, takes courage and immense mental strength for a woman to come out and deal with this publicly. Saying that I can’t believe someone did this, doesn’t resolve the fact that the person probably has harassed someone, despite all one’s charity and humble nature. If only harassers harassed everyone on the street, would have made things easier, isn’t it?

On the question as to why a woman from a marginalized community is not coming out saying #metoo? A feminist movement doesn’t necessarily have to cut across class, caste, etc. In a way, in my limited understanding, it is similar to socialism whose only mandate was /is to look at things through a prism of class. Any movement which has to cut across caste and class will need allies from socialist and anti-caste spectrum of the Indian society. It then is unfair of criticizing feminists and calling their struggle privileged or elitist. What are socialists doing? Where are the likes of Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, or Prakash Ambedkar? Why are they not proactively aligning with the feminist movement?I am not placing blame on socialists. But I’m just pointing out that I find it unfair to place the blame, fairly and squarely, at feminists’ doors.

The world today has 3.58 billion internet users. Roughly 2 billion (56%) are men and 1.57 billion (44%) are women. Of that shortfall of 430 million users, 42% comes from India. Source: iStockPhoto

The question is pertinent whether if some rural woman tweets, will her tweet get the same traction,  I doubt. The entire phenomenon, at least, in India revolves around one language – English, which rural India doesn’t necessarily comprehend. Secondly, how many women in India have unhindered access to devices with internet? Even in state like Maharashtra, that number I have observed is low compared to men. Sample this, the world today has 3.58 billion internet users. Roughly 2 billion (56%) are men and 1.57 billion (44%) are women. Of that shortfall of 430 million users, 42% comes from India! That’s a staggering number. In this piece in Mint, the author expresses concern on gender divide in “Digital India”.

As per a report published by a Colombo-based think-tank, this author writes in the article, “The gender gap is accentuated in rural areas, where women routinely are denied equal opportunities for education and work. There is a 52% gender gap in mobile ownership in rural areas compared with 34% in urban areas. This of course, is correlated with the gap in total mobile ownership between rural areas, where 55% of people own phones and urban areas, where 71% do. ” So, I guess, it’s clear that to say rural women are not ‘tweeting’ #metoo is just unfair given they do not have access to internet, in the first place.

Then we need to discuss about accessibility to law and media which is again dominated by mostly men, especially in rural parts of the country. Tanushree Dutta’s statement might get featured on Page 1 of The Hindu, but will statement of a woman in rural hinterlands of Tamil Nadu garner the same attention by media? Most likely, no. Will that woman have easy access to police, to law? No. It’s a sad reality we are staring it, despite all the provisions on paper. What do we do to enable better access, better facilities?

For change to truly happen, we have to change social fabric of this country. We have to let women lead the struggle, while other allies be the lead line for defense. Within the feminist movement, there are different types of feminists and they all need to unite for some common basic demands. For a paradigm shift, we need allies across spectrum, ready to accept that all women (and other genders) need to have some basic rights which they do not have right now. We have to look around us and not get comfortable by the misogyny around, constantly question it, be aware of it. And for men, be aware that #youtoo can from your actions make women uncomfortable. Talk to female friends you have, share with them your discomfort, ask them pertinent questions, they will answer. Look inside, think hard. And meanwhile be aware that although anyone from across genders are vulnerable to harassment, the proportion of women, children, and people from other genders in that pie is much higher than men. And then the question is who is doing it? The pie is filled with men. #notallmen indeed, huh?

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