Contrary to popular belief, the #MeToo movement did not just begin a couple of weeks ago, when Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar, or when a series of allegations against Alok Nath tumbled out. Or, when the playback singer Chinmayi accused lyricist Vairamuthu of sexual misconduct. The #MeToo campaign in India is at least a year old, if not more. It started when a dalit-bahujan woman, Raya Sarkar, put together a list of sexual offenders, some of whom are still being prosecuted, and invited people to anonymously name their abusers in academia.
Most of the men in that list were upper caste men in academics, who wielded a lot of power. Power enough to snuff out entire careers of enterprising young dalit-bahujan women. Despite calls for pulling down the list by eminent feminists, who called for ‘due process’, the online expose of these serial sexual offenders continued, and some of them were brought to book.
It did look like some sort of closure was possible for the victims, after all. More important was that the offenders themselves were now on the defensive. The men probably began to double check before casting their predatory glance at any dalit-bahujan woman, for fear of such a widespread backlash. Mathura had resurrected herself, and she had come back for her daughters. She would not rest until her daughters told her that they were safe now; not just safe, they were ready to wrest power from the upper caste man. The war had begun.
Wresting power, with our stories as witness, isn’t always easy; it doesn’t always follow Manu’s moral code. And, sadly, that seems to be the only code upper caste women live by. Be it in their unquestioning surrender to sporting a sindoor (while detailing harassment stories), keeping their Varalakshmi vratams, wearing madisaars and hopping gollus in other brahmin homes, or even declaring themselves as brahmins/chettiars/gounders, sprinkling their new homes with cow urine, or throwing ghee into the fire to cleanse the new home! What’s even worse is their innocent questions on what’s “wrong with all that” or declaring dalit-bahujan feminists as hateful when we expose the monstrosity called brahminism that funds their version of feminism. Picking battles doesn’t work in a war. That goes both for upper caste women and the uber political man, whose first response to an apolitical, but sexually harassed woman’s call for help is to question her morals, under the ambit of Manu’s code for female propriety.
So, how does one respond to #MeToo when one is truly committed to social justice and equality? For starters, please listen. Listen. Even if it’s the upper caste, sindoor wearing, fair-skinned woman speaking about her harassment at the hands of men, regardless of their social location. Questioning her objective, the timing, and her affiliation is akin to what the state and other offenders do to dalit-bahujan women when they speak of the various types of harassment they face under this oppressive system. Eye for an eye doesn’t restore sight.
Secondly, your sympathy cannot be only for women when they are raped and killed in Vachati or Kandhamal. And, is it any surprise that Nagraj Manjule’s wife’s account was subjected to similar scrutiny? Does the point of time at which sexual assault, or any other sort of atrocity meted out to a marginalised person, surfaces of any consequence? Does it alter the reality? Assuming otherwise only infantilises and questions the intelligence of the survivor.
Only when we create a secure climate for people rising up against injustice, however minuscule in the larger context of slavery, racism, state-sponsored terrorism, and others, can we dream of building a feminist paradise*, brick by brick, one day at a time.
And, finally, the women have chosen to speak; let them. Simply, let them. Mudslinging on one woman means mudslinging on all women. It’s probably taken a lot for the survivors of male sexual violence to rise over the din of self-doubt, denial, and much more. Please don’t subject their testimonies to such heartless and indifferent scrutiny. If you do that, please know that you have already chosen your side. For women, across castes and classes, are marginalised, even if the degree varies. And it is in this marginalisation that we can build our solidarity and clearly identify the monster of brahmanical patriarchy. For, remember, this is a war, and identifying the enemy is crucial to victory.
Views expressed are the author's own.