For every instance of sexual harassment, abuse or rape that gets told, there are many, many more lurking in the woodworks, waiting to crawl out. We know the sign – a gaze that’s uncomfortable, a brush that lingers too long, inappropriate touching, asking for nudes under the garb of being drunk, forceful kissing, or the person forcing themselves on another, power politics, asking for sexual favours – we know of them. We’re wary of them. We warn other women. The whisper network is crucial to protect women.
When comedian Utsav Chakraborty was outed on Twitter as a serial sexual harasser, he chose to blame an illness for his behaviour and attempted to gaslight his way out of it, rather than issue a decent apology acknowledging the seriousness of his actions. As per multiple accounts, people who helped further Utsav’s career as a comedian and provided him with opportunities knew about his behaviour, and still chose to not act upon it at the time. Although there is an apology, what good does it hold when there’s enough people who’ve been preyed upon by Utsav just because of the power and stature he held – one of them, the very person who knew about Utsav’s actions and still gave him a platform?
When wave after wave of #MeToo hits, we call people out on social media, and sermonise. When the accused is a friend, an ally, a confidante, practically family, what do we do? There’s confusion, anger, disappointment, rage, bargaining. More often than not, complicity. We choose to hush it, reason it out, blame it on factors other than the sheer gall, entitlement and the actions of the accused.
There may be skeletons in the closets of friends, classmates, neighbours, co-workers, family. “There’s a vibe about him that’s just not right” to “Ugh, he’s a creep”. We’re all complicit. We wait for proof. Every time a story comes tumbling out about “a nice guy”, questions are raised about the survivor’s credibility, why they didn’t come forward earlier, their promiscuity – none about the accused.
When it’s one of your own, you exonerate them, make excuses for their behaviour, brush it aside when you know you shouldn’t, support them, wilfully ignore inappropriate conversation – if you claim to be a bystander because you were not directly one of the two parties involved, you were complicit in perpetuating that very culture, and it’s high time you at least acknowledge it.
“A woman editor told me she trusts me, I don’t need to explain how I felt sexually harassed. Another woman editor told me when a source puts his hand on my thigh & gives me info, I must put up with it,” tweeted journalist Neha Dixit. Complicity is not gender-specific. It doesn’t matter if you’re a feminist, not a feminist, what socio-economic background you come from, where on the political spectrum you lie – you are complicit if you choose to turn the other way. You are complicit if you choose not to raise your voice when you had the chance because it could POTENTIALLY ruin a friendship, a relationship, a career, or cause hurt. It should. Hold people around you responsible for their actions, and be responsible for your own.
If you are someone who is choosing to be a bystander, wilfully turning a blind eye to the serial perpetrators around you in the fear of ruining the person’s career, family, or any aspect of their life, you are knowingly and wilfully choosing to put other people at risk. Your ‘good intent’ won’t save you. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are the author's own.