I, like many, was a quiet-yet-supportive bystander as the #MeToo hurricane inevitably hurtled its way onto our shores. If the aftermath it had caused in the West was anything to go by, the Harvey Weinsteins of India were sure to scurry to assemble their battalion of lawyers.
As a spectator, I vastly under-estimated the effort and courage required to ‘come out’. But things changed when I got the chance to have a closer look at the nuances of the movement through Sruthi Hariharan - a leading actor of the Kannada movie industry and a sister-like figure to me whom I have known for the best part of 15 years. I witnessed a first-hand account of an embattled movie star, daughter, wife, and sister on one hand and the gross insensitivity and detestable ignorance of those unwittingly involved, on the other.
It is the latter I wish to focus on. More often than not, ‘publicity’ is the cliche bandied around by the #MeToo cynics. The logically inclined - riddle me this: In what universe is trading a flourishing acting career and a relatively stable life for social disenfranchisement, family insecurity, financial burden, physical and mental exhaustion and a temporary slot in the headlines, a profitable one?
I am not naive to rule out the existence of those who might have ulterior motives, but they are the exception - not the norm. I cannot help but think - justice is the headline; publicity is merely the unwanted footnote!
Severity of the incident is another bone of contention in such situations. We are conditioned to think that a gentle, uninvited rub on the back or thigh is more acceptable than groping or rape. This leeway of perception might apply to a thief who steals a pencil as opposed to a diamond. However, the scenario in question requires a deeper understanding of the common denominators which render the severity of crime inconsequential - Power and Entitlement.
Reputation, patriarchy and masculinity feed power and entitlement which are adorned as ‘crown jewels’ by all men who have been rightfully accused or convicted of such acts. Lamentably, these men find themselves hopelessly obligated to showcase them from time to time for the fear of losing control. These ‘jewels’ have become a weed so thick that their eradication has become more essential than ever, and this is the battle we really should be focusing on.
Of course, the eventual penalty should and will be in proportion to the degree of crime, but the collective societal condemnation ought to be as vociferous for the lower decree as it is for the higher. Imagine walking into a battlefield as the sole general against an armed cavalry of aplenty. Can you now envision just how psychologically daunting it could be for a victim pondering to ‘come out’ given that she is already sinfully handicapped by the preset notions and stigma of the general society?
I implore you, the next time your acquaintance decides to take such a step - lend a ear, send a supportive message and let them know they are not alone, irrespective of the charge, the accused or the outcome. Empathy is a lost virtue and evolution demands we re-find it. We might not be able to alter the rules of the game of chess but maybe we need to be the soldiers that devote our collective wit and resources to rally for the queen, and not the king. It is time we paused, phased the noise out, reflected, and reasoned!