Naysayers, step back. #MeToo needs to happen, and here’s why

In a country where state and society are equally guilty of inadequate, tardy and callous response to near-endemic sexual harrassment, naming and shaming is the much-needed parallel system. It doesn’t subvert due process, but actually improves it.

There has been concern and commentary that a public list of alleged sexual harassers maligns them and possibly costs them their jobs & family. It is a valid concern.

Even so, here is why #MeToo needs to happen, and happen yesterday. And it doesn’t subvert due process, but actually improves it.

1. Sexual harassment, inside and outside workplaces, is the oldest crime in the book. World over, and in India, we have too many historical evidences of public stripping, buying & selling, stalking, sex without consent with women of all ages, stations in life, much worse with caste & poverty. Then and now. And against children, minors, and men in vulnerable situations.

2. Despite this, it was only in 2013 that the anti-sexual harassment in the workplace law — The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act — was passed. This, a whopping 16 years after the Vishaka Guidelines from the Supreme Court. No political will in the matter of crimes against women (mostly women) even to frame a law till 2013!

Despite the novelty of the law, it applies only to women, makes little statement about the training of the Internal Complaints Committees, the process of conducting inquiry, and worst of all, has no bearing on 90% of the working women who work in the informal sector, such as farmers, domestic labourers, informal retail and services, sanitation and health workers, etc.

Of course, the law itself has not been enforced with the majority of institutions lacking the ICC, particularly the government departments and the courts themselves!

3. For the laws that did exist already, they are still non-comprehensive, outdated and with more holes than cheese. As far as due process goes, there is police resistance to FIRs and if it indeed comes to trial, can take years.

Law on Obscene Acts: Section 294 of the IPC against publicly passing lewd comments, obscene gestures, actions etc., in many states is still termed “eve teasing.” This term, instead of calling it what it is, “sexual harassment,” clearly signals a lesser crime in the eyes of the perpetrators, police & judges themselves.

It takes great pain (Show me where exactly he touched you? Is that all he did?) and persistence (You want to file a case because he pinched your thigh? Are you sure he rubbed your …) to get FIRs filed in these cases, have them come to trial & conviction.

Law on outraging the modesty of a woman, Sec 354 of the IPC is Victorian. When you harass a woman, you aren’t outraging her modesty, you are attacking her body, mind & sovereignty. Her modesty is not tied to your actions, your criminal record is. This sort of attitude in law is engendering of dishonourable “honour crimes” and tying of social repute to a woman’s body.

– Rape law, Sec 377 of the IPC. It was only in 2013, after the Nirbhaya horror that stalking, acid attacks, voyeurism, rape being gender neutral, etc. were called out by the Justice Verma Committee. And most of it was not passed in the ordinance. Most importantly, rape cases are not fast tracked, although the Supreme Court recommended that for both the police & the judiciary. The reality on the ground, as we all know, is that the victim suffers yet again if she chooses due process – from running between police stations to “tests” and testimony that takes days and weeks, and the actual trial. Rape cases stay pending for years.

4. `No one knows any woman who HASN’T been sexually harassed, in the workplaces and/or in public places (streets, public transport, school, college etc.) Yet the Indian state is lax with due process.

Who is lax with due process? THE INDIAN STATE.

Dear Indian State,

Due process is overdue. There is
– Not enough and proper laws.
– Poor awareness and implementation of law.
– Poor support from over burdened and under educated law enforcement & judiciary. (I call them under educated, as many do not know how to handle such cases with decency and dignity.)

The statute of limitations must be on the state in prosecuting crimes in a timely fashion. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Neither state nor society needs to levy an expiry date on reporting of such crimes once due process is prompt. It will then become evident to victims that if reporting is delayed, it is much harder to prove.

There has been abysmal social action by state on crimes against women. A systematic approach by the state to educate boys & men, remove social stigma, encourage crime reporting, create awareness of laws and rights, training public office bearers & elected representatives , pledging of zero tolerance to such crimes in schools, colleges, workplaces & public offices etc., is completely lacking.

So what should women do?

Answer: Use all democratic means available to force society’s hand, to force the state’s hand.

Here is a crime that has personally affected probably every woman in India. Daily, and from time immemorial. 70+ years after Independence, if crimes against almost half the population aren’t a priority to legislators & Parliamentarians, this is the alternative democratic due process.

Naming & Shaming. That is the alternative process.

If you do not want innocents being tried on social media, get your law enforcement act together so real criminals end up in jail promptly & false cases are weeded out quickly with minimum damage to an innocent.

Dear Indian state, get your judge, jury & executioners in order. Or, we are it. A parallel system, of, by and for victims of sexual harassment.

[This article has been adapted and republished from the author’s original Facebook post here.]

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