About ten months ago, the #MeToo movement made its way to India when several women shared their stories of sexual harassment and assault and named men in positions of influence such as actors and politicians. This bold step taken by a few journalists and actresses paved the way for many other Indian women who were otherwise silenced by the fear of not being heard or taken seriously.
Their fears were not irrational, as the #MeToo movement was received in many different ways in India. On one side, women of all backgrounds, positions, and age were sharing their traumatic stories of sexual violence in their daily lives. The movement gained followers and supporters that demanded justice for survivors through policies and proper legal procedures.
On the other side, people accused survivors of seeking attention and spotlight by “falsely accusing” politicians, actors, writers, music directors and many more people in power. The Indian media represented the #MeToo movement as a joke and invalidated survivors’ experiences, subjecting them to more criticism by the public. The type of rhetoric used by the media has incredibly harmful effects on the already difficult position of speaking out against sexual violence. It feeds the public with the wrong impression of survivors and makes it difficult for the survivors to get justice in their situations.
As a result of the media’s biased reporting, many Indians took it upon themselves to further harass the survivors on social media with insults, criticism and even death threats. Many men and women have criticized survivors with questions and comments that demand evidence from situations that have happened years ago. They’ve told survivors to shut up and go on with their lives and “stop playing the victim.” Some people have accused survivors of being “pseudofeminists” and of using the #MeToo movement as leverage for their personal agenda. Some people have gone far enough to tell survivors to kill themselves for bringing a bad name to the accused. This is my answer to all of them.
As a fellow human being on this planet, your loyalty should not be with the music of a composer, the lyrics of a poet, the influence of a politician or the work of an actor. Your loyalty should not be with those who have the money and power to buy their way through life and control the narrative. As a human being, your loyalty should be with humanity and justice.
Before you say, “stop playing victim,” think about the trauma and the pain that these people have went through and how vulnerable they made themselves to share their story. They have nothing to gain from sharing their story other than the hope of thinking maybe that their story will prevent someone else from getting hurt. Before you say “go focus on your job and shut up,” think about why they can’t focus on anything other than the trauma they have faced.
Before you say “show us the evidence,” think about the broken legal system that prevented them from getting evidence and think about those people who had no one to tell or nowhere to go. Instead, ask yourself why you are getting so offended when injustice is being called out. Ask yourself why you immediately discount the experiences of so many women but don’t second guess the reputation of the accused.
You don’t need to stand in support of survivors or fight on the streets with us for justice, but the very least you can do is not continue the cycle of oppression by silencing victims and letting injustice prevail.
The Indian government reinstated a Group of Ministers (GoM) on sexual harassment to deal with the issues brought forth by the movement and the public. This doesn’t mean sitting back and letting the government handle it. This means speaking up and holding the government accountable for every single case until justice is served. We cannot stop sharing stories and speaking out against sexual violence until rape and sexual assault is not normalized by society and the media.
This movement originally began in 2006 by Tarana Burke as a way for survivors of sexual violence, specifically Black women and other women of color, to speak up about their experiences and find a way and safe space to heal. It gained tremendous momentum in 2017 as the #MeToo movement on social media.