#MeToo movements from around the globe have found a cultural and public force. As victims of sexual and gendered violence and abuse, especially in the workplace and professional fields, use the pseudo-safe space of the internet to give testimony to their pain, grief, trauma, and despair, the world has been forced to listen, and acknowledge that these experiences are real, and the lingering scars that they leave on the lives of these survivors need to be acknowledged and addressed. With this one hashtag, the digital web has transformed victims into survivors — giving them not just a public voice, but also a collective space for support, the relief of finding care, and the catharsis of being heard and seen, and to ask for accountability and justice for their experiences.
Every survivor who has spoken using this hashtag, has done it not only as a personal expression but also as an heroic civic duty, exposing the often seen but never named problem of gendered and sexual violence. Every hashtag has also exposed these survivors to backlash which disbelieved, ridiculed, or bullied them into silence and shame. Every person who has spoken up, to re-enact the violence which they live with, has made themselves vulnerable to further attacks and stigmatisation from the communities that they are speaking against.
The hashtag is important also because it is not just a platform for survivors to speak but also for allies to come in. The responsibility of addressing the question of gender and sexual violence cannot lie only on the survivors. Hashtags are connectors — they are digital objects that consolidate many different disparate elements and gives them a common identity. #MeToo has made sure that the allies, the activists, the people who are introspecting their own behaviour and their complicity in naturalising these actions, all find a space to come together. It is a ringing reminder that oppression and violence are intersectional, and so our fights and resistances and communities will also have to be intersectional. It reminds us that gender and sexual violence are not “women’s problems” but social problems where women often get victimised.
When the #MeToo first became global news, what was refreshing was the number of voices from India who decided to speak in support of the survivors. A wide variety of people acknowledged that this is not just an American problem but a problem that has even deeper roots in the country. Woke Bollywood bros, new age silver screen feministas, progressive creatives, and liberal audiences all came in unity to talk about the state of gender and sexual violence in our everyday lives.
But it just needed one puff of truth for the house of cards to collapse. As Tanushree Dutta took the step to call out what we all know — that Bollywood is a cesspit of exploitation and sexism — the tinsel town squirmed. Apart from a handful of voices, most established veterans either abstain from responding, feign ignorance, or rush to the defence of a person who is now accused of sexual violence. The do-good Twitterati, happy to comment on far-away foreign cases, is suddenly hemming and hawing when the problem knocks at their doors and comes out of the closet. The Dutta-Patekar conversations on social media are a startling reminder that we remain still a space that is unsafe, hostile, and intimidating for survivors to come out and tell their truth.
The digital hashtag allows you to connect to extensive distances and stand in support of them. We travel with the hashtag to far-away lands and add our voice and support to problems we might not immediately be living through. It is good to remember, though, that hashtags also travel. What was once distant will eventually come close to home. When it does, the people who could perform their speech will have to move to action. It might be a good idea to look at the Twitter history of every big shot who had used #MeToo to extend their support against Weinstein, and ask them, to do the same now. They need to be reminded that politics is not in speech but in action. And if they do not stand up for Dutta now, they will have not just failed Dutta but every woman who might have wanted to come out and speak her truth against those who have abused their power to demean and diminish the dignity of their lives.