It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man accused by several women of sexual misconduct, desperately needs a wife by his side, for myriad and complicated reasons. Barely a month after a multitude of women shared details of his unwelcome advances, one of India’s top marketing and PR honchos has got married. Lest one be accused of shocking cynicism, yes, it is of course possible that the said spin doctor married for love and this timing just happens to be sheer coincidence. But to salvage a reputation after such serious allegations requires a carefully orchestrated show of fidelity, marriage, perhaps, being the only tactic left available to him. In public sentiment, a young bride acts as a character witness and a man willing to put a ring on it cannot be the creep those other women have painted him out to be. After a PR disaster, it’s worth a shot to try and spin something around what Oscar Wilde once said, ‘every saint has a past and every sinner a future’.
More interesting was the guest list, a glittering mix of editors, former Chief Ministers, politicians and lawyers who attended this low key wedding, unusual in itself for such a flashy guy. It’s clear that even a litany of sexual transgressions (if you’re powerful enough) won’t get you kicked out of polite society. In fact, far from it. In India, you have to commit murder for people to stop hanging out with you, almost everything else is acceptable. Long after Kingfisher Airlines had tanked and it’s promoter Vijay Mallya was accused of shortchanging his employees, he continued to host his lavish New Year party at his villa in Goa. A-listers from Delhi and Mumbai were regulars. It’s only by 2015 that those in the limelight started avoiding it only for fear that a picture would find its way to Twitter and they’d damage their own reputations. In Delhi, where money is worshipped over everything else — how it came your way is completely immaterial — it’s common to see former real estate tycoons turned jailbirds, out on bail and at parties. There is no shame, in fact there may even be glory, in being a successful racketeer. Contrast this with the US: when the cover was blown on Bernie Madoff’s legendary Ponzi scheme, his wife was refused a blow dry at her local salon in New York and the neighbourhood florist declined to sell her flowers.
There is no consensus on how one is supposed to react when your own friends are accused of sexual harassment. Do you drop them forever? Distance yourself in the short term? Justify it by saying he was always a perfect gentleman in your presence and turn a blind eye to what 10 other women are accusing him of? That conversation about what sort of redemption people accused in #MeToo deserve is far from happening. It’s still early days. There’s also the very real problem that if you start judging people by how they conduct themselves in their personal and professional lives, you’ll have no friends left. Personally, I don’t believe any human being deserves to be defined for life by the worst thing they’ve ever done; people are complex and layered and full of contradictions. Setting aside serial killers and child molesters, there is always hope for reform. There is a difference, however, between thinking somebody deserves another chance and behaving like he never did anything wrong in the first place.
One would imagine this distinction to be obvious but it’s clearly not. This particular marriage, clearly a last ditch attempt to recover lost social capital, is to deflect attention from the women whose experiences with him, in the public domain, were shattering. By attending, the guests are, if not outright validating his behaviour, indicating they have absolutely no empathy for his accusers. Maybe what this PR honcho did isn’t bad enough to make him a pariah for life but surely a period of social ostracism longer than a month would be in keeping with his misdemeanours. Punishments are not just jail cells. Often, it is a collective, moral, sentencing by the larger public, that drives home the message far more forcefully, that a certain type of behaviour is no longer acceptable.