The annual literary extravaganza that takes place in Jaipur every year finally came to a close on January 29. While the festival had an eclectic line of speakers, the theme this year was fairly evident. The topic of the sessions and the speakers discussed the increasing need for dissent and to be provided with an environment that allows the presence of a contrarian’s voice. The festival also heavily focused on women, their writings and how science might have had got them wrong. In the closing debate Manu Joseph, Ruchira Gupta, Vinod Dua, Sandip Roy, Pinky Anand and Bee Rowlatt debated and discussed ‘#MeToo: Do men still have it too easy?’
The session, moderated by Namita Bhandare, was largely lopsided. It started with Gupta’s impassioned speech and was followed by Joseph who, without revealing which side he is speaking for, said, “To be a man today is like walking to a play without a rehearsal. You don’t know what to do anymore.” Anand, on the other hand, tried to examine if there is a way beyond the binaries that exists. “I believe very strongly in society. If somebody does wrong, I as a lawyer believe hang them, condemn them, take it all the way through. But if there is a possibility of innocence, you should give the man a chance.” She referred to the instance where Peepli Live director Mahmood Farooqui was acquitted in a rape case.
Roy, whose speech met with thunderous applause spoke vociferously for the #MeToo movement although he admitted to being initially sceptical. However, it was after his niece posted with the hashtag on social media that it stirred him. He confessed that he avoided social media thereafter fearing reading similar instances from women he knows. Later, he succinctly out forth why men still have it easy.
“Look at the number of women who had to come forward before Harvey Weinstein fell,” he said. Speaking on the Vishaka guidelines, Roy said that while they are necessary to deal with the aftermath of sexual harassment, it is important to ask, “how to pre-empt sexual harassment instead of dealing with the aftermath?” In the course of his speech, Roy also said that while the perpetrator should be held responsible, those who remain mute spectators should also be held guilty.
“The bystanders and the perpetrators are not the same thing. But that does not mean one gets to let off the hook.” Rowlatt, on her part, infused her speech with sarcasm and wit and took a dig at Joseph, albeit in jest. “Men should listen. If you are saying that you have not done anything, then you are not listening. You have not heard of a single word of the #MeToo movement. Dua, on his part, said that men are still getting it easy outside the virtual world, owing to their sense of entitlement.
In the festival this year, there has been a discernible tendency to speak of women, about women and for women. Young women writers such as Rupi Kaur and Gurmehar Kaur spoke for the first time and enthralled spectators. Celebrated female authors like Nayantara Sahgal and Amy Tan also commanded quite an audience. But while the discourse on dissent and women’s rights continue on the stage and in smaller circles, as is mostly the case, it remains to be seen if actions follow words.