Women journalists were the biggest winners in MeToo India. They felled a minister in the Narendra Modi government. Bollywood ladies, who started the Indian edition of this movement, still struggle to bring down the actors they have charged with being sexual predators. I am seen as a female villain of the movement because I totally oppose it. And, one reason is because I think women journalists should be speaking for those women who are totally voiceless because as journalists they have the power to do this. They have the power to speak for the little girls sold in the brothels of Mumbai and Delhi. For the little girls forced to marry old men. For those who are raped by their brothers, fathers and uncles, when they are usually too little to know that what is being done to them is wrong.
In 2016, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recorded 106 rapes a day. Four out of every 10 victims were little girls. The victims remain faceless and voiceless but would not be if women journalists had taken it upon themselves to tell every story in detail. This happens now and then, as when the story of the December 2012 Delhi gangrape and murder victim is so awful that it horrifies the whole country. But soon after she was raped and killed, came the story of little Gudia. She was just over five years old and not only was she raped but her rapist pushed a glass bottle into her tiny body. There are so many stories like this and they rarely make more than a paragraph on an inside page in our newspapers.
Indian women journalists raucously telling their own stories in the MeToo movement have rarely spoken for truly voiceless women. Instead, they have chosen to tell the stories of women powerful enough to bring down a minister. When I wrote against MeToo in my column, I was vilified to such an extent that at least two women journalists demanded on social media that I be sacked. And, there were many “feminists” who made disparaging references to my age. Barkha Dutt made a video in which she demanded passionately to know “why, why, why” was I so opposed to a movement that sought to empower women.
So, the Times Literary Festival in Delhi put us together on a MeToo panel. I explained my opposition. I said that I believed that the movement was irrelevant to Indian realities. We are dealing not with patriarchy but with barbarism, I said, but it was not this that the moderator, Faye DeSouza, picked up but my joking about her wearing a black pantsuit. She seized the chance to make herself the focus and stood up dramatically and started grandstanding. A clip of this was uploaded and Faye became the heroine and me the villain because in this video snippet it sounded as if I was telling her not to dress like a man. Only those who bothered to see the entire discussion (too long for most people) noticed that I was not saying this at all.
When women journalists make themselves the story instead of telling the stories of women who have no voice, then they stop making a difference. The lesson I have come away from MeToo is that this is what has happened. If the little girls I once interviewed in a brothel in Mumbai got a quarter of the attention that the MeToo ladies got, the trafficking of children would probably stop. If every child who was raped got a quarter of the attention that the MeToo ladies got, it would make a difference to the social acceptability that this horror seems to have in India.
In the 1970s, when women first began to work in Indian journalism, they made a difference. Usha Rai wrote the first detailed account of a girl burned by her husband’s family for dowry. This made other women journalists take up the stories of other dowry victims. Women journalists also started to tell stories that were dismissed as “human interest” stories till then. They wrote about malnourishment in children and about the appalling condition of hospitals and state welfare homes. These were the sort of stories that were rarely told by men and if told got buried in the inside pages by male editors.
It saddens me to say this but I believe that most women in journalism today seem to have come in search of stardom — not because they want to speak on the issues that damage women. They seek jobs in television more than in newspapers because stardom comes easier on television. Very few of them bother to tell the women’s stories that need to be told so that the real objective of feminism can be fulfilled, which is to give women an equal chance in life.
Journalism does open the doors to stardom and it is very easy to get seduced by it but that should be for real reporting. No Indian woman journalist today is doing the sort of reporting that you see Arwa Damon do on CNN from the Middle East, the sort of reporting from Bosnia that made Christiane Amanpour a star. It is human nature to want recognition and applause but usually this is satisfying only when it is deserved. In my view, the MeToo Indian incarnation has exposed the shallow waters in which women journalists now tread more than it has exposed the “sexual predators”.
It would make me very happy as a “relic” in Indian journalism to see many more women come into the profession if they are prepared to really go out into the horrible, harsh realities that most Indian women start to face even before they grow into women. When journalists start to dwell on their own stories rather than the stories of others they are truly in danger of becoming irrelevant. So have women coming into Indian journalism made a real difference? In my view, they did when they first came into journalism. They made a real difference in the 1970s. I do not think they do today.