So illiberal are the ‘liberals’ leading the MeToo movement that to express the smallest misgivings provokes a torrent of abuse on social media. I faced such a torrent on Twitter for saying that the Indian version was imitative and irrelevant to the real horrors Indian women face.
At the risk of evoking a fresh torrent of abuse I say again today that, in its Indian incarnation, MeToo is as irrelevant as those militant Indian feminists were who burned bras when feminism was fashionable. They did not notice that the vast majority of women in their country could not afford bras in those days.
Something similar is going on with MeToo. Even if it causes a minister to lose his job and unfairly smears the reputation of my friend Suhel Seth, MeToo will have done nothing to improve the terrible lot of ordinary Indian women. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. On the day last week that MeToo exploded as a cause célèbre, a Muslim teenager was tied to a tree and whipped to death by her family in a village in Bihar’s Nawada district. Her crime was that she had run off with her Hindu boyfriend. Her family’s ‘honour’ was so offended that they brought her back and tortured her to death. Think how long it would have taken this 18-year-old girl to die? But, in their eyes what they were doing was so ‘honourable’ that they made a video of the killing. The story got into a British newspaper but the Indian media ignored it.
Just as they ignored what happened to that couple in Rajasthan’s Banswara district who married against the wishes of their families and so were stripped naked and publicly molested. The video of this ‘honourable’ event was on social media. I can never forget the expression on the face of that beautiful naked girl, forced to sit on her partner’s shoulder while young boys poked sticks at her before throwing her on the ground to rape her.
And, I am as haunted by the recent video on social media of a tiny naked girl being made to lie down while her grandfather tries to rape her. She was rescued by passersby and quietly put her frock on and went into her home. She seemed accustomed to regular rape.
This is what real abuse of women looks like in India. And it is so normal that the stories rarely make headlines in the way the stories of the MeToo ladies did last week. More than a hundred Indian women get raped every day, four out of 10 are children, and 94 per cent of the perpetrators are relatives. Will this change, now that a handful of articulate, educated journalists and actresses have come forward to write accounts of how they were ‘abused’ by ‘predatory’ men? No, it will not because this is not an Indian MeToo movement but a shabby copy of the movement that started with Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood.
American realities are very different and perhaps there the MeToo movement has made a difference. In India we definitely need a movement to prevent the dreadful crimes that are committed against voiceless, vulnerable women on a daily basis, but it is not this one.
After Nirbhaya’s brutal gangrape and murder I personally hoped that things would really change. They did not. All that we got was a stricter law. We already have too many laws. What we do not have are enough Indians who are so angry about the routine crimes against women that they make as much noise about them as they have done about the women who have come forward to say that they were ‘sexually harassed’ in newsrooms and in Bollywood.
It is possible that MeToo will soon disappear from front pages and TV conversations and the ‘brave’ women who came forward to tell their tales will disappear into obscurity. But, if we want a real MeToo movement in India, we in the media must ensure that every time a child is raped anywhere in India and every time a girl is killed for choosing her own husband, her story will get the same attention as the MeToo ladies got last week.
As someone who has been reviled as ‘anti-women’, may I say that in my reporting days I made it a point to seek out women who had been abused. In 1986, I remember walking miles up a hill in Gujarat’s Bharuch district to find the village in which a woman had been gangraped by policemen. They refused to allow her to register a case against them. This made a small paragraph in a local newspaper. When I went to the village and wrote her full story, the editor I worked for then said I had wasted my time.