In India’s own MeToo roiling, a new language is being spoken, and it is demanding a new listening. It is also throwing up questions to which answers will need to be found. How will the movement encompass women who are more vulnerable, and less articulate? What will it take for it to bestir spaces beyond the media and entertainment industries in the metropolis? As more and more women gather courage and come forward to break an oppressive silence, vital distinctions — about the degrees of crime and punishment — will need to be etched. The onus of making those distinctions is not especially or all on the women, of course. They have already shown the courage. The responsibility for taking this forward must now be shared by the society they are part of. Institutional mechanisms will need to be created and strengthened to respond to the demands of a newer generation of women which is not hesitant to call the crime of sexual harrassment at the workplace by its name. And which will not shrink from placing the blame where it rightfully belongs — with the predators who have violated their dignity and their bodies, not with themselves. Yes, there is a challenging agenda for India in the longer term. For now, however, India’s MeToo moment is crystallising around an urgent and immediate call for accountability: M J Akbar, the minister in the NDA government who has been called out by several women for predatory behaviour as an influential editor, must go. If he doesn’t step down on his own, the government he serves must persuade him of the untenability of his continuance in office.
Minister Akbar must go because the silence that has followed the testimonies, nightmarish and credible, of several women against him, has been the most resonant. This lengthening silence is a reproach to a man who has been one of the country’s most eloquent and trendsetting journalists and writers. But much more so to a government that claims to be specially responsive to the needs and sensitivities of India’s women, that boasts of several women-centric policies and programmes, from Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao to Ujjwala, and speaks boldly of the injustices of triple talaq. A government, moreover, that takes pride in the fact that it has appointed India’s first full-time woman defence minister, and included two prominent women leaders in the Cabinet Committee on Security, Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman — both of whom have either evaded or stonewalled the M J Akbar question.
Perhaps a new moment arrived in this country when not many were looking. Perhaps the awareness and sensitivity that seemed to flare too briefly after the rape of a young woman in the national capital about six winters ago has left behind something more precious and abiding. In this new moment, in this new India, it should be intolerable that a man should be minister who stands accused of preying upon the women whom he was in a position to enable and mentor.
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