Women in India are angry, or at least the ones on Twitter are. Rightly so. Skeletons have come tumbling out of closets. Progressive spaces like new age comedy collectives and newsrooms have all been exposed for what they are: safe haven for sexual harassment, predators and a culture of misogyny.
The fake feminism of celebrities and Internet influencers has also been called out, though some of the frauds continue to survive, passing themselves off as allies. Many have called it India’s #MeToo movement, though unlike in the West, this was not the result of any long investigative journalism done by the mainstream media.
Except for Huffington Post – which carried a detailed report on how a woman was harassed by Queen’s film director Vikas Bahl – most of the allegations have come to us via Twitter and then follow-up responses from the men accused, many of whom cannot remember ever doing anything wrong. But then who does.
If you are a woman navigating Twitter and have shared traumatic experiences in a relationship or at work, the last three days have probably left you filled with anxiety. Should you share your story? Will they finally believe you? Will you finally believe yourself? Anxiety, self-doubt, anger, these are the emotions most women are feeling on Twitter. I have friends who have not slept in three days, watched their male friends be named, and are all ready to #believe the women who have come forward.
We have seen men defend themselves by discrediting the victims by calling it vendetta, and right-wing agenda. Then there are women, who say all talk of left or right on #MeToo is dividing the issue, ignoring how both sides suppress sexual harassment claims against their own.
Some claim to offer half-baked apologies. Others have tried to gaslight the victims and their narratives. Men who do not even understand basic consent are questioning women: why speak up now? Will you file an FIR? Will you go to Supreme Court? Some point out that a ‘creep getting too close’ is not harassment if he backed off.
But what nobody is asking is why are the women so angry? Why are they recounting every single ‘bad date’? Or the creep who tried to woo them, or said ‘I Love you’ on WhatsApp? After all, as some screenshots show, some of these men did back off. What was so wrong? And how will the poor men then flirt? And what about due process?
First, the men should know they did not do any favours by backing off from women, who did not want to be wooed. The fact that the men persisted for days or months, made their colleagues or professional acquaintances uncomfortable, just shows the kind of misogyny that exists.
Even when a no was said out, and the man felt the need to throw in a ‘ I Love You’ proves they are no ordinary creep. The other men, who are still wondering about whether it was flirting or harassment, just keep this in mind: if you are doubting yourself now, then it was probably harassment.
Now, about due process. For those who missed it (which is most of mainstream media in India), #MeToo started here much earlier with Raya Sarkar’s list shaming and naming male academics earlier this year. Her list was quickly condemned by India’s most well known feminists. Very similar to how some feminists in the US have gone on to defend New York University Professor Avital Ronell, who has also been found guilty of sexual harassment. Guilty, mind you.
The whisper networks have always existed, where women have warned others, that the man is trouble. In the age of social media, Sarkar’s list made that whisper network a very real and tangible thing, which for many, is a terrifying prospect. This is a generation that navigates most of its fears and happiness online via social media, and a list naming possible sexual harassers just brought that whisper network online.
But the idea that well-respected men in academia could suddenly be named and shamed by these younger women was a hard pill to swallow. The question remained: What do you do when your friends, the men you call colleagues, are named by a student or a younger colleague? Whose side do you choose?
And in the eyes of many, including mine, the respected feminists protected their own, with the call for due process being highlighted. Nobody bothered asking: Why are these young women so angry? Why has due process failed them?
The truth is that many of the young women today are not afraid to call a sham a sham. They have had enough. Enough of the self-doubt and judgement regarding our sexuality. Enough of wondering whether it is better to be a virgin or to be a slut. Enough of hating ourselves for wanting to flirt, but saying no to sex.
Enough of hating ourselves for doubting whether what that cousin did to you in Class VIII qualifies as rape. Enough of wondering if that dude who stares at your breasts every single day at work qualifies as harassment. Enough of wondering if someone will marry you just because you had sex with other guys before marriage. Enough of hating yourself for knowing exactly when you want sex, and deciding when you don’t want sex. That last bit really terrifies a lot of men.
What you are seeing on Twitter is women saying enough. They are angry. They don’t want due process. After all, due process means living the trauma again, be it someone just having placed his hand on your thigh or whether someone forced himself on you. And then, there’s the whole question of how do you prove it? How do you prove that the touch on your thigh was bad and unwanted?
Women in this country have been wronged for generations. And this includes the ones not on Twitter, the ones who have not recounted their horrors on social media, or even in the privacy of a therapist’s room. But there are many others who are now ready to let the dam burst, who want to lash out, and that’s fine. For others watching on the sidelines, all you need to say is #Ibelieveyou.