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A long way to go

Lalita Panicker

The #MeToo movement has lost some of its steam but a singular positive development has been that across offices and other places of employment, men think twice before making jocular remarks about the looks or other attributes of women colleagues, think long and hard before making untoward advances and are careful about putting out insensitive messages on social media. But at the same time, it has also thrown up some facets that need to be taken into account, and that is the number of men who have been wrongly accused of sexual harassment. It is a positive thing that women have been emboldened to come out with their stories and are receiving a great deal of public sympathy. For many women, this was a time to put out in the open their long-pending grievances. At the same time, many are guilty of exploiting the new social acceptance.

It would appear that many women have either deliberately or otherwise made allegations of sexual harassment on premises which do not qualify as such. As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2016 a total of 38,947 rape cases were reported. Of these, 10,068 cases were by women who claimed that they were raped on false promises of marriage. In these cases, the relationships were consensual. Some cases were filed by parents trying to cover for their daughters. For many parents, the idea that their daughters would enter into consensual relationships is not acceptable; the fact that there is an element of coercion makes it more acceptable, strange though this may seem.

No one in a consensual relationship has the right to assume the future course of this. It is perhaps ungentlemanly to refuse to marry a woman after promising to do so, but it is not a criminal offence. If a man opts out of his promise, he cannot be accused of rape. Unfortunately, by the time the court dismisses such cases, or even cases made to settle scores, the man has suffered a huge loss of reputation, perhaps even his livelihood. It is true that a patriarchal society refuses to accept that an unmarried woman can be sexually active unless there was an element of coercion. But at the same time, the answer to this cannot be to make false accusations against the man concerned.

Women, especially those who are empowered, cannot have it both ways. They cannot be victims, however hurtful it may be to realise that the men they invested in are cads. There is no remedy in the law for a woman who feels that she has been led up the garden path, which probably explains why some of them resort to filing rape charges. What happens is that the more flimsy rape charges there are, the more genuine cases fall by the wayside. Similarly, several charges in the #MeToo movement also tend to infantilise women, making it seem that they are incapable to looking after themselves.

Of course, ugly jokes and advances are unacceptable but women who are capable of retaliation should do so and not be content to be victims. Many of them, especially in the West, who have come out are powerful women who would not have lacked for backing if they should have needed it. However, it is a great precedent that they have set in opening up this debate and removing taboos around the subject.

But the struggle has to go deeper down to the women who are in positions in which they cannot help themselves or do not have any support structures. In this, I would include the vast number of Indian women who work in the unorganised sector, who are more or less at the mercy of their employers and, in some cases, male co-workers. Unfortunately, the #MeToo movement has got focused on some high profile cases in India and genuine change in gender equations is still nowhere within reach.

(HT Media)

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