Asian Age: #MeToo in India?

No country is immune from boorish behavior by some powerful elites. The #MeToo movement began in the United States, with accusations and investigations against film directors, journalists, corporate and political leaders, a Supreme Court nominee and more – and may be spreading to India with an accusation of a Bollywood actress. An Asian Age opinion essay poses questions that apply to the movement worldwide: “Is this just passing thunder, or will it be felt over a longer period, obliging MPs, policymakers, ideas people in academia, and opinionmakers in journalism and in public life, to sit up and take note?.… More important, is this so-called movement… going to be felt in ordinary people’s homes, permitting its positive impulses to strengthen and empower ordinary women – housewives and those working outside their homes alike – and not only the liberal, Westernised professional woman in the metros?” Women and men are increasingly emboldened to speak out about abusive behavior to prevent unchecked attacks. The lack of acknowledgment from government leaders could quiet victims or increase activism. – YaleGlobal

Asian Age: #MeToo in India?

The #MeToo movement spreads worldwide with questions on routine abuse; political and corporate leaders must check the skeletons in their cupboards
Friday, October 12, 2018

The Asian Age: The Indian edition of the movement to challenge predatory sexual behaviour by men of influence and power over younger women, whose careers they were in a position to significantly impact, hit India with force earlier this month, and has quickly come to knock on the doors of national politics, making the Narendra Modi government squirm. India’s own #MeToo started life like a slow hissing bomb when bold allegations emerged from actress Tanushree Dutta against well-known actor Nana Patekar that initially drew only faint reaction in Bollywood, and none from the film industry’s bigshots.

That seems a thing of the past now, with many more voices emerging against predators, not just in the entertainment business but also in the media. Who knows in what direction the storm will swerve next: the corporate world, academia, the bureaucracy? Inevitably, there are other questions too. Is this just passing thunder, or will it be felt over a longer period, obliging MPs, policymakers, ideas people in academia, and opinionmakers in journalism and in public life, to sit up and take note? More important, is this so-called movement (it isn’t quite one yet, though it can become one if taken forward by not just women but men too) going to be felt in ordinary people’s homes, permitting its positive impulses to strengthen and empower ordinary women — housewives and those working outside their homes alike — and not only the liberal, Westernised professional woman in the metros?

For now, the one most prominent in the line of fire of our own #MeToo saga is M.J. Akbar, a famous former editor (and founder of The Asian Age) who went through political contortions of every kind and is now minister of state for external affairs in the Narendra Modi government.

True to its record of brazening it through, the government has so far kept a stony silence on the serious allegations against the junior foreign minister splashed across newspapers. Mr Akbar is himself overseas on work and has declined to reply to media queries. His boss, Sushma Swaraj, on Tuesday calmly walked past as a woman reporter asked if she wouldn’t speak up even as a woman. Law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, often the government’s spokesman, declined to take questions on this matter. Not much may be expected from Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. It’s his wont to remain silent when top officials face public scrutiny.

The government apart, the political class as a whole has been largely lukewarm on the issue of Mr Akbar, and indeed on other #MeToo exposures. Perhaps the Opposition parties are worried that their own cupboards may contain skeletons. We are at a juncture when the terms in relations between the privileged men in a patriarchy and disadvantaged women is showing some signs of change.

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