India’s #MeToo: So, Who Benefits from Maintaining Status Quo?

Gul Panag’s take on India’s #MeToo, the need to create safe spaces for survivors, and to look inward as a society.

4 min read
Hindi Female

I haven’t had a #MeToo incident. It could be on account of being lucky. It could also be because of the fact that I’m a compulsive anticipator – always imagining (and avoiding) possible worst-case scenarios.

There were a few occasions that had the potential to escalate, or go down that road, but plain speaking out and putting my foot firmly down, took care of them. I probably rubbed (the word has a different connotation all together in these times) a few people the wrong way and it remains a matter of conjecture whether or not that impacted the direction of my film career.


Power Dynamics & Sexual Exploitation

I was also very lucky that I had the opportunity to walk away (from potential sticky scenarios) because I had a robust emotional support system, and because  for me ‘getting a film’ wasn’t the be all of my existence. I had been empowered by my family to believe that it’s okay to do things your own way.

Things could have turned out very differently for me, as they have for so many young women who leave their homes in search of livelihood, or to make something out of their lives. One is young, naive, insecure and vulnerable – qualities that have, since time immemorial, been exploited by the powerful, and those in positions of authority.

Mumbai, the ‘city of dreams’, presents a perfect playground for predators who prey on women in search of their dreams.

Not to say that predators don’t hunt elsewhere. When you add the inherent patriarchal (and misogynistic) nature of our society to the mix, it is a deadly cocktail. Take for instance the fact that most positions of authority in the film industry (as with most other sectors) are held by men – directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, art directors – heads of every department are mostly male. Thus, ample scope for exploitation. The power of writing an appraisal and deciding the course of someone’s career and life.

What happens when such a figure of authority is a predator? How do women deal with it?

Predatory Behaviour & A Culture of Silencing Women

Women feel ashamed to speak up. They feel they will not be believed or taken seriously. They are insecure about their source of livelihood and often lack emotional support systems. To make matters worse, the police and law enforcement mechanism haven’t allowed for us, particularly women, to have faith in them; even men in positions of power share the same sentiment. Often their own friends (or those they perceive to be their friends) will advise them to “forget about it”. But should they? Their trauma haunts them. Some never speak up. Some find courage, and an opportunity much later.

Predators often scope out their prey. It’s from here that scenarios like “she asked for it” or that woman was dressed in a way ‘that invited a pass’, play out.

Also, it is entirely possible that a man could be ‘honourable’ in his conduct with one woman (some women), while being downright offensive with others. Which is why one can’t issue character certificates. Because no one ever truly really knows another person; not their deepest and darkest bits. I have, in the past, worked with some men who today stand accused of misdemeanors. I didn’t witness that side to them. Does that mean we should disbelieve the women coming forward? Does that mean we stand up for those who are accused? There are no easy answers.

Predators often scope out their prey. It’s from here that scenarios like “she asked for it” or that woman was dressed in a way ‘that invited a pass’, play out.

Importance of Creating a Safe Space for Survivors

I’m glad the #MeToo movement has started. Creating an environment that is safe and comfortable for a woman to speak up, should be top priority. Whether she speaks up a day after, ten days after or ten years after, it’s entirely her prerogative and is an act of bravery – something we’ve seen a lot of this past week – across the spectrum. No one knows what trauma she’s been through, and no one has the right to judge her for her choices.

Sometimes speaking up and outing the perpetrator lifts the load off one’s own conscience and helps  to come out of the psychological trauma of the incident.

And if she chooses to press charges, then it’s the courts who should decide – not social media. Not the electronic media. Not you and me. Pressure tactics by alleged perpetrators and their supporters and protectors need to be called out – but at the same time, the benefit of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ must be given to them, in all fairness.


Institutional Support

Typically a case will not see judicial fruition as the victim will give up her fight, or may not choose to fight because the environment isn’t supportive of her, or conducive. We need to change that and make sure the guilty are punished. At the same time, we need to make sure no one innocent is persecuted as collateral damage, because we are likely to see some vendetta playing out too, however rare those instances may be.

We must have institutional support systems that women can turn to, where they won’t be made to feel uncomfortable, or ridiculed.

We must tell our daughters, sisters, wives, that they can, and must speak up. And when they do, we must support them. We must not shut them down. I don’t have all the answers. But I do have questions . And so should you. A good place to start is by asking, who benefits from maintaining status quo?

(Gul Panag is an actor, pilot, politician, entrepreneur, and a lot more. She tweets @GulPanag. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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