What next after MeToo?
Mains Paper 1: Society
Prelims level: MeToo
Mains level: Role of women and women's organization
Naming and shaming powerful men in the #MeToo campaign
is in many ways a revolutionary act.
The truth about most was known, spoken in whispers, but
not to their face.
Now that omerta has been broken by some intrepid women,
there’s a palpable sense of power and possibility.
Moment of change
Revolutions are by definition anarchic, as they are
aimed against those who make and enforce the rules.
So it has been with #MeToo.
Men are named, sometimes anonymously, and the naming
itself requires punitive action to be taken against them. There isn’t really any
room for discussion on context or degree of culpability.
Some have raised questions about due process, and the
response has been, somewhat reasonably, that due process has failed.
It is true that, arguing for due process when due process
has failed feels a bit like batting for status quo.
#MeToo despite its limitations is unreservedly a good
The #MeToo movement is more than just outing powerful
men, it is about shifting the balance of power between men and women,
transferring the punitive aspects shame, denial of work opportunities from
the victim to the perpetrator.
It is about ending impunity embedded in our social
construct by shaping new social mores.
This is and has to be a collective effort, and it is
important for the #MeToo movement to have these discussions.
There are two broad questions which require discussion.
First, what should constitute sexual harassment?
Second, when and how should the state and other
institutional mechanisms come into play?
There is no ambiguity that any form of coercion is wrong
and should engender exemplary punitive consequences. But what about social
What about behavioural conflicts arising out of
differential expectations in societies in transition? Staring, telling risqué
jokes, crude propositioning can be as much about social awkwardness as abuse of
power. It’s not that such behaviour is not inappropriate or wrong, but we should
pause and think about the consequences of bringing in state or institutional
power to penalise transitional behaviours in personal interactions.
India as a society is transitioning rapidly, and people
with widely different understandings of acceptable social mores coexist without
having had time to acclimatise.
In a study on sexual harassment by the National Students’
Union of India (NSUI) in Delhi University, we found that one in four girls
reported sexual harassment. In this, by far most instances related to staring,
crude comments, etc.
One conversation with two very articulate and urbane
female students went quickly from young men staring and making women
uncomfortable to an anti-reservation tirade for allowing university spaces to be
allegedly overtaken by crude lower-caste rural men.
As a society we can frame this situation as
gender/caste/class antagonism or of managing inevitable conflicts in
The institutional response in the former conception will
be regulatory and punitive, the latter will be more about defining mores of
acceptable behaviour and education.
Concerns about state power
There are legitimate concerns with bringing in state
power to penalise transitional behaviours.
The response is often too heavy-handed, and second, it
makes social reform and gender relations too antagonistic.
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code defines sexual
harassment as “physical contact, advances of unwelcome and explicit sexual
overtures” but also “making sexually coloured remarks”.
The conviction rates under legal processes are extremely
low but surely even conceptually, we don’t want to send people to jail for
telling crude jokes.
Institutionally too, it is important to expand the
discourse to talk about the measures required to create more gender-neutral
spaces while retaining room for graduated levels of punishment.
Censure, delayed or reduced work opportunities, suspension
and firing are all forms of regulating inappropriate behavior.
Impunity exists in a social construct.
Till now, due process did not work because the social
context was skewed in favour of marauding men.
However, the long battle waged by generations of strong
women before and the courage of many women today together is forcing the social
context to change.
It is important to use this moment to institutionalise and
craft a new, more effective due process.
That should be #MeToo’s lasting legacy.
Q.1) Consider the following statements about Kishori Shakti Yojana:
1. It aims to improve the nutritional, health and development status of
2. It targets both school going and out of school adolescent girls.
3. It is implemented as a component of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 1 and 3 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3
Q.1) It is important to use this moment to craft a new, more effective framework
for due process. Critically analyse the statement.
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