Firstpost's #MeToo Conversations: Mrunalini Deshmukh, Vandana Shah, Rashmi Bansal and Rutuja Shinde on legal recourse

The ongoing wave of #MeToo allegations that has had Indian social media timelines in its grip for over two weeks now, has also raised several pertinent questions.

Is naming and shaming on social media enough? Is naming and shaming even right? What are the consequences of bypassing due process? How does one prove that one was sexually harassed? Can one legally pursue a case that goes back several years? What about the men who have been named in anonymous allegations — shouldn't they get a chance to defend themselves?

And are there any easy answers to any of these questions?

Perhaps not, but an attempt was made to address many of them at the ongoing #MeToo Conversations — a day-long panel discussion series hosted by Firstpost, and moderated by award-winning writer Meghna Pant.

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Mrunalini Deshmukh, Vandana Shah, Rashmi Bansal and Rutuja Shinde, with Meghna Pant

The second session of the day proved to be an eventful one — and why not, with legal experts like Mrunalini Deshmukh and Vandana Shah, writer/entrepreneur Rashmi Bansal and advocate Rutuja Shinde on board.

Bansal and Shah incidentally have filed a case against venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy for sexual harassment — a development that made headlines last year.

The session saw Deshmukh and Shah reiterate time and again that in the case of #MeToo allegations, a trial by social media was not enough — it would have to be a trial by law. They admitted that the Indian legal system was unwieldy and often discomfiting to deal with, but imperfect as it is, survivors must not shy away from seeking recourse.

A positive development, Shinde noted, was that women were, in fact, willing to see through their #MeToo stories to their legal conclusion this time around. Shinde has been instrumental in compiling a resource list of lawyers who will work pro bono to help survivors of sexual harassment. She told the audience that just this simple act — of pointing out the help that was available — seemed to have been appreciated tremendously by the women speaking out. They were more willing, now that they knew they could seek legal assistance, to take action against their harassers.

Of course, many women (and men) do not always know what is the course of action to take when they experience harassment at the workplace. Step by step, Deshmukh explained the Vishakha Guidelines and what the Internal Committee (formerly known as the Internal Complaints Committee) constituted, and how employees could seek help. She pointed out that it was the Tarun Tejpal case that initially shook up Indian organisations, prompting them to institute the measures mandated by the law immediately. Vandana added that it was necessary to understand that both men and women who had been harassed could seek recourse under these measures.

Bansal then spoke about how harassment you encounter in a professional sphere seems to affect you differently — she pointed out that women were always aware of the possibility of being harassed when using public transport, for instance, but in the presence of fellow professionals, colleagues or seniors one encounters, one didn't expect to be subjected to such behaviour.

Deshmukh further asked the audience to and survivors to 'Court kacheri ke chakkar me pado' (get involved with the courts). "I see a mindset change happening over time," she said.

Follow live updates and video stream from the summit here.


Updated Date: Oct 19, 2018 18:02 PM

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