#MeToo Conversations with Firstpost: Rethinking consent a must, as movement blows the lid off harassment

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#MeToo Conversations with Firstpost LATEST updates: Meghna Pant compared the quick apology of All India Bakchod to the way older male journalists have denied allegations.

Ashwin Mushran says that the reason why older men aren't apologising is that they are used to possessing immense power and having their way.

Harish Sadani asks, "Can you prevent sexual harassment if you don't speak about sex?" He adds that as long as boys' clubs exist, work environments will not be safe for women.

Tara Kaushal speaks about remembering abuse and harassment, and says that though memories are not perfect, she is sure of her own stories.

Speaking about false allegations, Sudhish Kamat says that if the incident has really occurred, the truth will come easily to the survivor. However, he warns that when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, accounts can be imperfect.

Power corrupts, he says, saying that anonymity also gives the writer power to push certain agendas. "In majority of cases, women are telling the truth," he added.

Ashwin Mushran brought up the case of Varun Grover, who has made himself open to investigations and denied the allegations made against him. He says that those who make rebuttals also must be listened to.

Activist Harish Sadani says that it is nearly impossible to find evidence in such cases, but that one must be cognisant of how gender plays out in a patriarchal society.

Tara Kaushal says that he belief that most accusations are false is a misconception.

Sudhish Kamat says that many behaviours that men committed in the past are making them uncomfortable today. He speaks about how social media may have contributed to a larger experiences of 'bad' sex. "This has been normalised for years," he says.

In order to implement laws, people need to change rape culture, says Harish Sadani.

What we have considered wrong has been wrong for a long time, says Tara Kaushal. What has changed is men's acknowledgment that their behaviour may have been problematic. Men being called out is new, she said.

It is the company's responsibility to piece together the evidence, says Sonal. Many women feel powerless because their perpetrators are emboldened and have a clear modus operandi. You can also write a message which points out that you were not comfortable with someone's behaviour, she says.

If you flag an incident involving you, when someone else outs the same perpetrator, there is some past evidence of their behaviour, she explains.

The support structures should be well-prepared, and it should be publicised that these resources exist, says Krishnaswamy.

Sonal Mattoo says that when the contact numbers of resources were publicised in women's washrooms, more women reported cases of harassment.

The panelists also discussed whether when one accused employee leaves the organisation, should the organisation warn the next one where the employee is going to join.

It is empowering for women to witness others telling their stories. In the media industry, the culture in many companies is casual but people must learn what boundaries to maintain, says Indira.

The panelists speak about how sexual harassment is a larger cause for women to drop out of jobs, rather than wage gap and other factors. They say that companies fail to protect women in places that are outside of workplaces, such as meetings outside the office, says Krishnaswamy.

They added that one of the incentives to take up a job is dropping services.

The process of lodging a complaint should be made easier, and roadblocks such as multiple levels of hierarchy and paperwork must be done away with.

Senior management's creation of a toxic culture is what breeds sexual harassment, not just policy loopholes, says Ramkumar Krishnaswamy.

You cannot perpetuate boys' clubs, he says, adding that these are the benchmarks companies must set in order to make workplaces safe.

The panelists speak about how sexual harassment is a larger cause for women to drop out of jobs, rather than wage gap and other factors. They say that companies fail to protect women in places that are outside of workplaces, such as meetings outside the office, says Krishnaswamy.

They added that one of the incentives to take up a job is dropping services.

The process of lodging a complaint should be made easier, and roadblocks such as multiple levels of hierarchy and paperwork must be done away with.

Many have not wanted to participate because of what has happened to them in the past, says Sharin. Recounting experiences can feel like reliving them.

Men don't know how to grapple with the movement, they don't understand how something that happened 10 years ago can be remembered, explains Sharin.

My perpetrator was smart, suave and polished, said Sandhya Menon. After he kissed me non-consensually in his car, he called me the next evening, he insisted I should not tell anyone. I was confused. I began thinking about how I should not have been in this situation, she added.

"Then Professor Sonora Jha and I spoke about how we had the same feeling when we outed the perpetrator -- that we had somehow betrayed him. Why do we make someone else's shame our own. It is disrespectful to myself that I did that," she said. Many survivors must feel this.

Men cannot empathise with women because they cannot process their own emotions, says Nikhil Taneja

We don't teach kids about gender sensitisation, and men don't know how to be part of the conversation. That's because men don't know how to empathise with themselves, says Nikhil Taneja.

When men are told not to deal with their emotions, it results in a society such as our's, he adds.

Men are now realising the issue is within us, not around us. Men I have looked up to have turned out to be perpetrators, he adds.

Dr Deepali Ajinkya, Nikhil Taneja, Sharin Bhatti, and Sandhya Menon speak to Meghna Pant about what comes after #MeToo and the impact on mental health.

The PoSH act needs tightening up, says Sandhya Menon. The sheer number of men losing jobs feels like vindication but it is a knee-jerk reaction. Constant work is needed, especially from the media, she said.

Policy change and a happier environment will lead to greater productivity from women.

"Only in the last five years has there been a focus on gender by journalists. It needs to be a beat, a collective of stories, and it needs to be inclusive of queer people," says Rituparna.

"Real justice is intersectional justice," says Mahima Kukreja. The shame and trauma that surrounds a survivor needs to go, so they feel empowered.

When a woman comes out with a story, the danger to her life and reputation is so high, it is unlikely she is lying. The number of people with an agenda is very low, says Mahima.

As the movement grows, there will be greater acceptance and reconciliation of women's stories, says Kiran Manral.

Not just us, everyone who speaks up faces backlash, says Rituparna.

Men have been horrible on Twitter, says Sandhya. Men have also been quiet because I think they have skeletons in their closet, or because they don't know what to say, she adds.

The accusation that one's story is fake can be hurtful. But there have also been scenarios where the accuser and accused have both stood by their words, says Sandhya.

Rituparna explains that many women who named themselves and their perpetrators were still not believed.

Priya Ramani's account has given us courage, says Kiran Manral. She says that MJ Akbar's resignation is a step forward for the movement.

We need to put a face to allegations, says Mahima. But when multiple accusations emerge against one person, you know the accusations are truthful, she adds.

Many women are also putting their own names to accounts that they previously posted anonymously or got others to post, she said.

Sandhya Menon says that she asks survivors to send contact details from their primary e-mail IDs.

Many women are not privileged enough to tell their own stories. But we need to empower women to do this and follow due process, says Mahima.

Hundreds of DMs have poured in to our inboxes, says Rituparna. Most people want to talk about their stories, they don't want them to be aired, she adds.

Sandhya says that the work needs to go beyond posting allegations on Twitter, adding that women are now approaching the NCW to lodge complaints.

Mahima speaks about how due process has failed many women, which prompted them to take to social media.

Mahima Kukreja, Sandhya Menon, Rituparna Chatterjee speak about how the second wave of India's MeToo movement began, after Raya Sarkar's list of sexual harassers in academia.

Evidence is corroborative and instinctive in courts, says Vandana Shah.

Even in a rape survivor's case, we need to consider what the accused and accuser both say, she adds.

Sometimes there is a complete lack of evidence, says Rutuja. But she reassures women by telling them that a lack of evidence does not mean a lack of truth.

CINTAA and other organisations can look out for freelancers, by creating internal complaints committees, says Rutuja Shinde.

CINTAA is planning to look at production sets where even freelance employees' safety is the responsibility of the authorities at the production set, says Vandana Shah.

Mrunalini Deshmukh says that house helps, for example, can still file complaints at local committees and police stations even though they do not fall under the organised sector.

The disconnect is that there is no awareness on the part of those who are not privileged, she adds.

The lawyers discuss what can happen to those who have been slapped with defamation cases, and what legal recourse they can take.

Rutuja Shinde says that most of these cases are civil cases, which are filed with the aim of getting the accuser to take down their allegations from social media.

The two things that can save you, she says, are the truth and the public importance of the allegation, adds Rutuja.

"Companies set up internal complaints committees only when a case emerges. They prefer going to the police. I also tell women that the burden of finding evidence is not on them, it's on the investigating agency," says Rutuja Shinde.

Women are aware of being sued for defamation, she added.

"Predators are necessarily the people in power, and that is why they are able to get away with what they do," says Mrunalini Deshmukh. She spoke about what ICCs consist of, adding that she is shocked by the lack of awareness about Vishakha Guidelines and ICCs in certain industries.

Bansal says that #MeToo movement may make police offers more sensitive to women's complaints. She also speaks about how public prosecutors are not always helpful, adding that women need their own professional lawyers to represent them.

Vandana Shah says that a lady constable must be present when a woman wants to file a complaint of sexual harassment or abuse. The police can also come to the survivor's house to lodge the complaint.

Shah added that perpetrators also often attempt to quash FIRs.

Meghna Pant and panelists Shruti Seth, Harini Calamur and Shunali Shroff discuss the behaviour patterns that constitute harassment, and why flirting at the workplace is problematic.

If there is truth and substance in the allegations on social media, they will survive, says lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh. A panel of lawyers is discussing how the law can be more sensitive to women and their complaints.

Harini Calamur says that internal complaints committees at workplaces need to have internal and external members to prevent biases from seeping in.

Women should be empowered to be at their best, says Harini Calamur. She says committees which are gender-neutral are needed to look out for survivors of all genders.

Nice guys can also be predators, says Harini Calamur. She speaks about how this will affect a lot of older women's mindsets, since they have worked with men who have been called out.

The #MeToo movement came to India last year when law student Raya Sarkar shared a crowd-sourced List of Sexual Harassers in Academia. Several incidents of sexual harassment — in the personal and public spheres — were reported on social media in its aftermath.

Now, a second wave of #MeTooIndia stories have taken over social media timelines in India over the past couple of weeks.

It began with Tanushree Dutta reiterating her decade-old charge of harassment against Nana Patekar. Then, AIB collaborator Utsav Chakraborty was called out on Twitter for harassing several women online — leading to a stream of accounts that named men across industries for a wide range of inappropriate behaviour and sexual misconduct.

Spearheaded by a number of women, including the journalist Sandhya Menon and singer Chinmayi Sripaada among others, the sharing of these #MeTooIndia stories (some of these going back several decades) has forced several of the men named to issue apologies, and in some cases, step down from their positions.

Of course, the struggle is far from over as those who step forward with their stories of harassment and abuse must often contend with disbelief, blame, questions about why they stayed silent, and why they are speaking up now.

There are also concerns over what happens next — do you stop at naming and shaming your harassers on social media? What legal recourse is available to you now? What about due process? What about the men whose accusers are anonymous and aren't being given a chance to have the charges against them probed fairly? For Indian workplaces (from where many of the #MeToo allegations have emerged) what constitutes the path ahead?

Whatever side of the discussion you happen to be on, one thing is for certain — #MeTooIndia is an important movement, and one that has the potential to change how we perceive and respond to sexual harassment. And it is to tap into this very vital discussion that Firstpost is hosting #MeToo Conversations with award-winning writer Meghna Pant.

Over a day-long series of panel discussions held at The Habitat, Khar, today (18 October 2018), Pant and her co-panelists — who include Shruti Seth, Sapna Bhavnani, Mrunalini Deshmukh, Rutuja Shinde, Sandhya Menon, Rituparna Chatterjee, Mahima Kukreja, Nikhil Taneja, Sonal Mattoo, among others — will highlight the many issues #MeTooIndia has raised, and how we navigate the road that lies ahead.

#MeToo Conversations is an attempt to bring into public discourse a nuanced understanding of what #MeTooIndia really means, and what it makes possible.

Firstpost will be live streaming #MeToo Conversations all day today. Tune in to the conversation, be part of the movement.


Updated Date: Oct 18, 2018 19:23 PM

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