#MeToo in Chennai: Campaigners come together in effort to take movement 'from internet to streets'

On 21 October, the #MeToo movement that has largely stemmed from Twitter hit the ground at Chennai, bringing many women together who not just shared their experiences but spoke about taking it forward in a constructive way.

Put together by Ek Potlee Ret Ki or Kaani Nilam ('A piece of land' in Tamil), a collective working on cultural identities and diversity across five states in the country, the meeting saw members of various strata across the society coming together to discuss the issue. The idea was to take the movement ‘from the internet to the streets’.

The organising team had put up a panel that included MP Nirmala IAS (Retd) (Commissioner of Child Rights Commission, Tamil Nadu), Prof Semmalar (social activist, Dalit scholar and educationist), Dr Aiswarya Rao (health professional, social worker and expert on persons with disabilities and gender minorities), Salma (Tamil poet, author and politician), TM Krishna (Carnatic musician and public intellectual), Swetha Sudhakar (transgender activist) and Poongkhuzhali (gender law practitioner), to hear the #MeToo stories that emerged in the past two weeks.

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Radhika Ganesh at the event. All images courtesy of the author.

“This hearing is not a public trial, a witch hunt, or an effort to name and shame but a process to move ahead,” said Radhika Ganesh, a member of Ek Potlee Ret Ki. Elaborating on the public hearing and its processes, Ganesh requested that the general public show some sensitivity while posing their questions and comments.

Case studies were presented by members of the collective and volunteers to let the panel and public know about the environments and power structures under which harassment and abuse took place.

Prof Semmalar — one of the panelists — questioned the mainstream media for having placed importance only on cases related to “celebrities”.

While Dr Rao put in perspective the plight of persons with disabilities, Sudhakar spoke on sexual minorities vis-a-vis the MeToo. Both the panelists also declared their intentions to take the movement to the marginalised groups.

MP Nirmala

MP Nirmala

Pointing out how her husband was scared of her participation in a #MeToo meeting, Nirmala sought to throw light on the misinterpretations around the term and the movement. Sharing several cases that came to her in her capacity as the Commissioner of Child Rights Commission, she said the complacency in the society in dealing with child sexual abuse was ‘shocking.’

While Poonkuzhali presented a perspective on the inadequacy of laws while dealing with such crimes, Salma raised another important question: “Why is it that women were burdened with the idea of honour, but the men were bestowed with the idea of power?”

Krishna spoke on the abuse of a traditional practice like the guru-shishya parampara by the powerful within the Carnatic music and dance field. Krishna promised to bring in more members from his field into the movement through ‘education and awareness.’

TM Krishna

TM Krishna

A booklet titled Towards Safer, Equal Spaces – A guide to identifying and dealing with sexual abuse and harassment was released at the event. The first copies were given to Srushti Vaishnavi, Vijay Siddharth, and Aashir, three of the youngest volunteers in the organising committee.

Besides organising the event, Ganesh also had her own #MeToo story to share. Detailing her abuse at the hands of Kanwar Lal Meena, sitting BJP MLA in Rajasthan, she said that the accused MLA is expected to get a ticket in the upcoming elections in Rajasthan this December. She sought the support of the public and the panelists in her fight against the accused and his political powers and called out the complicity of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. Ganesh also said the collective will pursue the case by filing complaints in the Rajasthan High Court and the Election Commission.

Celebrities including Swarnamalya and Karthik Kumar also took part in the event. Kumar said the movement was questioning power structure and the film industry ‘was scared.’


Updated Date: Oct 24, 2018 11:10 AM

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