OPINION

#MeToo in Kashmir

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By: Dr. Inamul Bashir

The #MeToo movement, a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault, was founded in 2006 by an activist Tarana Burke to support victims of sexual assault and empower young and vulnerable women through empathy. It has encouraged discussion about sexual harassment and abuse in various fields which include Hollywood, Medical field, Politics, Music Industry, Academia, Financial Industry, Sports, Military, Pornography and so on. In the coverage of #MeToo, there have been widespread discussions regarding the sufferers of sexual abuse or harassment. Moreover steps needed to be taken to check what is happening to some women at workplaces have also been debated.

The hashtag has trended in at least 85 countries, including India, Pakistan, China, Japan, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. In India, the #MeToo hashtag on social media spread quickly than in other parts of the world. There have been many attempts to teach Indian women about workplace rights and safe reporting, as well as to educate men about the scope of the problem. Kaimini Jaiswal, a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, stressed the importance of teaching women, especially in rural villages, as most women in these areas are illiterate and dependent on their male relatives both financially and emotionally.

Several lists of alleged rapists and harassers started spreading on social media in India, including “The List” which initially included the names of about sixty highly-respected academic men. A second list came out a week later that was made by women from a lower caste background and included more names, raising the total to around 70. The veteran actor Nana Patekar was accused of sexual harassment by a former actress Tanushree Dutta on September 27, 2018, which acted as the catalyst of the #MeToo movement in India. The accusation by Dutta stirred a row of accusations from many working women of multiple sectors including media and politics.

In October 2018, the Minister of state for External Affairs, M J Akbar was accused of sexual harassment by several female colleagues through the #MeToo Movement in India. Some other celebrities who include actor Alok Nath, filmmaker Subhash Ghai, author Chetan Bhagat, singer Kailash Kher and Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu are among the few who have been accused by their alleged victims. However, it has been noticed that there is a lack of representation of minority community women in the #MeToo movement or its leadership despite the fact that minority women are more likely to be targets of sexual abuse. The sexual harassment cases pertaining to Minority community women of different sectors have touched the skies. It has been repeatedly reported that minority women often have no recourse to take if they’re experiencing any sort of sexual violence. Activist Charlene Carruthers said, “If wealthy, highly visible women in news and entertainment are sexually harassed, assaulted and raped—what do we think is happening to women in retail, food service and domestic work?”

The situation here in Kashmir is even worse. Although the Kashmir Women’s Collective (KWC), a support group formally launched in 2016, has taken the lead, there are some people who have criticized the movement as a motivated and tendentious campaign. Since the storm over the #MeToo movement broke out in social media timelines, one of the founding members of the Kashmir Women’s Collective (KWC), and her colleagues have been fighting a smear campaign on Facebook after the collective published a list of names of men accused of predatory behavior on social media. The #MeToo wave has hit Kashmir, but unfortunately none of the victims has filed a formal complaint so far with the law-enforcement agencies despite the fact that these agencies have assured that they would encourage and assist the victims with legal procedures.

There can be a number of reasons for not filing the complaints against the culprits. One of them is the accusation of being the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agents, as Khanum, a KWC member has reported about the accusation leveled against her group. Other reasons may include the social pressure which compels the victims not to report allegations against men in power. The local media channels are silent over these hard core issues because of the same reasons. The victims are in a fear of losing their self-respect in the society and this leads to dilution of the seriousness of the crime. Whatever may be the reasons, the time to stand up against the culprits is ripe and right.

Everyone in a community, including men and women, must take action in order to make the #MeToo movement a success in the valley too. Not even one woman in Kashmir will name her abuser, unless she is given the protection of anonymity. Women are paying the price of staying silent and they need space to give vent to their repressed sufferings and wounded psyche. We need to wake up and show women that there are people who care for them, their dignity and honor. This movement should not only have our moral support, but we should also ensure that those being brought to light through it are taken to task. When women have mustered up the courage to speak despite all the hurdles and taboos they face in an exclusively patriarchal social set-up, civil society has an obligation to ensure that victims get justice. Let’s help them to come out of the fear of getting socially stigmatized.

Majority of people in Kashmir are still not aware of the #Metoo movement. The more the number of people comes on board, the more visible changes we are bound to see on the ground. We need to give wider publicity to this movement through electronic, print or social media. We need to hold seminars in schools, colleges, universities and other institutions throughout the state to promote awareness regarding the burning issue which has shaken our conscience. Sexual harassment policies should be updated. Self-defence training skills should be imparted to the working women.

Women should be encouraged to show their presence in every field, be it politics, journalism, health sector, engineering or corporate sector jobs etc. The least this can accomplish is that it will instill the offenders with a sense of fear. They will be forced to remain more careful while they are in the company of women at various social or professional or academic levels. So dear readers, let’s initiate the change, support the hashtag and create a conducive atmosphere for our sisters. The responsibility lies on our shoulders; if not done today, then never.

The author is Lecturer in Physics at BHSS, Tral and can be reached at [email protected]

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