#MeToo movement rumbles on in India

Working up public outrage is an art and not all political parties are able to create mass hysteria.

L.K. Sharma
L.K. Sharma
4 November 2018

Former Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mobashar Jawed "M.J." Akbar arriving at G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Bonn, 16 February 2017. Federico Gambarini/ Press Association. All rights reserved.

More and more Indian women are coming forward to recall and record their traumatic experience of having been preyed upon by their male bosses. Because of the fresh complaints, the #MeToo movement still grabs a headline, though the TV studio discussions have stopped. The cases of man-woman interaction, consensual or non-consensual, may soon be superseded by the report of another surgical strike against the beef sellers or a march demanding the building of a Hindu temple.

The women victims who broke their silence initially belonged to the worlds of print and visual media, films, advertising and public relations. Now even a respected corporate entity  in the hotel industry faces the charge of ignoring a sexual harassment complaint by a woman employee who felt compelled to resign her job. Some more media men have figured as accused in the latest news stories. A professor has been forced to resign because of students complaining against his use of inappropriate language.

Akbar fightback

The #MeToo movement in India led to the resignation of M J Akbar as junior external affairs minister following allegations made by women journalists based in India, UK and US. However, Akbar continues to be a member of the Upper House of Parliament. It is not known whether the ethics panel will take up the Akbar case because of the allegations of sexual harassment made against him by more than a dozen women journalists who at one time or the other worked under him when he used to be an editor.

The Editors’ Guild of India is considering the future of Akbar’s membership of the organisation. Akbar also continues as vice-chairman of the executive council of the prestigious Nehru Museum and Memorial Library. This body has just been overhauled by the Government so that new members can cooperate in changing the profile of the institution in order to diminish Nehru’s legacy.

Akbar filed a defamation suit against one of the woman journalists and during the first court hearing accused her of maligning him and damaging his reputation by levelling false allegations against him. Court cases go on for months and years!

In a new case, another Indian woman journalist alleged that Akbar raped him when she worked in India as reporter on The Asian Age of which Akbar was the editor-in-chief. Pallavi Gogoi wrote a first-person article in the Washington Post giving a detailed account of rape, repeated sexual abuse, and violent behaviour. Akbar and his wife issued separate statements accusing the woman journalist of telling a lie. Gogoi is currently chief business editor at National Public Radio in New York.

Gogoi alleged that Akbar raped her in his hotel room where she was called to discuss her report for the newspaper. She tried to fight him when he ripped off her clothes but was overpowered by a powerful man. “Instead of reporting him to the police, I was filled with shame. I did not tell anyone about this then. Would anyone have believed me? I blamed myself. Why did I go to the hotel room?”

She said she had shelved the most painful memories of her life for 23 years but decided to speak out in the wake of all #MeToo accounts by many journalists whom Akbar has threatened to sue.

Akbar said in a statement that he and Gogoi had entered into a consensual relationship spanning several months. “This consensual relationship ended, perhaps not on the best note.” Responding to Akbar’s statement, Gogoi said on Twitter: “A relationship based on coercion, and abuse of power, is not consensual. I stand by every word in my published account.”

Indian male psyche

If Gogoi had hoped to get peace by breaking her long silence, she was mistaken. Her fear at the time of her alleged rape seems justified because her Washington Post article has caused an avalanche of hostile comments that will prolong her misery. There is enough material in these posts to study the Indian male psyche! Most of those who have rushed to post comments on Gogoi’s allegation have accused her of telling a lie. On reading these posts, she might wonder whether she is a woman of good character.  

Some have expressed grave reservations about the #MeToo movement itself and at least a couple of comments accuse the Washington Post of being anti-Indian! Those who feel threatened by women will be glad to note that a backlash has begun. A newspaper or the TV channel supporting the Government may sponsor a public opinion poll, asking the readers or viewers to reply to the question: “Is Gogoi telling the truth?”

The posts doubting Gogoi and assassinating her character will convince Akbar that he still retains credibility. He knows of the unofficial moral police in India that hounds couples in public places or attacks girls in beer bars. Akbar should feel elated that the character-building police owing allegiance to a political outfit, has not been unleashed on him.

Akbar may feel victimised by the #MeToo movement, but he is lucky to be in the right political party at the right time. Imagine his fate if he were a minister in the Manmohan Singh Government! Akbar would have had to quit his office much earlier. As a BJP minister said earlier, the Modi Government is not like its predecessor, who used to make its ministers resign on public demand.

Ruling party does no wrong

Had Akbar been a Congress minister, Narendra Modi, as the Gujarat chief minister, would have created public outrage against Akbar through powerful speeches. Modi would have supported Akbar’s alleged victims and condemned the “immoral Congress”. Working up public outrage is an art and not all political parties are able to create mass hysteria.

Had Akbar not been in the ruling BJP, Modi’s handmaidens in the media would have gone mad with anger. They would be spitting fire and fighting tooth and nail for gender justice! They would have ridiculed Akbar’s claim that the women were making up stories of rape and sexual harassment as part of the campaign for elections next year!

A prominent Hollywood Hindu operating from America would have circulated a video of a Pittsburgh #MeToo leader citing the importance of character in the Hindu religion and committing her moral and financial support to the sisters exposing the male pigs of India.

Had Akbar been a minister in the Manmohan Singh Government, the Sanskari (of good character) women politicians would have shaved their heads in protest and held a demonstration outside Akbar’s residence. One woman politician would have gone on a fast. Some, even those married outside their religion, would have warned the pious Indian women against Love Jihad.

Overnight, a retired intelligence officer, would have floated a Mahila Manch to intensify the struggle against immoral males. The Manch would have appealed to Akbar’s wife to join the movement instead of following the wives of British politicians who stand by their husbands through thick and thin

The head of the Sadhu-Sant Samagam Pvt. Ltd. would have issued a Hindu fatwa against Akbar. The newly minted intellectuals would have argued in the TV studios against Akbar by quoting some western feminists. A state assembly would have passed a resolution changing Akbar’s name.

Akbar’s luck

Being associated with the right political party at the right time, Akbar escaped a wider protest movement despite his name and fame. Initially, activists associated with his own party were raring to throw stones, but secret instructions reached the affiliated moral armies and youth organisations to ignore the subversive Indian #MeToo movement. Social media got filled with hundreds of posts deriding the women complaining of sexual harassment.

Akbar, who knows political dynamics intimately, surely thanked himself for not being a Congress MP and having crossed over to the BJP at the right time. He thanked his party for coming to the aid of an embattled junior minister and MP.

Akbar perhaps sees the silver lining. He has become an object of envy in the eyes of the men obsessed with the paintings of the Mughal emperors ruling their harems.

Akbar won a defamation case in the UK earlier and if he wins this one in India, another brilliant book will come out of his computer. He would, of course, make no laudatory reference to Nehru to avoid the book being pulped on public demand.

The Akbar Case has led to a discussion on the personal lives of eminent men. Some say that one should continue to enjoy Akbar’s articles and books without bothering about what kind of a person he is. Even Akbar’s alleged victims have admired the brilliant journalist. So many women in their twenties were swayed by his talent. That matters more than the mundane certificates issued to him by the newspaper proprietors who hired him from time to time.

Some political analysts have detected the conspiracy by a few liberal women to create political instability in India that needs at least a 50-year-long rule by the current ruling party.

Some women have published on-the-other-hand kind of pieces on the #MeToo movement in order to protect the Modi Government. They are releasing information on the personal lives of the politicians belonging to the anti-Modi camp and indulging in whataboutery. Their social media messages are designed to exonerate Akbar in the people’s court and make him electable as a BJP candidate in the parliamentary polls next year. The argument that a great journalist is not a model human being has been accepted by many voters.

Professors of Poetry?

Raymond Chandler is cited to convey the message that if you like someone’s writing, do not meet the writer! A newly-minted sarkari (official) intellectual is trying to make the literate Indians look at Akbar in a new light. He argues that genius has a dark side and the wife of a genius has a horrible tale to tell. He quotes W H Auden who said that real artists are not nice people. “All their best feelings go into their work and life has the residue.” Martin Amis says there is no value co-relation between the life and the work.

The said intellectual tells his TV interviewers every night that an individual ought to be judged by his art and professional achievement, not by his private conduct. He illustrates his point by referring to the personal life of V S Naipaul. He tells the nation that a great writer has the licence to be a misogynistic monster! He reminds his TV audience of what an eminent Englishman said during the campaign for the election of the Oxford Professor of Poetry: “Only poetry matters, not a teacher’s record of sexual harassment of girl pupils.”

The sarkari intellectual says the Supreme Court should not pass a law that cannot be implemented and the #MeToo movement should not raise a demand that cannot be met. Citing human nature, he asks the people not to pick on Akbar since there are no men of character when women are concerned!

He lists a number of eminent persons who were admired for their work even though the  #MeToo movement would call them depraved. He points out that Chaucer was a rapist. Golding was a failed rapist. Shakespeare was syphilitic. Byron was a serial seducer. Tolstoy was repellent. Shaw was a philanderer. So was Burns. Dickens liked girls of his daughter’s age. Conrad married a substitute mother. A married Graham Greene had endless affairs. Auden smelt. Ted Hughes was a domestic tyrant. Derek Walcott was a lecherous professor.

The sarkari intellectual’s campaign to increase public understanding of the male species is having the desired effect. One of the alleged victims gifted with a poetic sensibility, who had complained of sexual harassment, understood that an extra-marital affair is a font of creativity.

She withdrew her complaint and declared that what had happened was consensual. She said it was her private tribute to a creative person, her modest contribution to promote India’s literary talent!

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