When Tarana Burke, an Afro-American Civil Rights Worker, started #MeToo campaign, she was insulted and abused by white feminists for bringing out sexual harassment stories that involved white men and also blamed her for naming and shaming despite being a black. However, none of these had any impact on those white men or their career.
Later, the white feminists appropriated the movement and those who were named were driven from Hollywood even. This made to believe that the movement is very powerful. Irrespective of this, Raya Sarkar, after serious efforts, published a list of academicians who have been involved in sexual harassment in the academia. Most of them were personal and direct corroboration whereas few were third party corroborations, which is allowed by law in the cases of sexual harassment.
The privileged castes feminists who considered #MeToo to be a powerful movement, questioned the credibility of Raya and accused her of shaming with no basis except anonymity. They went to the extent of making public statements that they stand with their men declining the anonymous corroborations in total.
The response for such accusations was not so different in the Indian cinema industry as well. While several female actresses are coming out with their #MeToo stories now, sexual exploitation and favours were an age old complaints in the industry. Still, it was triggered again by Sri Reddy to which there was no support or response. Getting frustrated, she attempted to go nude as a protest against the silence. Nevertheless, like any other claims of non-leading supporting actresses who take up glamour roles, Sri Reddy’s allegations were also considered frivolous that is not much more than for publicity.
In these circumstances, the other round of #MeToo has just commenced in the Tamil society. It started with an anonymous sexual harassment allegation against lyricist Vairamuthu that was posted by journalist Sandhya Menon on her twitter. Following which, singer Chinmayi shared her personal story of sexual harassment perpetrated by the same lyricist and her twitter page out poured with the series of #MeToo stories.
Though it was initially apprehended that the illegalities of Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit and the arrest of ‘Nakkeeran’ Gopal for the story about Nirmala Devi is being diverted through these tweets similar to Suchi leaks, it was understood that the case is not so as she also revealed the accusations against several prominent celebrities including Carnatic musicians and Brahmins belonging to her community.
In this entire episode, the foremost things that I noticed is ‘credibility’ and ‘validation’. From the kind of responses that these #MeToo stories received, it is explicit that there is a social order dictating ‘Who can say and who cannot!’ and ‘Who against whom’. The Indian feminists, including leftists, celebrated white women for #MeToo movement until an article came out how a black women changed the perspective of sexual abuse and how it was appropriated by the privileged white women! When Raya’s list was not accepted for its anonymity and her personal identity and very existence were examined and debated, Chinmayi is acclaimed as ‘the courageous’ women of the country. Those who don’t believe Chinmayi due to the doubts that arise because of her casteist behavior in the past are badly criticized for not standing in solidarity with!
So what does this imply? Does this say that the outcaste and marginalized women should not speak up against privileged community men? Or that only dominant caste and Brahmin women have all the authority to accuse against their men and other castes men as well? Or that the accusations or lived experiences of outcaste and marginalized women needs validation and credibility certificates issued by the dominant caste and Brahmin women? Whatever it is, this is the reality! Not all women’s stories come under the purview of #MeToo. Indian #MeToo campaign is more about casteism and privilege than vulnerability and victimization.
These dominant caste women who are speaking up their experiences of sexual harassment and exploitation are just forgetting that the accountability and impunity are interrelated. It is marginalized women’s stories that have ever failed in this Brahminical institution. Nonetheless, we need this space to open up against the perpetrators who abuse women. At the same time, it should also be borne in mind that irrespective of the anonymity, not all the allegations can be true. This is a country where women are equally concerned in protecting the caste system and not an exception to the practice of caste-based discrimination. Let us encourage this platform of speech and expression without sacrificing anyone’s right to defend!
Kiruba Munusamy, Lawyer at Supreme court; activist.