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Wrestlers Protest – The Why and The What Next

This week, going through my routine scrolling a came across a couple of things worth writing about. One was a post from Take the Lead (a women’s organization) pointing out how in the US high profile firings have happened post allegations of disrespect or harassment of women. Quoting from the article instead of paraphrasing:

‘In media and entertainment, FOX News fired high profile host Tucker Carlson in wake of sexual harassment allegations. Actor F. Murray Abraham was fired from “Mythic Quest” for sexual jokes. Journalist Don Lemon was fired from CNN for sexist and ageist comments on air as well as misogynistic treatment of colleagues. NBC Universal announced CEO Jeff Shell was out of there for an inappropriate relationship. In academia, two professors at University of South Carolina were fired for sexual harassment charges. On the national and global stages, all of this happens at the same time a civil case of sexual assault from 1995 against former President Donald Trump brought by columnist and author E. Jean Carroll proceeds in a high profile trial. A senior director at the World Health Organization was dismissed for charges of sexual harassment. The CIA is also facing scrutiny over its handling of sexual harassment at work allegations.’

It’d seem then from reading this, that change is happening. We have moved past the era of Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nasser and M J Akbar where abuse could continue for decades and even after allegations became public. Coming forward wasn’t an option until there was a tsunami of co-allegations, or, if proof of guilt had become public some other way. It’d seem that globally, tolerance for harassment in the workplace (or anywhere) has gone down. Still not at zero, but trending in the right direction. Power still matters, but less. Especially if there was reasonable plausibility to the accusations, from others coming forward and patterns emerging around an individual. Post MeToo, it’s Times Up time, whether we had heard of it or not. It’s not a small deal anymore to be inappropriate with women. If Raya Sircar was to release her list today, even Professors of high repute could be in trouble. If M. S. Gill was accused today, by anyone, heroism won’t trump indecency.

Alas, that’s not case.

Because the second thing that was in my feed today was Facebook post by a friend and activist writing on the ongoing wrestlers’ protest, which by now, has hopefully grabbed our attention. On the streets of Delhi – taking bricks and bats from their own and the political nexus that penetrate and protect the malicious power in our institutions – crying. My friend wrote about how even the protest itself is a privilege – for so many men (and I am quoting her here) proudly announce that even if they kill their wife, she would rather die than go against them. So many mothers silence their daughters. So many of us advise our friends and colleagues to not make noise. Not too different when it comes to a workplace, albeit for a different reason. There, it could jeopardize livelihood – at home, it jeopardizes family. In politics, it jeopardizes the next term. So, it’s no small feat that the protest itself is happening.

The wrestlers have taken to the streets, but despite multiple accusers including a minor coming forward – there’s no resignation or indictment yet – only roundabouts. I salute the women who have taken to the streets, and I believe that they will get some resolution. I am hoping and betting on their resolve. But I can’t help but wonder, why the discrepancy between what we say we now are, vs. what we demonstrate daily. If as a society, we are indeed becoming a feminist one as many cry wolf on social media – why is it so difficult to pursue prosecution and justice for sexual harassment cases? As I wrote this, the Supreme Court of India closed proceedings on a plea by three of the accusers.

Gender issues seem to never leave us – from shirtless Salman’s judgement on women’s precious bodies, to rapes, misogynist court judgements, and daily expectations of a patriarchal ecosystem trolling our literal worlds. Yet, it’s a women’s world these days they say. Or at least an era that’s ushering in the same. One scroll through comments online (from Quora to Instagram) by men (and sometimes women) will show how Indian men feel mistreated and often victimized by innocent circumstances. Falsely accused and embarrassed – ‘living in constant’ fear they say. While no one is denying that false accusations and male victimization through them do happen, anytime I read such comments I can’t help but ponder on how out of touch with reality these men (and the women supporting them) possibly are.

If a man’s life is hard – so is that of a woman. If a man is called out, criticized, accused through generalization – a woman is abused, groped, dominated, hit, and murdered. Yes, financial burden still predominantly falls on the men and I agree, for true socio-economic equity and equality, it shouldn’t. But the burden of proof and lack of avenues towards resolution continue to torment women. Lack of gender safety causes lack of gender parity which limits GDP growth and social justice. It doesn’t serve any gender. However, many men (and women) don’t agree that it doesn’t serve anyone. The first reason why sexual harassment is tolerated, and prosecution is hard, is this. If we don’t believe something to be a big problem – there will be no will or sympathy towards fighting the same.

Most gender harassment cases, despite POSH, POCSO, and the Criminal Law Amendment Act (here’s a good link to quickly learn about some of these) fall through because of the same. I have written about these laws and the loopholes in Beyond #MeToo in detail – but long story short: there is heavy subjectivity and reliance on opinions (which are often conditioned through years of patriarchy) for the establishment of plausibility. The committee members come in with an attitude of lesser or equal evil when it comes to a woman being harassed.

PT Usha’s comments, misunderstood, or misconstrued, or not – is an example of the same. Not following due process and discipline is made to be a matter of concern and a bigger problem. If we had the right perspective, that’d be a non-issue compared to the abuse of a minor and systemic gender harassment.

The second reason is the loopholes themselves and the burden of proof. It is close impossible to prove via due process and achieve conviction when it comes to these kind of allegations unless a lens of jurisprudence is applied. The subjective nature of the same creates opportunities that any perpetrator can use, let alone the matter of power and money buying narratives. Most accused in positions of power know this. As does the law enforcement. I have presented in the same book referred to above the cases of MS Gill and Bhanwari devi as narratives of court procedures. Long story short again – more often than not it is an acquittal or a slap in the back. Proving beyond reasonable doubt remain close to impossible and long drawn.

And the third matter, that is both a cause and an effect of the above – is the matter of belief. What we believe in comes from many things, including what we want to believe in. Our predispositions and loyalty to certain ideologies, institutions, and identities color our glasses. One scroll through twitter feeds that have the video of wrestler’s weeping will show the ugliness this results in. Comments on nautanki, drama, and how the wrestlers should have a career in movies instead are profuse and prolific.

Therefore, I am of the opinion that name and shame, mass protests, and social media outrage are justified options. They create the pressure that is needed to counter color the due process and give some solace in form of minor wins to the abused.

Alongside, here are my three things to do beyond complaining and pondering on the sorry state of things.

1. Believe: Think for a few seconds challenging your internal conditioning, would so many women really be on the streets for allegations that are false. Yes, there are cases of false allegations and yes, sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s right. But are we really not able to sense in most, if not all cases, if abuse has really happened?

2. Identify what is more important. Discipline? Structure? Happy families? Peace at home? Peace at the workplace? Political ideology? Religious identity? Loyalty? Or a systemic change to the society that reduces occurrence rates of gender-based violence? Which identity do we carry with us daily and pay the price for?

3. Show-up: Once you have reached a decision on the above, act when there’s an opportunity. Post. Walk the streets. Talk to your neighbors and colleagues. keep the noise alive until a resolution is reached. Do whatever you can do, whether you are a man or a woman, do whatever you can do without jeopardizing your personal safety.

MeToo has ended, Nirbhaya has died, but the momentum can’t – small actions in times of peace lead to big changes that prevent terrible tragedies. Look the example of successful protests – as recent as the farmer’s protest – persistence unfortunately is what will be needed.

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