Article by Sanjica Kumar
You can either call it the sudden overflow of hidden sexual trauma or the achievable aspect of contamination by contact, the #MeToo movement is not going anywhere from the Indian Subcontinent. The #MeToo Movement began in 2017 with sexual harassment and rape allegations against American Former producer Harvey Weinstein that triggered a worldwide movement. Even though the social media mentions of #MeToo have reduced considerably since their rampant usage following Alysaa Milano’s initial tweet, the hashtag still remains an unswerving feature of online conversation. The movement has shown no signs of receding. It is said that the #MeToo movement is not a trend which may disappear after a while. It is not something like the fall of the Berlin Wall or something like John Lennon getting killed. It is said to be an ongoing movement that where each day is bringing a new turn.
While few liberal legislators, leftist members of the executive and the renowned members of the legal fraternity have united with the victims of sexual torture and abuse, a growing understanding is observed that the current legal system is totally inept to meet this new challenge and unless some immediate action or amendments are not made, the movement is going to fade away like a cloud in the horizon. India, being an ardent follower of rule of law and a staunch believer of open society, cannot succumb to such a predicament.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is currently the sole legislation in India that deals with sexual harassment of women at a workplace. This, though, is seen to be completely inadequate as Sec 9 of the Act, restricts the victim to complain only within a period of three months after the incident. Also, the Act only provides a preliminary inquiry of the situation and if the accused is found to be guilty, it is recommended to the employer and the District Officer to take action against the accused. The Act, apart from being highly dependent on the employer to take some action, does not provide any concrete solution to the victim because of the limitations enclosed therein.
Section 354A, by way of Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, was inserted in the Indian Penal Code to punish the sexual harassment offenders with an imprisonment which may extend to three years. Unfortunately, the criminal matters in India take a long time to process and since no specific time has been prescribed for investigation of the crime and its trial, unless and until it is as serious an offence as child rape, there is a high probability that instead of the accused, the victim has to face the mental harassment which inevitably leads to the victim abandoning the proceedings completely. A radical change in the procedural as well as the substantive laws in India needs to be brought about. There’s a need to specify the time for completion of investigation and prosecution of the accused so that justice is provided to the victim at the earliest and a simpler manner.
The #MeToo movement not only deals with sexual harassment of women at places, but there also exists broader patterns of ‘sexism’ and ‘discrimination’ They not only include physical or verbal forms of harassment but many acts that are not exclusively confined to them. There are many non-sexual but extremely sexist forms of abuses by bosses at workplaces. Such harassments are in abundance in India.
Recently, the Union Women and Child Development Minister, Maneka Gandhi, empathizing with the pain and trauma of every individual, asserted that she believes all cases of sexual harassment at work places should be dealt with zero tolerance policy. She claims that a person never forgets their sexual molesters and hence, there should not be any limit on the time for such complaints and should extend to 10-15 years after the incident as well. A four member minister’s Committee has been created, chaired by the Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, also including the Defense Minister, Nirmala Sitaraman, the Road Transport and Communication Minister, Nitin Gadkari, and Maneka Gandhi herself. The Committee is believed to advocate ways to fortify the pre-existing legal and institutional frameworks and implement them effectively. The Government has also launched the sex offender registry, to use it to anonymously complain about any harassment, and an electric complaint box wherein women can complain about the sexual harassment cases in their workplace.
However, as the allegations increased against the abusers and attackers, the phenomenon uncovered breaks and differences in the opinion of women. There have been discussions about the points of the development: “Would it be a good idea for it to concentrate on workplace assaults, or be an extensive equality campaign”? “What strategies are helpful?” “What’s more, what ought to happen when allegations end up being false?” “Men could be erroneously blamed for lewd behavior or attack.” “Women could miss out on opportunities at work since men will be reluctant to work with them.” “The punishment for less extreme types of sexual misconduct could be equivalent to for progressively serious offenses.” These were amongst women’s biggest concerns about the #MeToo movement. Every one of these worries was held by a larger part of women surveyed — 63 percent were extremely or to some degree worried about bogus allegations, 60 percent were stressed over lost proficient chances, and 56 percent were stressed over culprits getting a similar punishment for various offenses. In the center gatherings, a few ladies communicated stress regarding men in their families — men they portrayed as respected individual who they looked up to — would be dishonestly blamed or generally hurt as a reaction of #MeToo.
The #MeToo movement have definitely opened people up and helped them to acknowledge sexual abuse without any discomfort and shame in the society. It is considered to be a huge cultural shift. Though, like many other big cultural shifts, the #MeTOO movement is also being gauged and studied upon. There was an old norm which has been taken care of but the new norms are still under contemplation. The Government has taken an enormous step by forming committees and different apparatus to hold the offenders accountable. With the whole country adopting a transformative outlook towards the cause, one can only wait and hope for a better tomorrow and a better India.
About the Author: Sanjica is a third-year law student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. She has an inclination for IPR and Criminal Law.