Some of them are my former colleagues. Some are my friends. The rest, women I have admired. Have known closely. But all of them have one thing in common — they have all been subjected to physical assault, harassment, intimidation and molestation at their work place.
Gender sensitivity is a major challenge at our work spaces. It is not enough to amend the Maternity Act and give more paid maternity leaves to working women. According to World Bank estimates from 2004 to 2012, 20 million women dropped out too early from the work force in India. The trend continues well into 2018, with recent data putting only as much as 27 per cent of women in the work force of what is presumably one of the fastest growing economies. Or is it?
As someone pointed out the other day, the mess we have created for ourselves is the result of generations of bad parenting. Let’s face it. Some of you are worried about the collateral damage in the #MeToo campaign. About how women are using this moment to settle scores with jilted lovers. And how trial by social media is the new norm. But do consider this: The oppression has been so deep and continued for so long that a reaction, no matter how extreme, was bound to happen.
But I will also say this: As a veteran theatre personality pointed out the other day, it is one thing to name-and-shame those in positions of power, but can you do the same to those at home?
It shook me up.
Yes, we have been talking about workplace harassment. But way before we step out from our homes, our small towns and our comfort zones, we have been vulnerable to predatory behaviour. Vinta Nanda’s story was particularly heartbreaking because of the way her friends, her so-called support system failed her.
In India, the biggest and most sacred institution, the support system that we take for granted — our families have routinely failed us. We have rarely felt comfortable, confident or fearless enough to speak up against the uncles, the doctors, and the visiting cousins, who had groped us, molested us, terrorised us, and enjoyed the community of family. Can we name and shame each and every one of those scoundrels today? Bring them to book? Can we be confident that our real families will rally to our support the way our social media family has?
Even as I write this, my mind races back to those many times when my body was subjected to adult male scrutiny. Of hands that went to places where they should not have been, under the pretext of medical examination, curiosity or plain perversion. By men my mother trusted, my grandmother knew, everyone was familiar with. That knowledge, that you are not alone, is a double-edged sword. It gives you the feeling that perhaps this is part of life. And you need to handle it. But in an empowering world, it gives you the confidence, that you can and you should speak out.
Predators in the workplace are easier to avoid. You can quit jobs. Bring it up on social media (now). Report to HR. How do you avoid someone your entire family continues to endorse?
It is important to identify the sex offenders in your family circle, mark them out for the world. So that no child, no girl or boy, is ever made to feel violated where they should ideally feel the safest.
Let the movement come home.