Justice is everyone’s business
The #MeToo Movement marks a turning point for women in India and abroad. One of the key aspects of sexual violence is the shame that the victim goes through – excessive focus on the criminal justice system is counterproductive as the victim often left to prove the guilt of the perpetrator of violence. #MeTooIndia reflects the changes in society – with greater visibility of women in the workforce. It marks a critical juncture in women’s history in India. Sexual harassment is at the underbelly of the media or other institutions. It is something that people gossip about in their office corridors or coffee shops. Women who experience sexual harassment or harassment of other forms live with the trauma – they find such trauma too difficult to articulate, and the pain persists. Time-lags do matter for legal recourse but not for social, economic and psychological reconciliation.
In 2018, Noble Laureates Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, both of them have fought against war crimes. Denis Mukwege, a physician and gynaecologist, a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo established the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in 1999. Along with his staff, he spent his life treating patients who were victims of sexual assaults in Congo’s long civil war which caused the death of six million Congolese. His basic principle is that “justice is everyone’s business”. Nadia Murad belonged to the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, and she lived in the remote village of Kocho. In light of invasion by the Islamic State (IS), many young women were taken away as sexual slaves, and she experienced rape and other abuses. Today she is the advocate of the victims and she stands up to tell the stories of the millions of women who have been victims of sexual violence during the time of war. Not all women will get legal recourse, but it is still symbolic. Nadia Murad represents the power of one. The work done by Dr Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have lessons for us who believe in the power of #MeTooIndia and the stories that are being shared. Dr Denis Mukwege provided medical care to the most stigmatized victims of sexual violence in Congolese war and dignity to become part of the society again. Nadia Murad is a survivor, who is telling the world, that ‘rape is a weapon of war’. Both their stories have lessons for the Indian feminist movement. #MeTooIndia has to be a part of broader structural changes in the medical, legal and social structures of the society. It should not be a populist measure which is forgotten with time – it has to become a part of a movement which demands better work conditions for women.
#MeTooIndia represents urban and white collared middle-class women who are the face of the modern Indian workforce. Women who have stood up represent the power of one. Yes. India is agrarian, rural and poor. Most women living in rural areas do not have access to media. It does not undermine the stories of white-collar middle-class women who are a part of new India. India needs many revolutions and #MeTooIndia is one of them. The reflection has to come from women and men, who condone behaviour embedded in male privilege. Naming and shaming do not constitute social justice for the victims, it has to go beyond, it includes legal recourse along with social, psychological and economic rehabilitation.
Keerty Nakray, Professor at Jindal Global Law School.