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Left with more questions than answers

Left with more questions than answers
Highlights

When the Me Too movement started, the initial feeling was that it would peter out after some time No one ever expected that it would one day prove to be the nemesis of a Union Cabinet Minister Having started off with persona from the film industry, it has now spread to the political leadership of the country

When the “Me Too” movement started, the initial feeling was that it would peter out after some time. No one ever expected that it would one day prove to be the nemesis of a Union Cabinet Minister. Having started off with persona from the film industry, it has now spread to the political leadership of the country.

The allegations against M.J. Akbar do not, as a matter of fact, pertain to the period when he was a Cabinet Minister, but to an earlier time when he was journalist. Similar incidents in other countries have led to resignations on the part of the person accused.

But, in fairness, it must be noted that, in those cases, concrete proof of the alleged misconduct was forthcoming. This is not so in the present case. Akbar has had to resign even before the suit for defamation which he had filed claiming that the allegations were false - came up for hearing. That is the surprising part.

When such allegations were made in past, people ignored such complaints, treating them as a matter between two persons and of a private nature. But this time people from the Hindi film industry behaved quite differently. Even before court rulings were forthcoming, lead actors reached their own conclusions and stopped working with the persons against whom the complaints were made.

It is an accepted position that an accused person is not regarded as guilty unless the allegations are proved beyond reasonable doubt, in a competent forum and after the due process of law has been followed.

After all, it is not difficult to point an accusing finger at someone, which is why there exist methods and institutions to look into such complaints and establish their veracity or otherwise. The police and the judiciary follow elaborate procedures to establish the veracity or otherwise of the such allegations.

It is therefore quite difficult understand why, merely on the basis of some unsubstantiated complaints, people are being judged to be guilty. The impression being created is that one can get away with sullying a person‘s reputation in a cavalier and irresponsible manner.

Time was when questions were asked on receipt of such complaints, about the basis for them and also whether any evidence was available in support thereof. And now, thanks largely to the advent of the social media, where there is neither an effort to edit what is posted, nor supervision nor regulation, no such questions are asked. All one needs is to produce a sensational report and one can expect millions of ‘likes’ and comments supporting the statement.

Such spontaneous response can probably be attributed to it the desire to see themselves as champions of the victims, in view of the support declared by them to the movement. One wonders what these people would do if such complaints were to be made against them in the future!
Another question that often arises in this context is why the victim chose to be silent for a long period before coming out with the complaint.

The stock answer is that the victim was scared. One finds this defence rather thin. After all, where is the need to be so frightened of the consequences of coming out with the truth against an editor, a director or a boss in the office? One would, at worst, lose one’s job – a loss that can easily be compensated if one has enough talent.

If push came to shove, one would, at worst, probably earn a little less than earlier, but certainly not starve to death! Why one should quit under such circumstances, when it is really the other person who is at fault, is indeed an important question. The straight answer to that is that one need not.

Provided one has the intention to retaliate and fight. One can always complain to the authorities about the perpetrator. His transfer to another department can be sought as a remedy to the situation. If none of these things is done by the victim, what is one to conclude? Either the victim was a willing participant in the act or was forced into it on account of compromising circumstances.

The complainants in the case of Akbar are journalists who are normally known to be bolder than people in other professions, working in most difficult circumstances.

Against this background, is it not somewhat difficult to believe that people who could function with courage and aplomb in such an atmosphere find it difficult to expose the identity of persons who are alleged to have attempted to molest them? After all, we live in times when even helpless and illiterate tribal women are boldly approaching the police when their modesty is outraged.

And, in any case, journalists have constant interactions with police as part of their professional duties. If the complainant continued to work for years with the accused after the event, then the accusation falls flat on its face.

At times, the plea of the victims is that the other person looked like a fun-loving man and it was difficult to suspect him of being a sexual pervert. But then it is part of the feminine defence mechanism to be able to know where to draw the line in their relationships with men.

That is something they learn right from the beginning, especially from their mothers. It is well known that they have a special antenna which cautions them against crossing that line. Therefore, they generally know whom to be comfortable with and whom to keep at a distance; and also to recognise signs of intimacy going beyond the point of comfort and cutting off relationships. That, in the reported incidents, educated women found it difficult to adopt this sensible approach is somehow not easy to swallow.

Coming back to the movement, it is good that women have started speaking out frightening errant meant with dire consequences. One only wishes they do it in a proper, established manner without resorting to sensationalism. And the complaints stand the test of judicial scrutiny. Otherwise, there is the rise of bogus claimants joining the bandwagon and reducing the movement to laughing stock.

It is not as if such incidents are confined to the glamour world alone; they have been commonplace in most offices for a long time now. Women have been facing such challenges and their family members have been standing by them. However, such matters were kept under wraps all these days.

Now, when it has become a fashion to publicise private matters, people are coming forward with the “Me Too” slogan. If the situation continues, there is every danger that men may develop reservations about working in the company of women and, to be on the safe side, prefer men for jobs which women can also do, with the result that employment opportunities for women will suffer in the long run.

All that we have discussed so far is one side of the coin. The other side is the resignation by Akbar. One fails to understand why Prime Minister Modi sought it. If it was merely on moral grounds, and in the context of protecting the image of the government, many others in the Union Cabinet need to face the same fate.

One story goes that, rather than take things lying down, Akbar chose to file a defamation suit, thus angering the PM, who sought his resignation. This raises the rather intriguing question whether, if he had not filed such a suit, Akbar would have been regarded as a person innocent of the allegations made against him.

Had the suit filed by Akbar come up for hearing, one would have known what evidence or proof they had in their possession. Then why force him to quit before that? One doubts whether the attack against Akbar will stop here. When all is said and done, it is quite clear we have all stepped into an era of uncertainty, if not confusion. One has to wait and see what the future has in store. (The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

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