Behind every predator…
Behind Every Predator…, Tarun Tejpal’s Sexual Assault, Padmaja Shaw, Overt And Covert Role. Behind every successful man, there is a woman, they say....
In the two big cases that hit the headlines recently, Modi-Shah surveillance case and the Tarun Tejpal’s sexual assault of a colleague, there are several women who have played an overt and covert role.
Examples abound– Bill Clinton, Dominique Strauss Kahn, Silvio Berlusconi, Tiger Woods, or say even Asaram. All of them have a reputation for being serial sexual predators, with a history of well-publicised dalliances, sometimes rumoured to be consensual. All of them were in ‘successful’ marriages, assuming the wives did not know what was happening. In two cases, Clinton and Kahn, the wives continue to stand by their husbands and in the case of Kahn, his journalist wife helped him in the battle that followed. In the case of Asaram, both the wife and daughter appear to be facilitating matters, if newspaper reports are to be believed.
It is also clear that if in some cases their so called success renders the predators sexy, in some other cases, they are prone to misuse their power and position to exploit women around them. When the issue comes into public domain either because of stings, strategic leaks or because of the victim seeking legal remedies, it quickly turns into a technical debate on legal issues involved. The victim and redress of her grievance becomes secondary in the face of public jostling and power-play between the partisan media and the accused. In the two big cases that hit the headlines recently, Modi-Shah surveillance case and the Tarun Tejpal’s sexual assault of a colleague, there are several women who have played an overt and covert role.
In the Modi-Shah surveillance issue, the senior BJP spokespersons Meenakshi Lekhi and Nirmala Seetharaman valiantly defended the snooping by painting it a protective one. They have also defended the father’s right to ask for the surveillance of an adult daughter. They repeatedly ask the media, if the people put under the surveillance do not object, why should you? The vocal effort to reshape the episode of gross violation of a woman’s privacy and right to liberty into one of security for the girl has been a spectacle to watch on all mainstream media.
In the Tejpal case, while the views of the wife and the daughter are not known, it is clear that they are standing by him in his hour of ‘trial’. Is there a likelihood of them knowing about his predatory nature? Very likely. The worse case is that of his senior colleague, Shoma Chaudhury, who is also his long-time business partner. Her role in this episode has been a matter of discussion both on mainstream media and social media.
When it comes to the crunch, the instinct among powerful women is to protect one’s position, wealth and business interests. At a philosophical level, if we argue that life is short and one must protect one’s own, the debate can end right there. Whether as families (not ruling out the bonds of love and compassion), partners or party spokespersons, it is the pretence of standing-up for rights by women belonging to educated and privileged classes that muddies the waters. If people who speak for the rights of women cop out in high profile cases, the larger battle for women’s rights becomes that much weaker. It only goes to reaffirm the popular view that everyone has a price.
The United Nations defines violence against women as, “Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” Such violence can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or verbal abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse, criminal harassment/stalking.
If we look around us, we can observe that only when violence against women manifests in blatantly visible forms such as physical or sexual abuse, it is noticed, that too with great difficulty. The emotional/verbal abuse of ‘eve-teasing’ is celebrated in our cultural space in the name of love. Financial abuse of women is routinely brushed under the carpet; spiritual abuse through superstitions and rituals that manipulate and control women are celebrated with great fanfare.
Criminal harassment and stalking are rarely taken seriously unless they end up in serious cases of acid attacks or rape. And in an innovative twist, if the powerful are involved as in the Amit Shah case, stalking is even interpreted as protection! Often, women are complicit in this travesty of multiple abuses for various reasons. If in some cases they are themselves entrapped in patriarchy, in some cases they are women of substance who are well-aware of issues but still play along.
The latter group are as much of a threat to women’s interests in the long run as the women who nurture patriarchy. In an innovative effort, social organizations in Canada are running special counselling on preventing violence against women for adolescent boys in schools. While similar efforts are needed to deal with patriarchy in India as well, it is equally important to counsel young women on how firstly to recognise various forms of abuse and then about how to deal with each kind of abuse.
Even as it is an unfortunate trauma for the victim in Tejpal case, the courage she showed and the clarity with which the young woman dealt with the case is truly exemplary. Even as she kept other colleagues informed, she continued to work to finish tasks assigned to her and lodged a formal complaint with the organization after getting back to the office in Delhi. She also went to her superior with the request for an inquiry under Visakha guidelines. While what happened subsequently is a matter of animated debates on television channels, by turning the camera on to the media organisations and the way they function, she has done a great service to the women in the media industry.
Many of the media organizations have no Internal Complaints Committees to deal with sexual harassment. Some are scrambling to set them up at least now. Even so, how seriously the complaints are taken, how it impacts on the women working in media and whether it ends up as another disincentive to employing women is to be seen. Much also depends on how senior women who are on such committees behave.