Saturday, 25 June, 2022
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Priya Ramani vs MJ Akbar must not stop public naming & shaming in India’s #Metoo

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We Indians want to solve every social problem with a legal remedy, but that is pointless and counterproductive. Naming and shaming is far more effective. 

With M.J. Akbar filing for criminal defamation against Priya Ramani, it is possible that media attention on #MeToo may now shift to this case. And we should worry about it.

My worry is not that Priya Ramani or other women who called out Akbar would offer an Arvind Kejriwal-style apology. They have already demonstrated enough spunk and integrity. Nor do I worry about the long process or the uncertain outcome of the court proceedings. I rather look forward to some fun watching Akbar defend his “reputation” (it must be said that he has for many years enjoyed quite a reputation in this matter) and all evidence being laid out in public. I do not worry so much about this unequal (currently 97:1) legal battle — Priya Ramani versus M.J. Akbar could indeed become Ramani versus The Union of India or Women versus Predators of India. David versus Goliath is a morally energising battle, irrespective of its outcome.

I have a small worry and a big worry. The small worry is that this ‘legal turn’ can deter others and it can distract from the main focus. My big worry is that this can displace the principal site of this struggle from public reason to law.

Also read: Tarun Tejpal’s gaming of legal system shows why #MeToo doesn’t believe in due process

Clearly, the point of this defamation case is to provide a fig leaf for Akbar to continue in his office. The second objective is to deter more women from calling Akbar out, and to deter the media from calling out other predators. The case may not see an end, but before it is dropped quietly, it may have served to put out the wildfire of #MeToo.

The focus on M.J. Akbar could turn out to be a distraction. A case involving a minister caught on the eve of the elections cannot but lend itself to a political campaign. That, indeed, is what Akbar would like. As Akbar becomes a good stick to beat the BJP with, we may forget that it was the Congress that gave this predator his first political break and legitimacy in political circles. Involvement in an electoral slugfest could conflate the fight against patriarchy with a fight against the Modi regime.

My real worry about this legal turn is something else. I fear that over attention on this case could displace the principal site of public morality to courts of law. Should that happen, we stand to lose one of the principal gains of the #MeToo movement, namely the creation of a public space where right and wrong could be deliberated using public reasoning.

This is critical. Every wrong is not a violation of law, and every violation of law cannot be proven in a court. This is not just about sexual harassment. A politician who goes back on his promises, a teacher who has no time for students, a doctor who over-medicates, or a lawyer who callously neglect his clients — all this needs to be called out, but the law is not the right instrument to correct these wrongs. Each of these offenders need to be checked, warned and exposed, but none of them need to be in jail. Public scrutiny and collective ‘truthcovery’ is the only remedy here.

Also read: I regret filing a ‘due process’ complaint, says a sexual harassment victim watching #MeToo

The law has to address the lowest standards of acceptable behaviour and demand the highest standards of proof. The law steps in only when unacceptable behaviour crosses all boundaries and enters the domain of criminality. A good deal of sexual harassment and various other forms of misconduct do not fall in this category.

More importantly, legal action requires watertight proof, beyond any reasonable doubt, plus a very cumbersome procedure. I doubt if more than one or two of the cases in #MeToo can result in conviction by courts. But naming and shaming is likely to be far more effective.

That is why we need other forms of public trial. The real achievement of #MeToo so far has been the promise of such a public space. Public airing of traumatic experience, public solidarity with sufferers, calling out serial offenders, apologies and resignations — all this is vital to cleansing our public culture. This has begun to show results. Media organisations have suddenly discovered their Internal Complaints Committees. Suspected offenders are being sent on leave. It is embarrassing to keep silent about this issue.

At the same time, #MeToo has shown the possibility of an alternative protocol of ‘truthcovery’. Anonymous allegations are not being entertained. Each act of naming is accompanied by a thick description, some corroboration and evidence. Yes, pain is admitted as testimony, but this is not just emotional venting. There is space for the accused to respond and indeed some of the irresponsible charges have been filtered out. #MeToo has not degenerated into a kangaroo court of male bashing.

Also read: Long before India’s #MeToo, Pati Patni Aur Woh thought workplace harassment was funny

We Indians want to solve every social problem with a legal remedy. More often than not, it is pointless, if not counterproductive. If we want to take forward this rare opportunity in our public life, let us not think of the court of law as the final arbiter of these public debates on sexual harassment. Public naming, shaming and taming is what #MeToo is all about.

This article was written before M.J. Akbar’s resignation. 

Yogendra Yadav is National President of the newly-formed party, Swaraj India. 

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  1. To keep saying ‘why didn’t they report it then?’ and ‘you must have proof’, shows how little understanding or knowledge there is about sexual harassment. It is the open climate created by the Me Too movement that has made women come out and talk about their experiences. Even 10 years ago this was something we women wouldn’t do because it was ‘not done’. You were expected to keep quiet and get on with things, stay away from the predator if you could, and so on. Despite this, many women did complain as you can see from their testimonies. They complained to senior staff in their departments, but the reaction was always the same: don’t rock the boat, keep quiet about it, we will have a word with him etc etc. If those around you do not take a complaint seriously, how do you expect the woman herself to come out with her complaint? Why are women always suspected of lying, being deceitful, wanting to take advantage? Because we are largely a misogynistic society that does not respect women.

  2. “..I do not worry so much about this unequal (currently 97:1) legal battle — Priya Ramani versus M.J. Akbar could indeed become Ramani versus The Union of India or Women versus Predators of India. David versus Goliath is a morally energising battle, irrespective of its outcome…”

    I do not understand the author’s concern as displayed in the very first line of the above quote. It is not like the tug of war we used to have in school sports, that if you have more number of boys on one side you are sure to win. In fact it displays the crude nature of the person who decided to make 97 people sign on behalf of Akbar. Was that uncouth man trying to threaten a lady by such caveman-like show of strength?

    Akbar’s metamorphosis has begun. From the “best avoided” badge presented to him by his female colleagues of the olden days, he is now going to wear the one that reads “most hated”. Does he understand the difference? Does it bother him? Of course it does. He is not a man without a conscience I can say from the simple evidence that he DID NOT LOOK INTO THE QUESTIONING EYES soon after he deplaned, did not answer them, squirmed his way out, and later issued a WRITTEN STATEMENT. The only thing is that Akbar perhaps doesn’t have the courage to own up, and someone is encouraging him not to own up.

    There is no way that it’s going to be easy for Akbar to chicken out of this, in my layman’s opinion, no matter what those 88 black-jacketed disgusting snobs tell him. What they are perhaps depending on is that none of those women will have DIRECT evidence — a photo, or a voice recording or something. But what about the CIRCUMSTANTIAL evidence of 16 women, and the number may grow larger as the time passes, that, “why did their career graph suddenly dip or change direction exactly at the instant each woman says Akbar demanded sexual favors from her, and he was their boss who could have caused that change?” Can it ALL be a coincidence in EVERY CASE? Can Akbar establish that they had a MOTIVE in coming together 20-30 years later, from widely separated geographical locations to CONSPIRE against him?

    This man is going behind bars. And believe it or not, though I don’t know him at all, I can see that some people who have had a chance to know him in the course of life will feel sorry for him. And they will all murmur among them that he should have apologized and closed the chapter.

    The point is, who is egging him on, and WHY? Is the BJP so confident that they will come back in 2019, and HOW? These two are loaded questions, at least for a numb mind like mine. I also don’t understand how BJP’s mind works! Do they think that if MJ Akbar resigns it will set a bad precedence for some others in their party? Do they have skeletons in the cupboard? If it’s consensual sex, these BJP guys start beating up the Muslim boy in the name of love jihad. If he is trying to rape the girls, they throw a tight ring of security around him?! How will they explain it to their voters? They should at least attempt the “ghar-wapasi” of this one “jihadi”! May be it’ll fetch them a few more votes!

    The more you think about it, the more crazy it gets. Akbar should wash his hands off the whole mess unless he is a seasoned VILE man, which I don’t think he is. Just say ‘sorry’ and win a huge amount of peace of mind.

  3. Sex is always with mutual consent, against this, it becomes crime. Sexual Harassment, molestation,eveyeasing etc.should be reported immediately,to know the truth. Delay in reporting always raise doubts.If the reports are proved false then why females having levelled false allegations should go Scott free.These females should be subjected to punishment rigerous than men.once this is done I assure everyone that females will think many a times before levelling false allegations.Why always Men are to suffer in an era where females are treated equally everywhere.Our society has already seen misuse of Sec.498a by the females for taking revenge.Let the society become aware about the misuse of any section by men/ women.

  4. I hope people understand the difference between allegations and conviction.The law says one cannot be termed criminal until proved guilty.So why are people just creating a narrative against those who have been accused and Everywhere media Trials are going on as such we have no faith in our judiciary system. Meetoo is a good movement but its just for those who have suffered or went through it.What about those who go through it on a daily basis and who dont use social media.The not so very known culprits who dont have any identity.India Needs reforms on laws,punishment and regulations.To empower women a sense of meetoo is weaking them our society needs How dare you kind of things.The fight the resistance and not coming up with stories after being victim.Dont be a Victim,Fight there itself.Make people aware to take a stand then and there.
    Dont let it happen to come up with a meetoo story.

  5. We cannot throw out the legal remedy totally, Otherwise it is free for all, even to gain mileage certain people may come out with false allegations or perceived molestation, sex attack. This platform must not allow anybody to settle score. Of course, most of us we know that these practices are happening in film industry over the ages and as a norm they have accepted it, then slowly it spreads to media especially, the electronic one, not much open like film field but tolerating hobnobbing with romantic encounters, flirting because it is more glamorous.

    I was watching on live a bunch of media girls 3 of them from NDTV appears to be trainees or so, were interviewing the actor Sharuk khan outside his bungalow on some occasion may be on his birthday or something, a few years back. He was openly flirting with these girls saying he likes that one girl to rub him, one should give bath to him like it was going on, rather than cut him short or giving him curt reply these girls were giggling ear to ear & enjoying, thought it is adulation showering for them by the super star. Now they are almost 30 plus now, now they realize this & comes out with complaint what one will do?

    What stopped these so called bold women to complain to the National Women Commission under secret oath when M J Akbar made Jr.Minister? having said that, one should never suspect these things are never happened or the every one of them is liars. This make us to believe his statement this is politically motivated & tarnish his image as 2019 election is approaching etc., The only remedy is let the proper authority set up a inquiry committee to look into the allegation let the victims testify the claim under oath & let the committee examine with the available/gathering evidence & come out with their report. Once this happens automatically he will resign from the Ministry till such time the inquiry is over. Whatever may be the outcome but for now you made him to resign from the Ministry, he is no more Minister that is a solace for the victims. Tx.

  6. The long term objective of Me Too is to ensure that women are treated with respect in the workplace. The first step, a long one, one would say, in this journey of a thousand miles has already been taken. 2. While the movement was not meant to prosecute all the offenders, that is because the judicial system is already clogged, incapable of rendering timely verdicts and many / most of the victims do not have the resources to pursue legal remedies. Not because what they faced is not a crime, or that proving it is impossible. 3. Unclear if Mr Akbar was well advised to file this suit. It would not scare a doormouse, in light of his stellar reputation. More women are coming forward, and they want to testify in Ms Priya Ramani’s case. Many incidents fall within the scope of “ outraging the modesty of a woman “. Quite possible that Mr Akbar will finally have to go, without even the fig leaf of claiming the moral high ground by stepping down on Day One. 4. However, the columnist is right. The focus needs to be on letting the sunlight in on what had become a very musty space.

    • What one had predicted three hours ago has come to pass. Mr Akbar has resigned, no doubt to “ uphold the highest standards of probity in public life “. When it was first reported that the thinking was that the “ storm would blow over “, had posted my dissent. It was a profound misreading of how the situation would play out. The worst of both worlds, in a sense. Now the lionesses, 35 at last count, will go for the Cape buffalo, separated from the protection of the herd.

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