Most people in the country are used to victim-shaming rather than shaming the predators. Men don’t have to hang their heads in shame, women do.
This year, the Nobel Prize in literature will not be awarded. This is hardly the first time something like this is being done, but never before has the reason been a sex scandal.
The members of the Swedish Academy decide the recipient of the prize each year but this year the award has to be cancelled because there are only 10 extant members of the total council of 18. That is not enough to come to an agreement over a suitable recipient of the Nobel Prize. Where did the rest of the members of the council go? They have resigned because the husband of one of the members of the Academy has been accused of sexual harassment by 18 different women.
One must admit that it is because of the ‘MeToo’ movement that so many women have come forward with their stories of harassment against such an influential man. The movement has provided immense impetus to women who have faced sexual violence to voice their accusations, to not be afraid and to never feel ashamed. It has provided many women with a lot of strength and assured them that no matter how rich or influential the accused men are, their stories of harassment will no longer remain dirty secrets, that their Time’s Up.
In the case of the Academy, if the women had not come forward, the husband Jean Claude Arnaut would have remained installed as a virtuous man in the public eye. His reputation now lies in ruins, the Academy has snapped all ties with him and his wife too has had to pay for his indiscretions by resigning from her position in the Academy.
The stronger MeToo has grown in the west, the more rabid general misogyny has become too.
In the Cannes Film Festival this year, for the very first time, a hotline was established to combat harassment. If anyone attempts any sort of indiscreet behaviour they will be immediately reported to the hotline. On the fliers of the festival this year they printed advice such as ‘Good behaviour is required’, ‘Don’t spoil the party, stop harassment’. This sort of an initiative by Cannes is commendable as well as essential.
A few days ago, the attorney general of New York Eric Schneiderman was forced to resign after four previous lovers alleged that he used to physically abuse them. Although Eric was a vocal crusader in the fight for gender equality, he is now being regarded as a liar and fraud by the people, the shame forcing him out of office.
In the West, when accusations of sexual harassment or abuse are raised even the most influential of men have to now go through shame and censure; they have to face public ridicule. In many cases they have to leave their high positions of authority.
And how are things in our subcontinent? Here, women continue to face torture and incredible sexual torment, rape or gang rape on a daily basis. Not just adults, even infants are no longer safe. Every day there is fresh news of abuse against a child, be it in Comilla or Kolkata.
Various accusations of harassment, including allegations of rape, have been raised against as many as 48 MLAs and 3 MPs across party lines but the political parties hardly care about such data. If things come to a head they can always blame things on the violated woman’s clothes or her character and support rape too, if need be. Most people in the country are used to victim-shaming rather than shaming the predators. Men don’t have to hang their heads in shame, women do.
I speak from personal experience. I used to be in love with and was married to poet Rudra Muhammad Shahidullah a long time ago. In the second volume of my autobiography Utal Haoa (Restless Wind) I have written about how he treated me, terrifying stories of his regular visits to brothels even after marriage and bringing back STDs to infect his wife with. After reading these accounts Bangladeshi society had felt no hatred for him; all their hatred had been directed at me. I had dared to speak about sex in public and that must make me a bad woman, a fallen woman. To them, the only good woman who silently tolerates the abuse and torture at the hands of her husband, and the woman who successfully hides all her husband’s misdeeds is the one with the strongest character. Nothing happened to his social standing. His popularity surged consistently.
This is unthinkable in a civilised nation. In the third volume of my autobiography Dwikhondito (Split) I have written about renowned author Syed Shamsul Haque’s frank admissions regarding his relationships with teenage girls. He had once taken me on a trip and forced me into sharing a room with him at night. The whole thing was terribly uncomfortable. Did Syed Haque have to apologise after these revelations? Did he have to bow his head in shame? Did his social standing suffer? Not at all. He continued to lie with his head held high, went to court and hit me with a hundred crore lawsuit and got my book banned by the high court. Syed Haque is no more but my book is still prohibited in Bangladesh. Those who were expected to be on the same side as freedom of speech and the independence of women, stood with Syed Haque, sang his praises and hurled abuses at me. I had dared to publicly reveal the misdeeds of the great man.
Sunil Gangopadhyay, an ex-president of Sahitya Akademi, had once groped me; I was stunned by his audacity. Even after revealing this on social media no one had accused Gangopadhyay of any crime, they directed all the abuse at me instead. They were convinced that a man had the right to sexually harass a woman. When Sunil had devoted himself to banning Dwikhandito, he repeatedly said that what happens between two people behind closed doors must not be discussed in public. So, I was pronounced guilty and the men who had committed the actual crimes were deemed not guilty simply by virtue of the fact that they were men.
What would Sunil have said about MeToo? Would he have also rebuked the western women who are revealing the abuse they have faced at the hands of men behind closed doors? No he wouldn’t have. He would have hailed them precisely because they are from the West, while had it been a woman from this region he would have done all in his power to drive her out, silence her, bring down devastation upon her.
This is the experience of the subcontinent’s women. A Ram Rahim or an Asaram Bapu is punished, not to give women their due rights, but because such punishments help one reap immense political profits.
Translated from the Bengali by Maharghya Chakraborty
Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator.