#MeToo movement: Beti Bachao takes a hit with M J Akbar case, government should have asked him to step down

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New Delhi | Published: October 16, 2018 1:01:05 AM

Given the nature of a #MeToo movement, where victims come out with their stories decades after the event, proving allegations to the satisfaction of a court of law was always going to be a tough call.

Union Minister MJ Akbar (Express photo)

Given the nature of a #MeToo movement, where victims come out with their stories decades after the event, proving allegations to the satisfaction of a court of law was always going to be a tough call. After all, at the time the sexual assault was alleged to have taken place, there were no Vishakha committees—as there are now—to probe the incident and gather all forms of evidence including SMS, e-mail trails, talking to colleagues, etc; and while there was always an HR department to go to, the power wielded by the alleged perpetrators was so enormous, getting justice was always going to be next to impossible. Nor were victims as savvy as they are today, after several sexual harassment awareness classes in office, so as to know that creating ‘contemporaneous’ evidence by talking about the matter to friends and colleagues as soon as it happened is important. While some did talk about the matter to other women colleagues, this was more to warn them about being careful themselves.

Despite this, when the movement began, enough men confessed for fear of more allegations coming up, or their organisations dropped them after the bad publicity. So, Harvey Weinstein was ousted from his own company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Ben Affleck apologised to Hilarie Burton, Roy Price resigned from Amazon, Kevin Spacey was fired from Netflix’s House of Cards, etc. In India, AIB sacked its CEO and co-founder Tanmay Bhat who knew about the harassment and still failed to act, allegations of harassment by director Vikas Bahl forced the dissolution of the production house Phantom Films and Bahl’s former partners, Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, issued statements of regret on the matter—Kashyap was alleged to have been informed by Bahl’s victim and failed to act on the complaint.

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court, despite similar allegations against him, tested the limits of #MeToo—the charges against him, it is true, went beyond those of sexual harassment—since, once President Trump backed him, the charges didn’t matter. In the case of India’s junior external affairs minister MJ Akbar, similarly, with the government backing him, Akbar didn’t resign in the face of several of his former colleagues naming him and, instead, took the legal route, saying, “accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections”, and he spoke of how, since two of those who outed him continued to work with him after the alleged incidents, “this clearly establishes that they had no apprehension and discomfort”—one of the women has since written a rebuttal to Akbar’s refutation of her charges and said that she quit after the incident.

It is early days and it is not clear what will emerge from the defamation case Akbar has filed against one of the complainants since, with both the courts and the police so stretched, there will be those asking whether so much time and money needs to be devoted to a few well-heeled urban women when their rural counterparts suffer so much more every day; indeed, some articles along these lines have already been published. While Akbar is entitled to his legal defence, the government’s response is unfortunate. For a government that claims to be sensitive to the plight of women, it must know getting absolute proof is difficult; but surely when so many women are saying the same thing, it must think there is something to the allegations? And does the party really believe, as Akbar alleges, that the stories could be politically motivated coming, as they do, “a few months before a general election”—as it happens, the charges against Akbar followed the #MeToo allegations started by actor Tanushree Dutta against actor Nana Pakekar, and several other non-politicians were named after this. The party’s image has taken a big beating.

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