The anatomy of #MeToo movement and Indian politics

Delhi, India Oct 15, 2018, 05.39 PM(IST) Written By: Kartikeya Sharma

The MeToo campaign went viral in October 2017 and started as a hashtag on Twitter. Photograph:( Others )

Story highlights

The modern law is about justice and not revenge. Most importantly, the modern law on crime does not end with punishment. It ends with reform and rehabilitation.

For good or for bad, the #MeToo movement is here to stay in India. The movement is being celebrated by many as a way to name and shame powerful men who in past got away with impunity because of the might they hold in the public sphere.

Obviously, it is less about the legal recourse and more about naming and shaming the famous so that they stay away from the position of power. The movement has been able to check upon powerful men but has raised many moral and ethical questions. The movement has shown the fragility of gender politics in India. It has also proved that social conservatism in the Indian society has become a strong political constituency and any social reform, whether it flows from social media or courts, will have to face the wall of strong conservative networking.

Foremost, #MeToo has exposed powerful men who have exploited women. The end result is naming and shaming of an individual. It makes an individual a social outcast whereby he loses his position of power, reemployment and reintegration in the society. The modern law is about justice and not revenge. Most importantly, the modern law on crime does not end with punishment. It ends with reform and rehabilitation. It also includes men who have committed heinous crimes like rape and murder. So, it is absolutely right to call out men who have crushed spirits of young women, but it is also worthwhile to reflect as to where the naming and shaming must end. Is the perpetrator an outcast in perpetuity or will he get an avenue to mainstream in the society once his naming and shaming in public is over? This is the first issue which the movement will need to address in long run.

It will also have to differentiate between those making charges under real identities with those who have posted emails anonymously on social media. The movement will also have to differentiate between score-settling, indiscretion, harassment, proposition and sexual harassment in the workplace and non-work areas. This is not to belittle the importance of the #MeToo. The movement needs to ensure that it does not get hijacked by personal agendas.

The #MeToo movement also shows that gender as an axis of politics continues to remain weak in India. It gets divided on the issue of caste, liberal politics, urban-rural and class divide. The inability of any government of the day to pass quotas for women in Parliament is a representation of failure of gender as a political identity. Even today, gender politics remain limited to softer issues. The sexual violence in rural India is a weapon used by upper and dominant castes to express power. The domestic servants face sexual harassment because they are underprivileged and have no access to quick justice. Most of the women who have dared to make allegations without hiding their identity are those who have been able to break into male bastions in work areas. 

It remains the tip of an iceberg. Millions of women in rural and many other sectors continue to face the sexual violence of worst kind and that focus must not be lost by gender movement.

Today it also runs the risk of being drowned under the narrative of salacious gossip about people around us instead of addressing the issue of misogyny and male gaze which sees women as a sexual object and refuses to accept competent women as boss.

The unfortunate part is that in India, it is also being reduced to a fight between the liberal section of the society and government of the present day. So, even if the charges are true they lose moral underpinning because those making the charge are considered to be part of a world which is known as the Liberal Order. It not only undercuts the importance of gender as a perspective but also undermines it in front of older identities like caste, community and class.

Lastly, it brings us to the question of what #MeToo has exposed apart from men who have been crossed boundaries frequently. It shows that social conservatives have moved to the centre of Indian politics whereas liberal tradition has become confined to some academic institutions and the judiciary. The liberal idea is rooted in the expression of freedom of an individual which stands above the predatory Right of Community and the state. It celebrates the power of an individual thought, liberty and its expression.

Today, It is getting subsumed under the narrative of victimisation of the majority community by liberals who are disconnected from the daily rhythm of Indian life. The response against it has also become electoral too. But that’s only one part of it. It is not without reason that adultery, Section 377, Aadhaar, Jallikattu and Sabarimala came under attack from the far right. Jallikatu was overruled by the legislative branch of the state and Sabrimala verdict is being challenged by the conservative constituency fueled by both BJP and Congress in the name of victimisation of Hindu custom and traditions.  Section 377 and adultery were met with a mute response from the central government.

The mask of liberalness has been dropped by the far Right. Till Vajpayee, the right noises were made by the BJP. Today, social conservatism is a pampered political constituency which #MeToo will discover quickly. It was unpampered, but politically accommodated constituency within the Congress from its inception days. 

Today social conservatism has received political legitimacy through electoral performance and for this reason, #MeToo, which is an expression of a liberal tradition will meet its toughest challenge as it would prioritise community, state, honour and tradition over individual voice. It has become a self-sufficient political constituency.

The irony is that this gender battle has exposed the weakness of the liberal politics in India.

The liberal constituency at the time of birth of the nation was supported by millions of Indians whereas far Right was opposed to massive social reforms. The liberal tradition even accommodated social conservatives in the Congress. Today, the far right has merged into social conservatives. The social conservatives have left Congress behind. Liberals have become elites disconnected from the society and social conservatives have become the moral beacon of traditional social order.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Kartikeya Sharma

Kartikeya Sharma is Political Editor at WION. When he is not working, you will find him travelling, reading or cooking.