A single black sheep or two can’t possibly undermine the authenticity of the movement
The ongoing and much-heated phenomenon of the hashtag #Metoo has caused in the nation something of an ever-soaring whirlwind, which has extended even into Kashmir, what with the Kashmir Women’s Collective releasing a list of abusers online, under the globally-spanning hashtag. This ongoing nonpareil movement begs the question: Is it safe or even viable for women to work alongside males, in a workspace where men are the dominant faction? Having put forth this question, the very first offensives erupt from within it: firstly, the fact that such questions need deliberation is shameful enough for a nation in the 21st century and secondly, is the #Metoo campaign a reliable enough source to convict sexual offenders?
While the said movement has heightened concerns about the silencing and suppressing effect that influential. and powerful sexual harassers wield, what with charges being directed towards the likes of Union Minister M.J. Akbar, veteran actors Nana Patekar and Alok Nath and even editors of prominent dailies like the Times of India and DNA, there still remains the issue of the validity of the movement and the claims therein. We must recognize the fact that ‘framing’ in a sexual assault crime-scene is something of a favourite amongst prominent Indians trying to put their opponents to perennial silence and for defamatory intents, and this makes the misuse of this movement to further one’s political agendas very easy. Yet, a single black sheep or two can’t possibly undermine the authenticity of a collective of brave women, so we acknowledge the courage they muster to make public such grave mischief within various industries.
Further, there still remains the pressing need to unearth why, in a country wherein under Section 376A of the IPC, rape (resulting in injuries leading to death of the victim) is punishable by death, the women have had to resort to an essentially informal platform (viz. social media) to voice their grievances. The collective exposé that the hashtag has laid down before us confirms the failure of the system to provide quick and efficient justice to the victim of sexual crimes and more so the success of the system in allowing impunity to powerful and ‘connected’ individuals at the cost of the dignity of the Indian woman. This really sets the narrative for the nation as a regressive aggregate of people without a sense of nationhood, each fending and vying for their own selves, even at times when their contribution could uphold a woman’s sense of honor. Although we ought to commend even the common woman coming out against the offences she has incurred at the hands of a common man sauntering around town scot-free, what is really deterring are the allegations against the influential. This is because they form the web of Indians whom the world recognizes, and does so not just as distinguished or honorary or veteran individuals, but as a panoptic representation of the Indian nation. Post the Nirbhaya tragedy, I believe the already drenched nation needs no more mud tossed over its epithet.
Nothing comes as clean as a confessional statement. Consider this utterance by a woman Kashmiri scientist – “Being a woman adds to the misery of working in Jammu and Kashmir. Nurturing the scientific temper among people is a beast of its own”, while another research scholar from SKUAST-Kashmir claims, ““There are times when even managing the workplace seems like a project in itself.” While our state does boast of a relatively healthier sex ration vis-à-vis the national average as well a strongly educated community of women, we fail to notice the trivialities that add up to a massive citadel of worries women have to combat at the workplace every day. The first is clearly one of being sidelined, for fear that women aren’t as capable as men, except when it comes to the job of a receptionist! This brings us to the next issue – disproportionate distribution of women in jobs. While fields like medicine are deemed “safer” for women and we see throngs of them joining the work force, professions like journalism show abysmal numbers of women workers. What we overlook is the fact that this stigmatization around certain professions and branding them “safe” or “unsafe” for women, allows something of a cultural license for men to disregard women employees sharing their workspace, and for society to mock them for their “annoyingly modern” career choices. Moreover, the constant utterances and sexist slurs that working women of Kashmir have to bear in the professional arena are countless, and each slur adds up and amounts to a heap that translates into agitation and discouragement for the woman employee. What’s more, the societal outlook ends up normalizing minor sexual offences against women at the hands of men at the workplace!
Lastly, as a proposed solution to diminish the vicious flames of sexual offences against women, especially at the workplace, there is an adage that is said too much, yet isn’t said enough: women need representation. Be it politics, investigative journalism, creative fields, engineering, corporate jobs and even jobs traditionally deemed “fit-for-men-and-unfit-for-women”, we simply need more women at the job. An overwhelming presence of women in all spheres of work is sure to normalize women employment, and they won’t end up being seen as foreigners in their domains of expertise. Further, what we need at this point is ultra and micro-sensitization of the male populace about the rights an employee ought to enjoy, male or female, and prime amongst them being the right to a dignified presence in the workspace. This also brings us to the fact that at this point of time, it is almost impossible for your average Kashmiri male to look at females as mere employees, neutral and free of any tag or branding. A working female is always “a lady at the office.” Unless we undertake the seemingly Herculean task of looking at employment as a neuter and asexual realm, we will not realize that it is, in quiddity, as hard as heaving a breath.