#MeToo: Why time's up for the slimy office Lothario

We are no longer hiding our filth under the carpet.

 |  8-minute read |   16-10-2018
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The bus judders over potholes. With every lurch the man standing beside the little girl falls over her a little too violently. Depending on the depravity of the man, the part of his anatomy that touches our fictional seven year old varies. If she is lucky, this is her first experience. In the space of that bus ride she will have learnt an important life lesson, to hold her anger/nausea in and to shrink into herself.

This vow of silence is what defines the sisterhood. And when the silence is broken it is unbearable, far more unbearable than all the hands that have pawed us down the years.

badge_101518033753.jpgMy courage is my badge of honour. (Credit: Reuters photo)

By speaking out — Bhanwari Devi, Raya Sarkar, Tanushree Dutta, Vinta Nanda and that ever growing list of lustrous women in this #MeTooIndia moment have transgressed. And women are partnering men to close ranks against this as negatively as possible.

India’s latest internet sensation aka the faceless Geetanjali Arora puts it across as it is: “You do me favors, I do you favors. 30 years later lets (sic) call it “me too”…”

After all it’s in the corporate law books that women who succeed only do so by sleeping their way to the top. Merit, sterling capabilities and character somehow are all a man’s. Male bosses hand out the candy of promotions as easily as women the ticket to explore the Wonderla of her body. The highest priced platinum tickets offer full access pass. Everyone is happy.


If Arora had bothered to read even as little as three of the #MeTooIndia accounts, a pattern emerges: middle aged powerful boss, harried really young intern/newbie, days of grooming which are ambivalent and then the unmistakeable molestation, complaints to the HR and then when proven futile, the resignation.

Do you spot the favor?

Arora has furthermore decreed: “A strong woman does not wait 30, 20, 10 years to speak up, she slaps him at the first “bad touch” and knocks him out…” Hey, if you are a bot or an internet sensation you can decide the course of action and the timelines for humanity.

At this point I need to touch upon another viewpoint, Tavleen Singh (@tavleen_singh, journalist) in defence of her illustrious friend: “Not an activist. Not a socialite. Definitely a friend of Suhel Seth and have seen more than one woman go out with him willingly to dinner or for drinks and then later complain that he tried to hit on them.”

I will get back to the women-who-drink-alcohol grade of criminals later. First, I would love to meet the men Tavleen Singh has drinks and dinner with, because, you know… In a further tweet Singh asks, “But why did you go to Suhel’s house?”

Clearly, Chanel bags and being part of Lutyens’ Delhi cannot mask the radicalisation of patriarchy’s cronies and enablers.

The question that is the most difficult for me to pin down and address is this: Can false allegations be made? And the simple answer in a hermeneutical vacuum kind of way is, yes! In the context of all that we know about the Indian sport of misogyny, how Indian workplaces are structured and lastly the impunity with which sexual aberrations are tolerated even revered in offices, I believe every victim’s account to be unflinchingly true. And, I believe, if every Indian woman relates these to her own experiences, she has been there.

Remember that girl child in the bus? Soon she learns which boys in the school bus, cousins, grandparents, even eyes to avoid. There is always a list. There is always vigilance. Yet trust lets her down over and over. It helps to exchange notes. Women have kept each other safe via the whisper network.

Predators have no such compulsions. They strut. They flaunt their conquests. They even derive their dominance over others via mistreatment of women. If India today is wracked by a rape epidemic, it is the cultural belief that subjugation of a woman is a manly act. Facets of this play out in every form of popular culture.

So far this is a hypothesis. Let’s seek corroboration and not from the women alone.

To MJ Akbar’s assertion — “lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy” — journalist Ananth Krishnan retorts, “If lies had legs, he probably wouldn’t have spared them.”

MJ Akbar defends his decision not to resign from the post of junior External Affairs minister with the claim that the accusations are “false and fabricated”, to target him and weaken the forthcoming elections in 2019.

Supriya Nair’s tweet rebuts: “Akbar, who (as a BJP pol once told @HartoshSinghBal) wouldn’t get his own family to vote for him, has some nerve”.

In almost all cases, the official complaints of harassment the in-house HR has habitually diluted to a he-said she-said issue. By carefully crafting their case and corroborating it with evidence, these complaints are now headed to the law courts. And trust me on this, not a single name in this round of #MeTooIndia has been a surprise. They have been whisper network all-stars for decades now.

It is a resurgent India now. The law of the land has not only matured in the interim, by opening its doors to international corporates India is now present on the world stage with world class workplace laws. No longer can female subordinates be mistaken for sex slaves.

Hopefully, this answers sceptics who are going crazy asking “why now?” on social media.

Of all accounts, the one by writer Ira Trivedi for Outlook, outing Chetan Bhagat and Suhel Seth is the most problematic. She addresses the uncomfortable question of why she continued to socialise with these men. “The truth is that both these men were and remain powerful, important and influential, particularly in the world that I inhabit … I was fearful of burning that bridge, scared of saying something that would turn them against me, afraid that if I were to speak up, no one would care to listen.”

things_101518033944.jpgWomen are not things. This should answer sceptics who are asking 'why now?' on social media. (Credit: Reuters photo)

This plays right into the hands of doubters, into the narrative that women have always played along for mutual benefits. It could be a setback for other women speaking out; the tired spiel that silence was exchanged for rewards.

Then I begin to applaud Trivedi’s honesty and begin to see it for what it is. Our work lives are almost inextricably linked with hundreds of men and some of them are predators. It is not always easy to slam a door on a predator without repercussions. In every quaking junior crossing the threshold of a handsy boss’s office there is that vain hope that today they may meet the person and not the wolf. Again, we have all been there.

When the “please get wooed” screenshots of Chetan Bhagat’s messaging hit social media many felt he is a jackass and ill-advised, but this is not harassment. It is. If the lady (now ladies) in question met him in the course of her work and he made it about sending her way inappropriate messages and more, it makes for an unsafe work environment and is tantamount to sexual harassment in the workplace. Besides Chetan Bhagat is definitely a power figure and the balance of power in each of these equations makes his moves not merely murky but dangerously intimidating.

Yet, so attuned are we to male needs that we have collectively failed to see this from a woman’s vantage and have pored over all these messages simply to exonerate him. As a civilisation we have learnt to systematically devalue a woman’s voice and experience. And that is something all of us will have to unlearn.

believe_101518034542.jpgWhy we believe in ourselves. You better believe us. (Credit: AP Photo)

Hopefully, this momentum will gain strength in the days to come.

Hopefully, the courts will once again save our democracy.

Hopefully, the days of the slimy office Lothario are now history.

In the middle of writing this, I took a lunch break at a leafy Bangalore restaurant. At the next table a group of young professionals have settled in for a leisurely brunch armed with board games and all. As they tackle their starters, they also discuss the latest developments in this unfolding saga of workplace safety for women. And that if anything is what makes all of it special.

We are no longer hiding our filth under the carpet.

Also Read: To all who did not get their old self back, and to those who did


Nandita Bose Nandita Bose @nand_bo

Nandita Bose is a writer, poet and occasional reviewer who calls Bangalore home. She believes elections are essential for a healthy democracy as are critiques.

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