The #MeToo movement has entered India with a bang. Thus far, the media and the entertainment industry seems to be its focus. (Not that other places are teeming with saints.) A section of these high-profile professions are engaged in turning the spotlight inwards. Several women who have accused well-placed persons in both these sectors have succeeded in naming and shaming their alleged harassers/targets, etc. Some accused have reacted with silence, others have denied the charges, pleading innocence and, in some cases, they have ascribed ulterior motives to the accusers.
That most of the impugned acts are claimed to have occurred decades ago raises valid questions of memory lapses, motives and their relevance to the present situation of the alleged victim and her tormentor. Television actor Alok Nath, for instance, is 62-years-old now, married with children. He has been accused by two women who worked with him of gross misbehavior. He has denied the charges. And, indeed, has slapped a defamation case against one woman who alleged molestation. Quite clearly, the courts will evaluate evidence, if any, to come to some conclusion.
In the absence of a credible evidence in support of the charge of sexual misconduct, the case will boil down to his word against her word. In all fairness, even the courts will think twice before endorsing the grave charge which can have serious professional and social consequences for the accused. In short, the court case will drag on indefinitely without providing relief to either party. At one level, the defamation charge could be a deterrent against more women coming forward to tar the reputation of the alleged sexual predator.
Even without Alok Nath dragging one of the women to court, the damage to his reputation has been done, given the general tendency to lend credence to such charges. Henceforth, his peers in the entertainment industry would think twice before hiring him, given the general unease viewers will feel seeing him on the screen. Probably this awareness that the people tend to believe the women accusers forced several males on the back foot. Of course, the possibility being wrongly accused cannot be ruled out, especially in a male-dominated industry where the denial of work to aspiring women has often attracted false charges of a casting couch syndrome coming into play.
It is noteworthy that the accusations of #MeToo campaign pre-date the implementation of the Visakha guidelines whereby most organisations are supposed to have a committee in place to examine charges of sexual misconduct. In the case of the junior minister of External Affairs, M J Akbar, there is another complication.
While Alok Nath and others in the entertainment world continue to be working there, the charges of misconduct against Akbar pertain to the time he was a well-known editor. Women journalists who have accused him were his junior colleagues. None of them came forward to protest his alleged misconduct when it is supposed to have happened. But now that he is no longer a journalist, they have deemed it fit to charge him with various acts of predation.
None among the nearly one dozen accusers has however said that Akbar actually forced himself on her to actually have sex. He made lewd remarks, often touching them inappropriately, or invited them for interviews to his hotel room. In short, it was all verbal, occasionally a mild physical touch or a tight clasp/hug. If these accusations are true, it was wrong on his part to do so. Nobody in his right mind with his moral compass in place can approve of such lecherous conduct one whit. No way.
Yet, how fair it is to seek his ministerial head on a platter for such a misdemeanour as an editor several years ago? Of course, grossly unfair. It is here when the campaign smacks of partisan politics. Why should Modi sack him? The charges do not pertain to Akbar the politician, certainly not Akbar the minister. Akbar, on his part, has initiated a defamation case against one of the first accusers. Let us await the outcome. But appealing to the prime minister to drop him is a bad call.
It can encourage the abuse of #MeToo for serving partisan ends of rival politicians. Utmost care needs to be taken to ensure that #MeToo should not be converted into a lynch mob, ruining political careers and settling personal scores. Both men and women in workplaces are already wiser by its ramifications. Let it not be exploited for wrecking personal pique and vengeance on hand-picked offenders, alleged or real.