From Hollywood to Bollywood- The rise of the #metoo movement in India

The #metoo movement certainly did not remain a regional phenomenon. It prompted millions of women across the globe to speak out about their experience with sexual assault. Especially in the corporate and public world, it has caused major upheavals, leading to numerous replacements. However, there is one particular country where the movement has only just taken off and caused major controversies for its civilians. India’s #metoo movement has just begun and it is unclear where it is leading to.

#metoo’s transition to India and its major upswings

Having its roots in MySpace, Tarana Burke initiated the use of ‘me too’ to engage users to speak out and tell their story about sexual assault on social media already in 2008. In October 2017 the term gained new prominence after several women alleged Hollywood icon Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Quickly afterwards, more and more women shared their own stories about sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere. One of them was actress Alyssa Milano, who encouraged Twitter users to speak up about their experience regarding personal harassment and abuse [2].

According to Twitter, on October 2017 there were already 1.7 million tweets that included the hashtag #metoo, being used in 85 countries. In the same time, other social media pages were not kept away from the surge. Facebook stated more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions about “me too” within 24 hours by almost 4.7 million users [2]. Most of the victims were being harassed by people – mostly men- in positions of power. Today #metoo has evolved as a movement of accountability on violence against women and sexism [3].

One year after its global rise, #metoo has reached its peak in India and caused major upswings of female activism in the country. It even got its own hashtag, namely #metooindia. It was started by the tweets of Bollywood actresses Tanushree Dutta and Mahima Kukreja. “It snowballed into now what is now essentially the #MeToo movement in India. It became larger than one particular story, or one particular woman … it became about how men in power are just getting away with it.”, Kukreja told the the news agency Vox. She was one of the women that accused male Indian actors as being sexist and hypocrite about feminism beliefs [4]. #metoo has revealed scandals in India’s two major industries: the news and entertainment sector and is spilling over into politics. Indian journalist Priya Ramani has publicly accused M.J. Akbar, the former minister of state for external affairs, of sexual harassment and has caused a storm of subsequent allegations by other women against him. As a result, Akbar was willing to resign from his position in October 2018 [4].

This time people are listening, but the voice of the unprivileged remains unheard

The female-led activist movement provides a platform on social media for victims of sexual assault to speak out in India. However, most of the frustration has been seethed already a couple of years ago [4]. In 2012, the sexual abuse of a 23-year-old woman on a bus drive in New Delhi caused mass protests against gender inequalities and activism about violence against women. The established advocacy networks and mindset of that time nourished #metooindia to have an impact on a much wider scope than expected.

Actresses who had already spoken out, but had been threatened and forced into silence, had the chance to do again. Usha Jadhav, an India actress, came forward to publicly talk about her experiences of sexual harassment in Bollywood. She claims that directors and producers often abuse the situation of inexperienced girls that feel that they have no other choice than to say yes in hopeless situations [6]. According to Jadhav, part of the problem that sexual abuse remains unchecked in Bollywood is its lack of an entry system. Success is often related to personal contacts, social conduct and appearance and depends less on acting schools and the stage like it does usually in Hollywood. “The way the women and the men (..) came together and decided that as a team that we are not going to let this happen… I wish that could happen here”, she told BBC News [6].

Although M. J. Akbar’s case was probably the most prominent that has been incited by #metoo, the movement did not stop there.  Supporters cheer that the silence is finally broken. However, certain factors limit the reach of #metoo in the region. India’s diverse cultures and numerous languages pose a major challenge for women to build up a uniform movement [4]. So far #metoo still belongs to the elite groups of urban areas. One of the biggest obstacles for #metoo to gain momentum in India is certainly its mere online dominance that is currently centered on Twitter. The unequal access to technology in India makes it harder for especially rural and low-income women to become part of the #metoo network. Without being backed up by other women, it is harder and even dangerous for women to come out.

The future impact of #metoo in India is uncertain

Despite the increasing support for outspokenness regarding sexual abuse of Indian women, #metoo seemed to have caused more controversy in India than elsewhere. According to the New York Times, #metoo’s impact has been comparatively moderate in India. In the US, the movement has incited deeply rooted social divisions. The tensions spiked in the Supreme Court nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh who was accused by Dr. Blasey of sexual assault during college [1]. Indian women are still struggling with the stigma of speaking out loudly about sexual abuse. Blaming women for being responsible for causing sexual violence makes it harder to law enforcement and legal systems as a viable option to stop misconduct [4].

What is more, the strict defamation laws, which lack a gender perspective and thus imply huge criminal penalties in case of intentionally damaging a person’s reputation, hinder women to speak out freely. Nonetheless, after  M. J. Akbar’s resignation, government officials and companies are considering examining their sexual harassment laws (5). The Indian National Commission for Women has set up an email address for people to submit formal complaints about any kind of harassment. Activists claim that it has to start somewhere in order to become stronger and gain more power and it seems that they seem have proven right.

References:

[1] Goel, V., Venkataraman, A., Schultz, K. (2018, October 9). After a Long Wait, India’s #MeToo Movement Suddenly Takes Off. New York Times, Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/09/world/asia/india-sexual-harassment-me-too-bollywood.html

[2] Park, A. (2017, October 24). #MeToo reaches 85 countries with 1.7M tweets. CBS News, Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/metoo-reaches-85-countries-with-1-7-million-tweets/

[3] Animashaun, C. (2018, October 11). The #MeToo movement and its evolution, explained. Vox, Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/10/9/17933746/me-too-movement-metoo-brett-kavanaugh-weinstein

[4] Kirby, J. (2018, October 24). The rise of #metoo in India. Vox, Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2018/10/24/17989650/me-too-india-akbar

[5] Kumar, M. (2018, October 18) India looks to tighten sexual harassment laws: government officials. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-harassment-law/india-looks-to-tighten-sexual-harassment-laws-government-officials-idUSKCN1MS1PJ?il=0

[6] Sobti, S. (2018, April 28) #MeToo: Why sexual harassment is a reality in Bollywood. BBC News, Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-43881129

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s