#MeToo: Union Minister MJ Akbar Needs to Speak Up?

From an orthodox colony where women were burnt on their husbands’ pyres and treated like slaves, India has come a long way; we are now a country where women empowerment is on the manifesto of every party, and it takes the public testimony of 6 women who were sexually harassed, only for their culprit to ignore their claims.

MJ Akbar, the Minister of State for External Affairs in Modi’s union, was called out on Twitter by journalist Priya Ramani this Monday, where she named him as the person she had written her article about in Vogue. Following the Harvey Weinstein thread last year, she had written the article recounting his unwanted advances at a hotel in Mumbai, when she was 23, and he was 43– almost twice her age. Soon, several women added to her thread, writing about their experiences with one of the most preeminent and perverse editor of our times.

Though news agencies and social media seem agog about the consequences of this development, they have only met with radio silence from Nigeria so far, where Akbar and the team of MEA are attending the India- West Africa Regional Conclave– something keeping them so occupied that Sushma Swaraj hurried past a camera when questioned about this issue, to rush to whatever media-free place that needed her imperatively.

Akbar’s was only one of the several eminent profiles, including Alok Nath and Nana Patekar, to be called out over sexual misconduct allegations last week, in India’s own #MeToo movement.

That these women have finally spoken up, is a testament to the progress that our society has made. But the fact that it took them so long to gather the courage to publicly acknowledge that they had been harassed by a public figure, and that this has been met with sympathy and not action by the respective authorities, is a kick in the face of this movement.

The refusal and reluctance of the BJP government to even comment on the situation is indeed an act of offensive cowardice, but also raises many disconcerting questions: does inaction by BJP imply that only people whose culprits are nameless and socially disposable will get justice? Does the party feel that power and presence are grounds for impunity in all circumstances? Is the issue so trivial for the party that it feels that probing into the matter is not necessary, since it won’t change the current status of Akbar in any way?

Perhaps Ms. Ramani already knew the answers to these questions when she wrote, “All these years later the world has changed but your species is just the same….Sometimes you are inconvenienced when the stories get out and you are asked to take a time out. Often, you are quickly reinstated. Why would you need to evolve, right?”

It is disappointing to see that we live in a country where even women who are fighting for justice are doing it while keeping in mind the possible futility of their actions, while the ‘species’ described in Ms. Ramani’s work nestle under the safety of the government and people in power.

We elect our representatives with the assumption that as they take up the responsibility of being extensions of the common people, they will use the power we have anointed unto them to meet our dreams and aspirations, and eliminate the problems and disappointments we face. More importantly, we elect them with the hope that they will be the voice of the people if nothing else, and will not ignore issues that put them in a difficult position.

Skirting this issue is like skirting the accountability that BJP– especially Narendra Modi– has towards the people.

#MeToo is not a way for women to garner sympathy, or simply vent about the injustice suffered by them. It’s a movement to spread solidarity amongst the victims of sexual harassment and assault, to show their molesters and harassers that no matter how influential they are, they can’t get away with their whims without facing the consequences; it is a direct call for action, and it is time that the BJP government treats it so.

For too long, women on the streets, in homes, in positions of power, on red carpets, on news sets, behind books and newspapers, have kept quiet either because they felt alone, they didn’t know what else to expect, or they could perceive the temporary results that their permanent struggles would have. But no more. It is time that men realise that when a woman says no, it is an not an encouragement to make her, or other women say yes. It is time that power and position stop meaning the ability to behave indecently without fear of punishment.

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