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December 18, 2018

#MeToo India: The Road Ahead

As the movement progresses, Verve takes stock of the many questions relating to gender, social power dynamics and sexual autonomy, and the debate around them. In this issue, we have put together a section dedicated to the significant and timely #MeToo India, with insightful perspectives from an inspiring group of contributors.

Illustration by Tara Anand

A lot has happened since September 25. Urban Indians have been engulfed by a tsunami whose waves began eroding the thick, stubborn muck of patriarchal hegemony that had become embedded in the foundations our society rests on. Tanushree Dutta’s brutally truthful television interview about actor Nana Patekar’s sexual misconduct, followed by Mahima Kukreja’s outing of comedian Utsav Chakraborty as a serial harasser a few weeks later, unleashed a turbo-charged outflowing of similar stories from other working women, and new reports are still trickling in. Twitter has been reconstructed into a citadel of solidarity where women can take refuge in each other’s DMs, and like many have done, finally challenge their perpetrators with incriminating screenshots or 280 sharp-toothed characters. The rot of toxic masculinity has been exposed, and the corroded spirits of countless survivors lie bare before a population of slack-jawed bystanders…now what?

This is a question that we at Verve asked ourselves. The protean nature of #MeTooIndia’s initial stages made it next to impossible to be up-to-the-minute with, let alone completely process, the daily-mutating contours of its evolution; every allegation, every apology, every think piece was an online Rorschach test — what did your reaction to it mean? What underlying truth about you did it reveal? Emotions bubbled and frothed on digital platforms, eventually settling down, but only until a new set of realities that were hard to confront swirled up to the surface. We, the hierarchically blessed urbanites, had to accept and begin to rectify the fact that entire communities of marginalised people were being left out of the discussion. In 2017, Raya Sarkar, a Dalit Bahujan Adivasi (DBA) woman, released a list of men in academia who had been called out as sexual predators (LoSHA). But her courageous act did not trigger the same impassioned calls for accountability and consequences that we have been witness to for the last two and a half months. Two Dalit writers, Mimi Mondal and Christina Thomas Dhanaraj, recently authored eye-opening articles about the systemic casteism that colours even a seemingly unified revolution; they transported the global issue of social justice and representation of minorities with respect to movements like #MeToo into an Indian context, and mapped out routes to fix the current deficiencies in inclusion. In the same light, it also became clear that experiences other than those of societally privileged cisgender women were not being adequately included in the narrative. Intersectionality should be the cornerstone of a movement such as this, especially in a country as complex as ours, but its labyrinthine byroads are not easy to navigate — even for those who are entrenched in the cause. Women like Sandhya Menon, whose moxie sustained her as one of the long-standing guardians of #MeTooIndia, showed grace and strength in checking her own privilege within the framework of feminism whenever any online commenters questioned it, in an example to the rest of us.

The most powerful impact has been to watch women who belong to a culture where they are largely conditioned to sublimate pain and trauma into anything other than active resistance, do exactly the opposite. As we continue to acquire the language to speak about this iteration of feminism, the next wave needs to rise up even stronger, but carried by the understanding that simply being a woman isn’t enough to claim a stake in this movement. Empathy for institutional injustices, which impact those lower down on the societal totem pole and care to activate the necessary remedial steps, should generate a united and unshakeable force to be reckoned with.

In this section, we have curated a thought-provoking collection of articles that examine a few important aspects of this ongoing and multidimensional conversation, featuring:

Turning The Page With Feminist Publishing House Zubaan

Illustration by Opashona Ghosh

The leading independent publishing house, based in New Delhi, was set up in 2003 as India’s first feminist publishing house and continues to publish books on, for, by and about women in South Asia. They are also associated strongly with high-quality fiction by women, both in vernacular translations and in English. They specialise in non-fiction (memoirs, popular history and books on the women’s movement targeted at young adults and children).

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Exploring The Dynamics Of Power With Photographer Aishwarya Arumbakkam

Photography by Aishwarya Arumbakkam

The film-maker and photographer studied film and video communication at Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design, followed by a course in photography from Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka. Her methodology and process originates from the filmic documentary practice, which engages with ideas of performance and presentation involving real people. Nature, mythology, fiction and portraiture are her areas of interest.

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Validating The Experiences Of The LGBTIKHQA+ Community With Writer Shals Mahajan

Illustration by Opashona Ghosh

The Mumbai-based writer and queer feminist has been part of LABIA — a queer feminist LBT collective that has been up and running since the past two decades. They address issues of gender, sexuality, caste and communalism as trainer, teacher and activist. They have also authored childrens’ books such as Timmi in Tangles (2013), Timmi and Rizu (2017), A Big Day for the Little Wheels (2017) and have co-authored No Outlaws in the Gender Galaxy (2015).

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Taking The #MeToo Movement Offline With Lawyer Rutuja Shinde

Illustration by Opashona Ghosh

A practising lawyer at the Bombay High Court, she has offered free legal services to survivors of sexual abuse who have publicly named their perpetrators to participate in the #MeToo movement. Through her work she educates women and marginalised communities about the legal provisions against sexual harassment and the ways to tackle it.

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Illustrations by:
Tara Anand
Drawing inspiration from literature, history and geography, the illustrator creates narrative- and character-focused illustrations. Currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York, she also runs The Thursday People, a Mumbai-based zine collective. She spotlights the lack of representation of female warriors in Indian education and mainstream Indian history through her works.

Opashona Ghosh
The graduate from Central Saint Martins, London aims to playfully question ideas of femininity, queer identity and cultural acceptance through her ’90s-inspired, pop-art-style works. The Kolkata-based artist and illustrator has collaborated with electronic musicians, feminist magazines and fashion labels from London, Berlin and New York in the past.

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