Friday, December 8

‘Wrestling’ With Me Too: Wake Up Call for Change


India is at war with its wrestlers. That too Olympic medalists. For over 13 days wrestlers’ Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia and others have dug their heels camping and protesting at Jantar Mantar Delhi in a fight beyond anything they have faced on the mat which has singed Wrestling Federation Chief BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh in the biggest #MeToo inferno of sports demanding his resignation and arrest.

But it has not been a knock-out blow resulting in Supreme Court’s intervention to get police to register an FIR for sexual harassment against them including a minor.  Also the grapplers can now approach the high court. The wrestlers’ have formed two committees to decide further action. They have got a leg-up with fellow Olympians Mary Kom, Abhinav Bindra, Neeraj Chopra, cricketer Kapil Dev and Indian Olympic Association Chief PT Usha amongst others supporting them.

Even as Singh brazens it out refusing to resign as he is innocent asserting by doing so he would be dubbed “criminal,” the Government is soft pedaling the issue assuring grapplers of “unbiased police investigation,” though it has still not made public findings of the Kom oversight committee report to look into the wrestlers complaint in January when they first protested.

Top Opposition leaders including TMC’s Mamata and AAP’s Kejriwal have come out in wrestlers support as have various Haryana Khap leaders and UP farmers organizations. The BJP alleges the protest is politically motivated by Congress’s Hooda as the wrestlers are close to him.

Pertinently, Prime Minister Modi has maintained a calculated silence even as his Party bandies around Singh, a six-term MP who has a following among Rajputs and any action against him would affect Party prospects in four/five Lok Sabha seats and urban local body election. So what if he is not a saint having around 40 cases against him. The UP Bahubali has admitted to committing a murder and gone to jail.

Clearly, it is sheer chutzpah as the Party prefers to brazen it out ignoring public outcry while the Government drags its feet as its intent is to find a political solution for a sexual harassment case where the law is explicit: a woman’s word is sufficient to arrest an accused. By forming a committee it sought to buy time instead of trying to get to the bottom of the matter, cleanse the system and put things in order so that no women athlete face the ignominy in future.

There are hundreds of instances of courage where women have come out to accost their predators. Political masters and blatant misogynist have ensured that political, corporate, sports film worlds thrive on dirty games to flaunt their masculinity.

Look at former Haryana Sports Minister and ex-hockey captain Sandeep Singh had to resign after the police registered a  sexual abuse case by a junior coach.. Filmmaker Sajid Khan charged with sexual abuse by 10 women scripted a comeback by brazening it out.

Recall, journalist-turned-junior Union Foreign Minister Akbar was forced to resign, Congress NSUI President, actors Nana Patekar, film director Vivek Bahl, music composer Anu Malik, author Chetan Bhagat, adman Suhel Seth, male journalists, stand-up comic was accused of sending explicit images, one more of sexual harassment and assault etc.

It all started with a small-time actress Tanushree Dutta recounting her story of being sexually assaulted by Patekar in 2008 on a film set. When she objected the actor’s goons misbehaved   making her quit the film, industry and country. Not a few women complain that they are viewed as sex objects and mince-meat for male lust camouflaged as human animals to either comply or reconcile to battling it out at every level. To rise professionally they need a ‘godfather’ who can make or break them.

A profession where sexual abuse is rampant is the film industry. Actresses complain of “couch” tactics where it is extremely difficult to land a film. Not only are actresses asked to show lot of skin but visit the director, producer, actor after shooting. In the advertising world colleagues’ comment that women should wear things that make them look luscious, some pinch while greeting you or deliberately ‘feel you.’

Several women who face sexual abuse at work stay quite in order to avoid further harassment and unwanted attention. Or are hesitant to speak out fearing they will be dubbed ‘loose charactered’ at best or ostracized at worst. Either which way the damage is done.  Getting married and raising kids is the core of female existence. Sic.

Raising a moot point: Why are women viewed as sex objects? A plaything of males to satisfy their libido and massage their egos?

Perhaps it has something to do with our patriarchal lineage and misogynistic culture. Whereby, we show utter disregard and disrespect for women…. rape, marital rapes, sexual assault and systemic harassment et al.

Recently, Karnataka’s Home Minister blamed “western culture these things do happen”. Really? Added another, “The more skin women show it’s like if there’s gasoline, there will be fire. If there’s spilt sugar, ants will gravitate towards it.” Cooed another, “Girls shouldn’t wear jeans and exposing clothes, it is against desi sabhyata…. They have no business to be driving around at 2 am in the morning.” Disgusting, to say the least.

Clearly, in a society which lives with the regressive mindset that freedom and equality for women tantamount to promiscuity, we swing between two extremes. One where a girl child is bad news and nurtured on “conform” paranoia: Not to rock the boat, be fearful of what lies around the corner and subjecting them to countless restrictions in the name of women’s protection. Whereby fathers make the rules, husbands enforce them and male bosses reiterate them, speaking out against someone’s wrong doing is tough.

Notwithstanding the #Me Too campaign, in a culture where the national narrative conditions people to think that sexual harassment has no consequences; where sex crimes are dismissed as result of an imbalanced sex ratio; and where women have little or no cultural respect, it is going to be a steep uphill to change what is just par for the course.

Where does one go from here? All eyes are on what happens in this case. Undeniable it is a wake-up call for change. Change our approach to sexual harassment. One option is radical feminism to make a social impact and safety of women an important article of faith with people, society and Government.

Our leaders need to pay heed and address this seriously. Underscoring the urgent need to create a safe space for athletes, especially women. Laws should be tightened which would deter men to think thousand times before they commit crime, along-with transparency, accountability, and good governance. Only then can India truly become a sporting powerhouse and fulfil the aspirations of its talented athletes.

However either which way, women have identified their predators and they will determine what happens next. True, lies have no legs but truth is the best defense. We need cry a halt to women being playthings of voyeuristic men. Will we break new ground and unshackle women?  A time to introspect and say TIMES UP. Enough of sexual harassment! —- INFA

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