Horrific stories of people in powerful positions sexually abusing their subordinates, interviewees making sexual innuendoes to unsuspecting reporters, and allies of these predators hushing the victims have recently brought in a new wave of revolution on social media.
There are new #MeToo stories on the internet, every day, and their magnitude has left India collectively stunned.
Survivors are enraged, they are bold and are now demanding justice for all that they had to go through. Several men have stepped down from their esteemed positions as directors, editors and CEOs while some others have been sacked. Even then, many women who shared (or chose not to share) their experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful people are seeking real-life justice, beyond the powers of the internet.
Rituparna Chatterjee, an independent journalist who is at the forefront of India’s #MeToo movement, is working tirelessly to spread it offline.
Speaking to The Better India, she said, “One should understand that no woman does this simply for attention. It takes a lot for her to come out with such experiences that have caused her tremendous trauma. But they have done it and now the question is, ‘Now what?’ The whole point of this is, are we prepared?”
She also adds that many survivors who have named powerful people don’t have a strong support system in place, and have risked their personal security and safety to name such predators who could have molested many other women.
But a strong movement directly holding powerful people accountable for horrific crimes such as molestation and rape won’t happen without a struggle. Defamation cases are just one aspect of these obstacles, but far-sighted people like Rituparna are prepared for that too.
A couple of days after the #MeToo wave rose in India, lawyers like Rutuja Shinde and Veera Mahuli offered pro bono legal advice to anyone seeking it, on Twitter.
The lawyers have organised efforts so that no survivor goes without the help they request. You can read in detail about their efforts here.
Rituparna too joined in the efforts and gave a shout out to lawyers who would be willing to join the force.
“She has also started a twitter account (@IndiaMeToo) dedicated solely to the cause”
“The hope is that companies don’t use this movement to launch a retribution revenge exercise, but they speak for what it is. Women have had enough; they are furious and want their stories, that have been suppressed for years, out in the open. So let’s not victimise the already victimised. However, should this happen, we have already prepared a list of about 50 lawyers who have offered to help. In fact, we are overwhelmed by the sheer number of lawyers, from various High Courts across India, to even the Supreme Court, who have stepped up to offer pro bono help to the survivors in their area of expertise.”
It is incredibly inspiring to know that people from a variety of fields, all strangers, have reached out and are supporting each other. The #MeToo movement has united thousands of Indians like never before.
Defamation cases have been a tough challenge to conquer for those who dared to tell their tales. But the lawyers are already working extra hard to help survivors fighting these cases.
Speaking to TBI, Rutuja Shinde said
“We have already received about 35-40 cases. Defamation suits filed against survivors and temporary injunctions are the kinds that need urgent attention.
Sometimes there is a threat to the life or property of a survivor too, and such cases, obviously need very urgent attention. We have already taken 2-3 cases to court so far, and for the rest, we are working to understand what course of action to take.”
At times, the evidence is easy to provide, like when one has screenshots of unsolicited conversation or when there are reliable witnesses. But usually, as Rituparna says, incidents of sexual abuse happen in isolated areas and that’s when it gets really challenging for the survivor to provide evidence. But that’s precisely what the lawyers are here for—to guide survivors and help them through the ordeal.
Rituparna has posted a list of over 80 lawyers offering help. You can find the list here and reach out to the lawyers that best suit your requirement.
We’re making public a list of lawyers who have come forward to do pro bono work to assist women who’ve spoken up about their #MeToo experiences, if they should need it. Share widely so it reaches those not in the online space. The list will be updated. https://t.co/GTBPbV87BV
— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) October 11, 2018
While taking legal action is a necessity in many cases, it is equally important for the survivor to be mentally healthy and prepared. Therefore, efforts are also on to find psychologists or counsellors who will be willing to offer free help to the survivors. If you or anyone you know can offer such help, please send a message to Rituparna, on her Twitter account (embedded).
And although it started as an urban revolution, Rituparna shares that some of the messages she has received are from the remote corners of India.
Below is just one of the messages that she received from a rural area in Uttarakhand.
Of course, the movement has not looked into the harassment that thousands of women in the rural areas face on a daily basis, and perhaps, this is not the correct platform for women who are not tech-savvy. But Rituparna hopes to take the movement into the masses through the collective efforts of you and me. It could be anything—from speaking about the movement with your help to arranging for sessions in a village nearby. It is up to us, the followers of the #MeToo movement on the internet to take it beyond the scope of the digital world and into real life.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)