It hasn’t been long since the nation witnessed the infamous ‘boislockerroom’ episode, where in a few images that went viral, a bunch of teenage boys were seen to be sharing certain obscene images of mutually known women and inflicting sexually colored remarks upon them on a certain social media group. Women were objectified, body-shammed, abused and what not. Simultaneously in another group, a boy allegedly suggested that a girl, known to the group members, be ‘raped’ by them- an idea that gave words to the true, actual intentions backing the abovementioned actions of sharing obscene remarks and images. The news obviously rocked the nation, and received widespread media coverage. Multiple women-based groups came forward and raised their voice and concern against the patriarchal Indian society. Various social-media forums were flooded with ideologies suggesting how the violent ‘male’ mentality should be dodged or tackled by the female community; after sufficiently condemning such mentality, obviously. Shortly thereafter, the social media pages representing various public and private establishments, offices, organizations, educational institutions etc. witnessed what may be referred to as a ‘newfound trend’, where the womenfolk started to recall and narrate episodes from their past where they might have been cornered by a devious, beastly and sexually-unfulfilled boy/man/group of boys/men, and how their heroic act of self-rescue saved them from being tortured by the beast. If you’re a student and if you’re reading this, there’s a very fair chance that your college witnessed something similar. Such episodes comprised of a variety of situations- having been inappropriately touched by a fellow batchmate, being asked to turn up all alone in his chamber by the Chemistry teacher, being looked at in an ‘apparently inappropriate’ manner by the boss in office, safely making it till home at 1 AM in an Uber driven by an unusually and uncomfortably silent, eerie-looking male driver with an uncanny appearance. The widely known and followed ‘Me too’ revolution made a very dramatic comeback. Invariably all these episodes and stories, presumably one hundred percent true of course, received widespread applaud and acclaim across all platforms. What followed was more shame and abuse to the patriarchal trends in the society, for they were (obviously) rightly deserved. Amidst all this, like a ray of hope, went viral certain images of a notice issued by a public officer of well-repute, thereby charging the members of the ‘boislockerroom’ group with accusations of primarily sexual harassment, amongst other things. More cheer to the ‘newfound trend’; to the heroism of the courageous folk. Justice had been done, for the beasts were being punished! What went viral with these images was the spread of the ‘newfound trend’, which could mark the start of a nation-wide revolution against the beastly patriarchal mindsets which have objectified women for long now. This (obviously) needed to stop..
..and then, one day, surfaced a news that the boy suggesting the idea of ‘raping’ a girl in the above-referred social-media group- the contemptible act that ignited a long-needed fire, the unforgivable thought that offended the gods to the highest possible degrees, the heinous crime that deserved to be punished in the harshest possible way- was actually a ‘girl’ pretending to be a boy; more so, the very same girl who’s name was suggested as the victim of the rape attempted to be planned.
What now? Silence! There was an unnerving quiet that surrounded the entire state. A very swiftly progressing and necessary revolution that was building rapidly suddenly came to a bizarre standstill, for the tables were now turned. However, much to the displeasure of logic, although not very unexpectedly, there was much lesser condemning and critique of the girl that chose to pull the deceitful masquerade offending not one but multiple provisions under the IPC alone. Nevertheless, there was a fair share of radical feminists who came forward with their commendable reasons about how a single deceitful act pulled by a girl did not constitute perhaps any wrong at all in the face of years of tyranny the men have subjected the womenfolk to, and hence, despite the big revelation, it was men only who were to be blamed. Point being, what happened uncovered an equally gigantic problem, if not bigger.
What now? Is it fact that women, as a rule of the thumb, can never be wrong, despite there being ample evidence backing the same? Should every conclusion be derived out of this inalterable premise alone? OR, Is it that the Indian society, despite its best efforts over the years to sufficiently acquaint itself with gender-neutrality, can only opt for a matriarchal arrangement as the sole alternative to the long-plaguing patriarchal pattern?
Who, or rather what is to blame?
Perhaps there is an unintended bias!
Perhaps the origin of this situation ought to be traced!
Perhaps this whole situation can be changed for the better by examining certain elements surrounding it and looking for loopholes that might push the society towards a somewhat more ideal, gender-neutral pattern!
Perhaps the sexual harassment laws, despite having undergone major resurfacing and modifications in recent times, are still not stringent enough so as to ensure the putting in place of an environment that is not bent towards either of the genders and is gender-neutral in true sense.
No doubt, the ever-increasing incidents of rape and harassment emerging from factors such as lack of awareness, sexual education, etc. more or less mandated deployment of provisions that are harsh, for in a country as densely populated as India, deterring the wrongdoers is perhaps the only way to reduce the incidents that were recently spreading like a wildfire. However, along with the stringency, the provisions also came with a downside that left scope for their potential ‘misuse’. While the law as on date provides ample mechanisms for women who come across incidents of abuse to raise their voice and bring forth the untoward incidents of harassment, there is no objective way of verifying the authenticity of an allegation a woman might level against a male harasser. Resultantly, the entire framework surrounding the protection of women against sexual abuse and harassment is based upon the presumption that any Complaint that any female would formally or informally choose to prefer against a male harasser is genuine and not frivolous in cent percent of the cases. Despite being expectant that most of such cases brought to the notice of the authorities are authentic and genuine, the possibility cannot be ruled out that should a woman decide to be subject a known male member to personal vendetta for any reason whatsoever, she has an option to allege sexual harassment against the male member, without any truth to such an allegation. In such cases, the community would hold the male guilty even before the allegation comes to be examined by the concerned authorities. As a result, the far-reaching repercussions would lead to the male being reproached by more or less the entire society surrounding him. What comes to suffer is not only his personal and social life but also his professional and career-related aspirations, for now, he is widely perceived merely as an inhuman creature who looks at women as flesh and bone, thereby permanently ousting himself from the purview of being considered a civilized member of the society. Generally, in such cases, the alleged harasser is rendered jobless and alone, while the society awaits his punishment. However, in an unlikely event of the Complaint being found frivolous, the male may later be pitied and in rarer cases comforted by the same society that earlier discarded him as trash. Nevertheless, by now the male has already lost his livelihood, his society- family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances of any sort. To bounce back from such a situation is utopian, to say the least. In such circumstances, the only option available to the male is to sail through the rest of his days with a pseudo-suicidal mindset, for what scarred him earlier can never be undone. Unfortunate!
We all are aware of a case when around a decade ago, an upcoming and a promising Bollywood actor with a knack for the profession; widely praised for multiple on-screen performances until then, came to be accused of having ‘raped’ her by his maid. What followed was absolute outrage and criticism, violent enough to put an immediate end to his entire career, even before the allegation came to be examined. By the end of the week following the allegation, one thing was certain- the alleged rapist/actor was more or less jobless, at least. Months later, the maid withdrew her allegation and confessed that it was frivolous.
However, the damage endured by the actor was far too much to correct, by now. An on-screen ‘Hero’ widely applauded for dozens of performances preceding the incident, was barely seen in dormant roles in a movie or two, if at all, during the decade following the incident. While none of us knows what actually happened, the repercussions are nevertheless noteworthy.
Similar allegations have been made against various actors, judges, bureaucrats, politicians, etc. which have later been determined to have been inauthentic. While there is no way to objectively examine what lies underneath each of the allegations, it is certain that inauthentic allegations are simply unwanted.
So, what may be done to at least try and reduce, if not eliminate such instances?
Agreed, with the increasing number of establishments and organizations as warranted by globalization, the framework surrounding the sexual-harassment laws also needs to expand so as to cope with the increase in the scope of possible harassment and abuse. Therefore, to pull down any of the provisions currently contained in the framework of laws will be an invitation to more unwanted instances. So, how may the ‘misuse’ of such provisions be reduced?…
..By deterring inauthentic accusations, maybe?’
While no provisions may be pulled down or altered thereby relaxing the punishments against the acts of sexual harassment for discouraging the unnecessary suffering of innocent men who fell prey to false accusations, there can certainly be an introduction of certain parallel/new provisions aimed at minimizing the instances of false complaints, through the means of punishing the ones who prefer such Complaints. For this, there should be a set of rules/provisions in place that makes way for a sufficiently punishing anyone who is later found to have originally made a false allegation of sexual harassment against any other individual. Simultaneously, perhaps a little more value through the means of alteration in existing laws may be given to evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, in cases of sexual harassment, for the same will certainly increase the chance of an objective examination of the incident.
For instance, a provision may be put in place thereby subjecting any Complaint or allegation pertaining to sexual harassment that is found to be frivolous to severe punishment- perhaps imprisonment- thereby discouraging such instances, for it would at least render an inauthentic accuser somewhat fearful to start with, to say the least. Similar provisions might as well be introduced with codes pertaining to Domestic Violence, Marriages and Divorces, etc.
Once the same happens, the society is most likely to undergo a tremendous change, for any incident pertaining to sexual harassment that is formally brought to the notice of authorities will lead to the punishing of the actual wrongdoer, no matter on which side of the thread- in case there has actually been harassment, the harasser will be punished, and in case there hasn’t and the allegation was false and untrue, the accuser. Not only would this warrant an equitable distribution of the requisite punishments, but it would also significantly reduce the endless instances wherein the allegation is merely for namesake and is aimed at reproaching the accused, regardless of the truth.