Kicked off by Harvey Weinstein’s public hanging by a string of Hollywood women for rape and sexual harassment, #MeToo stories on social media, worldwide, are still maintaining momentum, ever since Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano called on women to recount their own incidents. In response, men have also been urged to share their own #IDidThat and #HowIWillChange narratives.
I’ve not only reflected on my own experiences in London but have been stirred to look towards my motherland, India, where many victims don’t report their perpetrators for fear of retaliation and humiliation.
In January, The Asia Times had stated that The National Crime Records Bureau had reported an occurrence of one rape every 15 minutes. However, experts warn this figure is grossly underestimated and that over 90 percent of rape and sexual harassment cases go unreported — cultural stigma and losing family honor are high on the list of reasons.
[Read Related: #MeToo: Sexual Assault is Real and No One Deserves It]
In London, my own #MeToo experiences of sexual harassment are common as in any place, and I count my lucky stars that I escaped a worse ordeal. From having my breast groped by a random stranger in a department store, to being touched inappropriately in between my legs by a former boss, and to a cab driver asking me to sit in the front seat and kiss him. He even locked me in briefly when I tried to open the cab door.
These are just three of a dozen examples I could cite. In all situations, I escaped calmly — but like many, I was too afraid to shout out to the authorities, feeling it would cause more trouble than it’s worth. Would I be believed? I could be held at the police station for hours. What if I ruin someone’s life?
Thankfully these incidents, which took place many years ago, left only a minor scar in my psyche. Today, stronger and wiser, I wouldn’t hesitate to trigger the alarm should anyone dare to violate me. But that’s just in the Western world — in India, I would still think twice!
My own personal account in India saw me clash with a misogynist duty manager of a Goa resort, who threatened to call the police, while I was trying to help a distressed British woman, Kate,* in the early hours of the morning.
It was 2014 and I was on a regular writing holiday, struggling to find authentic material for my Indian film script. A 24-hour bout of food poisoning kept me housebound for a night or two, otherwise, I would’ve been out at a restaurant or the local night market. Just as I was about to close my eyes, I heard screams.
“Get away from me! Don’t you come near me!”
There was no way I could ignore her and rushed to her aide.
Six local men, who seemed innocuous, surrounded Kate. She was lost, hysterical, barefoot and barely able to stand, with arms and legs covered in scratches. It wasn’t clear what had happened — was she given a date rape drug or did she just fall and hurt herself, having drunk one too many and awoken the neighbors? She remembered nothing.
A sense of sisterhood swarmed me when one of these men attempted to take her home on his moped. I said to him,
“Brother, you’re a stranger and a man, and she’s vulnerable. As a woman, I can’t allow you to do that.”
With full credit to him, he understood and walked us to the reception area so I could figure out how to get her home safely.
Out of the blue, the duty manager thundered in, with his mobile in his hand, threatening to call the police for disturbing his guests. He didn’t care for my pleas, that this woman was hurt and perhaps she’d been drugged or attacked.
As far as I could suss out, he’d judged her for being drunk and dressed in a mini skirt and sleeveless top. Since I was helping her, despite being dressed in a kurthi and leggings, I too was guilty. Perhaps if we were men, he would’ve helped us.
I stormed Kate out of there, fearful to stand up to this menacing man or what the police would do to us if he called them. We jumped in a taxi and I dropped her to the guest home she was staying at. I never heard from her again.
Had this same incident happened in London, I would’ve called the police in an instant to get to the bottom of events. But I was in India and still have horror stories of a corrupt police force and an archaic judicial system entrenched in my mind, which has seen victims’ rights severely compromised.
Even India’s reformed rape laws demanded public demonstrations and mass international attention before a change was implemented — prompted by Jyoti Singh Pandey’s savage rape and murder on that Delhi bus in 2012, and subsequent high profile cases.
The next morning numbed by that duty manager’s reaction, I switched on the news facing, what became, another high profile case. A 51-year-old Danish woman was gang-raped in Delhi on that same night. She had lost her way home too. I bawled my eyes out. As far as I was concerned, it was a sign from God and the authentic material for my film script, I’d been searching for.
[Read Related: #MeToo: How Much Longer Must We Bear the Burden of this Epidemic?]
With India’s staunch patriarchal system, where marital rape is still legal in many states, it’s imperative that #MeToo, and all related initiatives, remain under the spotlight to keep chipping away at the cultural stigmas and powers that be.
We must breakthrough until victims, women and men, not just in India but worldwide, feel safe to report their perpetrators so justice can prevail.
I may have felt powerless after my own brush with India’s widely misogynist attitude, but I’ll never give up on what’s within my power to speak out — as a writer, storyteller and community member.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Gee Sahota is a British-Asian and London based writer, producer and blogger whose focus is to raise awareness of mental health, spiritual crisis (aka spiritual emergency), and empowerment of women, through the medium of film and writing. Her blog, www.LoveActionWoMen.com, is a somewhat humorous blog with a big mission, where she chronicles her personal and film journey towards fulfilling her dreams.