#MeToo in India has a long way to go

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The resignation of India’s junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar following mounting accusations of sexual harassment against him over the past week is a welcome development. It will not only enable a thorough investigation being conducted into the allegations and Akbar’s counter-claims of defamation, but also diminish the perception of yet another powerful public figure in India getting away with the alleged abuse of women. Akbar has denied all wrongdoing and said he was stepping down to fight his accusers in court. While the former minister retains every right to pursue his legal options, the Editors Guild of India – of which Akbar was once a president – has urged him to withdraw the criminal defamation case he filed against journalist Priya Ramani. It has taken a lot of courage and conviction for the 20-plus and growing bunch of brave women to speak out about alleged harassment and gross abuse of power by a formidable editor – so it would be bizarre and paradoxical for Akbar to deploy the instrument of criminal defamation against his former colleagues. The problem of sexual harassment in India is widespread and runs deep – and now that the long overdue #MeToo movement has gained traction, many more names of high-profile harassers and abusers are likely to surface along with hundreds of other similar cases. Finally, the campaign against sexual abuse must be widened to include victims of rape and gender violence. The current movement is mostly centred around India’s urban habitat, with victims often enjoying easy access to social media and news studios. But the movement must also bring justice for victims who suffer in silence in the rural and backward areas – for whom there’s neither any access to file grievances nor any scope of their horrors being heard. Only then will the true power of #MeToo be realised in India.

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