When people acknowledge that someone has done wrong, victims feel strengthened. A neutral stand betrays prejudices
While reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the supreme court acknowledged the apology that Indian society owes to people with sexual minority identities. This acknowledgement has evoked deep validation amongst people who identify themselves as queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Acknowledgement of responsibility of hurt by those who directly or indirectly caused it has a strong healing effect on victims: they feel their pain has been validated, their anger legitimised. They feel they have been heard.
It is quite usual for families of those who have been murdered, victims of domestic violence, assault, sexual harassment and rape to demand that perpetrators acknowledge and own up their guilt in public. Over the last few weeks, the #MeToo campaign has caught fire. Accusers like Tanushree Dutta are being asked what they are looking for by raising an old incident, one that has remained unresolved for them. Perhaps she is asking people to take a stand on sexual violence.
The reaction is not heartening. People like Amitabh Bachchan, who campaign on social issues on behalf of corporates and political parties, have refrained from commenting. They say they are ignorant of the facts of the Tanushree Dutta-Nana Patekar spat. The politically aware and correct Aamir Khan, too, has distanced himself from the issue. But in the same breath, some celebs have denied any knowledge of sexual exploitation in the film industry. Such reactions are dictated by prejudices.
Here’s an example of how that happens. In a remote village in Bengal, Reena Khatoon, 19, battles stigma in her family and in the village. Three years ago, she’d tried to migrate to Mumbai to find work as a domestic help. But the man who took her there with promises of good work and pay sold her to a brothel. He was her cousin. When she got away and returned to her village, word was out that she had been a sex worker. She told people she didn’t choose sex work but was forced into it by her cousin but people remained unconvinced. Their prejudice against a sex worker was stronger than their anger against a trafficker.
When people take a stand against those who have done wrong, even without names being named, victims feel strengthened by the support. When people do not add their voice to the cries against a perpetrator, their prejudice against the victim or the ill that has befallen the victim speak out loud. The fact that a woman was once a prostitute is held against her, never mind that she was forced into it.