The world's largest democracy is having its tryst with women's rights, and in a befitting and beautiful way, Google seems to have captured it all. India, the country of 1.2bn people had its reckoning with the famous feminist movement last month as a federation mandated to check sexual assault in its film industry - Bollywood - apologized to actor Tanushree Dutta for its handling of her complaint against veteran movie star Nana Patekar in 2008. Back then, Ms. Dutta had to face harsh criticism and even physical intimidation as she went to complain against the veteran movie star. The recent apology from a small group in the massive industry, brought back the memories and gave fresh momentum to the movement against sexual harassment in India.
Since then, India has seen a spate of women from multiple walks of life come out with horrifying details about accusations they faced in the past. India's #MeToo has finally blossomed. And it is evident in the country's internet searches. Google recently released a beautiful interactive map, MeToo Rising with Google, which over the past one week shows India glowing with internet searches about the movement. This also coincides with one of the largest spikes in internet searches about the movement across the world, since allegations surfaced against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
As the tool shows, on the date this magazine went to print, Indian cities of Udupi, Ratlam and Bikaner are among the cities with the top search pings. But all is not well.
The Worrying Signs
While the map shows a very encouraging state of affairs, it manages to obfuscate a lot of disturbing truths about India's MeToo reckoning. Prying with the tools a little bit shows that when the movement began in 2017 in full swing, Google based exposure to the movement was severely restricted to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai. These cities are India's largest urban centers and the centers of its economic growth. However, internet access has long permeated to almost the entire country, so the lack of participation from other regions is not symptomatic of lack of access. It is however emblematic of the great cultural and educational divide that transcends India's urban metropolises and the economic hinterland - the latter continues to be far more conservative than the teeming cities the world with which the rest of the world interacts.
More importantly, a glance through social media platforms, admittedly an unscientific method of research, does demonstrate considerable hostility that women continue to face even in big cities. These range from harmless but annoying trolls to serious offenders who threaten women with rape and murder, often discouraging many from coming forward. While these problems are a facet of life in both metropolitan cities and the hinterland, the effects in the latter are certainly more pronounced. A few years ago the BBC reported on the rampant practice of sale videos of women being raped and molested, as pornography in several Indian towns. Another example of rampant patriarchy - and its defense in the name of tradition - is the manner in which people in the southern state of Kerala are handling the temple entry issue. Sabrimala, a famous temple located in the state, had a practice of barring women of menstrual age from entering and offering prayers - menstruation is considered a taboo among several sects. After protests and an intervention by India's Supreme Court, the ban was finally lifted in lieu of a court ruling. However, as the temple opened for prayers this month, there were reports of several cars being stopped and women being forced to deboard in order to keep them from entering the temple. Ironically enough, a large number of women are among those against the court ruling, and the sole woman on the bench dissented from the judgement, albeit for reasons of religious freedom.
A senior Minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Cabinet has also been accused of sexual assault by multiple women in the recent weeks. However, despite outcry from a large segment of the country, the PM seems to have dug his heels in, refusing to even make a statement on the matter, let alone sack the minister. He finally resigned after almost 2 weeks of protests. Young students in India's universities are particularly annoyed at the lackadaisical approach of the PM and many point to the irony of his calls for Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, a solgan adopted by Mr. Modi which translates as Save Your Daughters and Educate Them.
There have also been several student demonstrations in New Delhi, which is home to the country's premier universities, against discriminatory curfew timings in girls' hostels and other discriminatory administrative rulings. Pinjra Tod, a movement which translates to Break the Cage has been campaigning to remove such curfews, which find no place in men only hostels in the city. It has had some success in the recent past.
But such movements outside of the major cities often don't gain enough support. Worse, people raising the issues face severe repression. In the state of Chhattisgarh, it took months of angry and often rancorous demonstrations by students for the Vice Chancellor of Hidayatullah National Law University to resign. This was because there were allegations of him having improperly handled sexual assault allegations leveled against some faculty members. Caste and social relations often get intermixed as well. In Bihar, reports emerged of girls aged 12-14 being beaten up when they reported sexual misconduct on part of some boys in the school. Horrifying still was the fact that those accused of beating the girls are family members of the accused.
So while India may be teeming with MeToo in Google's map, the schisms of culture, education, tradition, and patriarchy in the world's largest democracy are very hard to ignore. For the sake of India's women, hopefully, the country will find a way to deal with them soon.
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This post has been updated to keep it relevant to evolving developments.
About The Author
Prashant Khurana is a student of Law at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Hansraj College, Delhi University. Prashant is an accomplished debater, and an active participant and organiser of Model United Nations Conferences and was recently invited as a Chairperson at the University of Kent, United Kingdom for their MUN conference. He has appeared as a guest panellist on Headlines Today (presently, India Today) News Channel and has also interviewed personalities such as Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar, Dr. Sambit Patra, the Ambassador of Canada to India, among others.