Two years ago I first realised that privilege excludes huge masses from being visible. I was talking to a woman who worked at my house. At that time, she was 22 and already a mother to a four year old girl. My helper talked about her abusive husband — how he spent all the money she earned on an endless supply of cheap alcohol, and how refusal to give him money meant being beaten up, meant a daughter who wouldn't be able to attend school, meant being raped if she didn't want to be kicked out of her own house. Cut to 2018, how does the #MeToo movement extend its arms to embrace her story? It doesn't.
When an entire revolution takes place in a language that the less privileged do not speak, its accessibility is bound to remain beyond their reach. They will be tongue-tied even if they are offered a voice. To make a movement more inclusive, it’s important to carry it out in words and languages that everyone will understand. The usage of English alone, eliminates a majority of the population from the movement before it starts..
In 2017, when Raya Sarkar and other DBA (Dalit Bahujan Adivasi) women released LoSha (List of Sexual Harassment Accused), their methods were criticised and weren't supported. Their list was deemed as inauthentic, while tweets and accounts from 2018 are being termed as cathartic, revolutionary and necessary — which isn't wrong, but is unfair when considering many denounced the same tactic when DBA women used it the year before.
In the current wave of #MeToo, workplace harassment prevention measures were taken up by the government. These included setting up an email address by the The National Commission for Women to receive complaints, circulating lists with job openings in case women wanted to leave their old companies, etc. While these are great provisions to build safer spaces for working women, it doesn't do much for women who aren't upper caste, who don't have access to technology or those whose work is a part of the unorganised sector — women working at construction sites, households, small shops, etc. They have little to no access to online spaces for support or legal aid.
Additionally, even among the upper middle class women, the ones with more power have had a greater reach and an army of supporters after coming out with their accounts, as opposed to other women with less power who weren't heard or backed up despite trying to call out their abusers earlier. While I'm grateful for popular women who choose to use their platforms to voice or put out stories of women who choose to confide in them, it's important to receive all accounts without bias, regardless of caste, class, popularity, wealth, etc. and offer them the same support that we would to the hegemonic.
India also saw #MeToo circles being organised in various cities that would serve as cathartic spaces where women only (without men and press) would come together physically to share stories, talk about healing and stand in solidarity with one another and offer unconditional support to each other in their own capacity without judgment. One of these meetings was organised at an upscale art gallery where attendees had to RSVP to confirm their attendance, but then the organisers were made to realise how this set-up was rooted in privilege and wasn't accessible to everyone. The venue was then changed to a public ground, and women were asked to simply show up without confirming online. People in other cities as well then discussed accessibility and awareness before organising similar events.
Through an online feminist platform, Smash Board, I was also made to realise how little I knew about cases that weren't about Savarna women, while rape cases and stories that had to do with upper caste privileged women were being discussed nationally and made it to the headlines of all leading newspapers. Thus, it is an important responsibility of the media, in every form, to represent and cover stories of women of all backgrounds or orientations. It is on us to listen to stories of women of less privilege without victimising them and actively coming up with provisions that make space for them in our conversation and redressal.
We need to step up and try to individually acknowledge and inform ourselves of our privilege, everyone's needs and our responsibilities towards the usage of our resources to benefit and include not just women of influence, but every woman irrespective of her socio-economic status. #MeToo started with a sense of liberating privileged women, but it doesn't need to end there. We need to make amends, and open our arms wider than we already have.
Burnt Roti is one of 30 global youth platform partners in the launch of an initiative by CHIME FOR CHANGE and Irregular Labs to explore gender and our fluid future. Check out the other content and partner platforms here.