‘The churning and widespread anger after Delhi gang rape has borne fruit’

Amid the clamour for punishment to be awarded to Tehelka magazine’s founder-editor Tarun Tejpal for alleged sexual assault and the harassment complaint made against a former Supreme Court judge, women’s rights activists have lauded the trend of women taking on the “powerful and the mighty” as a sign of empowerment.

Activists point out that the change from “suffering in silence” to “taking on the powerful” is a sign of women finally finding their voice.

“The horrific gang rape that occurred in a moving bus on December 16, 2012, has empowered women; the silence at the top is breaking. Women who were being forced to suffer are now empowered to come out and complain, which is how a young intern and now a young journalist had the courage to write against their bosses,” said Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research.

Diksha Kumar (name changed on request), a young lawyer, too attributes the rise in the number of reported harassment cases to the “churning” that occurred after December 16. “The gruesome rape and death of that paramedic was unfortunate, but it shook the nation, it jolted us out of our stupor. The widespread anger that followed, the demand for justice and the recognition that women are suffering did not go waste and a growing number of women are realising that they should voice their concerns.”

These recent complaints against men who are perceived to be “powerful” and “connected” will serve as an example for women who are coerced into not taking action and keep silent, observe a few.

Author Himani Dalmia, who advocates a “zero-tolerance policy” on sexual harassment, said: “In India, as compared to the West, women tend to be subdued in the workplace. In fact, in the media, advertising and publishing industries and in some multinational companies, women are still more vocal and assertive, but in the vast number of non-creative and Indian-run companies — large and small — women are very restrained and cautious. The West has seen many high-profile sexual harassment cases that have emboldened and strengthened women and also set a moral and professional standard. In India, women [shrink] from being confrontational or litigious. Certainly, the more high-profile cases we see, the more the average woman will become conscious of her rights and aware of what steps to take in the event of an incident.”

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), a professional association of women journalists and other working women, which has demanded institutional redress of sexual harassment and assault, has in a statement said that the “recent developments at Tehelka demonstrate that media houses have a long way to go in ensuring safety for women media professionals.”

Observing that sexual harassment of women journalists at the workplace was not a new phenomenon, the NWMI has demanded that media houses across the country should comply with the laws by setting up sexual harassment complaints and redressal committees within the workplace that include at least one member external to the organisation with relevant knowledge and experience in dealing with such matters.

Acknowledgement of sexual harassment at work, Dr. Kumari said, is a “good sign” but she sought more legal protection and social encouragement for victims to allow them to “come out”.

“Even now, silence still prevails, these girls have written about their experiences, but they are not confident enough to come out. Sleaze is everywhere and every woman has a story to tell; it is our collective responsibility to ensure that these women can come out and speak out,” she said.

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