On 21 October, the #Metoo movement that has largely stemmed from Twitter hit the ground at Chennai bringing many women together who not just shared their experiences but spoke about taking it forward in a constructive way.
Put together by Ek Potlee Ret Ki or Kaani Nilam (A piece of land in Tamil), a collective working on cultural identities and diversity across five states in the country, the meeting saw members of various strata across the society coming together to discuss the issue. The idea was to take the movement ‘from the internet to the streets.’
The organising team had put up a panel that included MP Nirmala IAS (Retd) (Commissioner of Child Rights Commission, Tamil Nadu), Prof Semmalar (social activist, Dalit scholar and educationist), Dr Aiswarya Rao (health professional, social worker and expert on persons with disabilities and gender minorities), Salma (Tamil poet, author and politician), TM Krishna (Carnatic musician and public intellectual), Swetha Sudhakar (transgender activist) and Poonguzhali (gender law practitioner), to hear the #MeToo stories that emerged in the past two weeks.
Case studies were presented by members of the collective and volunteers to let the panel and public know about the environments and power structures under which harassment and abuse took place.
Prof Semmalar — one of the panelists — questioned the mainstream media for having placed importance only on cases related to “celebrities”.
While Dr Rao put in perspective the plight of persons with disabilities, Sudhakar spoke on sexual minorities vis-a-vis the MeToo. Both the panelists also declared their intentions to take the movement to the marginalised groups.
While Poonkuzhali presented a perspective on the inadequacy of laws while dealing with such crimes, Salma raised another important question: “Why is it that women were burdened with the idea of honour, but the men were bestowed with the idea of power?”
Krishna spoke on the abuse of a traditional practice like the guru-shishya parampara by the powerful within the Carnatic music and dance field. Krishna promised to bring in more members from his field into the movement through ‘education and awareness.’
Besides organising the event, Ganesh also had a horror story to share. Detailing her abuse at the hands of Kanwar Lal Meena, sitting BJP MLA in Rajasthan, she said that the accused MLA is expected to get a ticket in the upcoming elections in Rajasthan this December. She sought the support of the public and the panelists in her fight against the accused and his political powers and called out the complicity of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. Ganesh also said the collective will pursue the case by filing complaints in the Rajasthan High Court and the Election Commission.
Celebrities including Swarnamalya and Karthik Kumar also took part in the event. Kumar said the movement was questioning power structure and the film industry ‘was scared.’