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Can you hear the deafening silence?

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Dec 22, 2017, 11:59 pm IST
Updated : Dec 23, 2017, 12:02 am IST

The eerie quietness around sexual abuse often allows perpetrators to get away with it. Experts explain why many choose to keep mum.

Meryl Streep (Photo: AFP)
 Meryl Streep (Photo: AFP)

Earlier this week, Rose McGowan took to Twitter to express her thoughts. Calling out Meryl Streep publicly, Rose implied that the Oscar-winning actress knew about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged predatory behaviour, but chose to not do anything about it. Following this, Meryl came out, and in her defence stated that she didn’t do anything because she was genuinely unaware of his behaviour. On the other hand, Quentin Tarantino has openly accepted that he knew enough to do something about Weinstein’s behaviour, but didn’t.

Deep in our society, no matter where we live, is the tendency to turn a blind eye towards inappropriate behaviour. Closer home as well, questions about the victim and their intentions seem to arise far more than questions around perpetrators.

Author Meghna Pant credits this silence with the licence that allows perpetrators to think that they can get away with their deeds. “There is a cultural silence around sexual abuse and harassment that keeps victims or survivors to come ahead with names, and to nab accusers,” she says, adding that cases like these come with their own set of complexities.

Let’s look at our industry, closer home. It was only this week that Priyanka Chopra, with her substantial experience in the West, said that Bollywood can’t have its Weinstein moment because it won’t be a collected, supportive movement like Hollywood against Harvey. And that could well be.

Harvey WeinsteinHarvey Weinstein

One of the reasons Harvey went scot-free for decades was because he was in a position of influence, holding the power to ruin careers. And it took several women decades to muster the courage to speak up.

Back in India, actress Akshara Gowda states that the support Hollywood got from its actresses, and that might not reflect here. “Nobody is going to support if you tell the names of sexual predators,” she flatly states.

India fosters a rather hostile environment for victims and/ or survivors to speak up. “There is so much risk involved in coming out with a name — women are terrified of the condemnation,” explains Meghna, adding that we consider allegations as well with a filter. “If a Deepika Padukone or a Katrina Kaif call out abusers, it will hold water. At the same time, if an upcoming actress does that, she will be condemned,” she rues.

Actress Riya Sen concurs. “Many of us have had many moments, and many of us decide to keep shut. The price of speaking up can be high. It could entail a hostile work environment, losing a job, threats, media slandering, bad publicity, counter blaming — anything!” she exclaims.

While it doesn’t look like our country will welcome acts of outing predators any time soon, the persisting silence around the issue will be doing us no good. “It is important that we change this conversation,” implores Meghna. “Our regressive mindset is reflected in how we stifle the voices of our victims and survivors.”

If one takes into consideration the legal standpoint, nothing can be done unless an official complaint is filed. Advocate Rachna Reddy opines, “If there is no formal complaint launched about the perpetrator then there can’t be any action. However, we have Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act in place and all the corporations are supposed to be having an internal complaints committee. If proven guilty, the man can face up to three years of imprisonment. However, if it a severe sexual harassment case, bordering or resulting in rape then the criminal laws come into action and the person can be jailed for seven years.”

Tags: harvey weinstein, meryl streep