Dear citizens of Chennai,
Two years ago a German national alleged that she was drugged at a bar in the city. A few weeks before this allegation, a Chennai-based woman who had been drinking at the same place tested positive for Rohypnol or Roofie, a popular date rape drug. The German woman on her Facebook post demanded an inquiry into the issue and was met with hostility. Several patrons of the bar and friends of it’s manager jumped to defend the bar, deeming it a case of ‘getting too drunk’.
When the news spread, the manager promised a viewing of the CCTV footage. On the day, he announced that the footage had been deleted and requested that the post be removed, as it would hurt his business. Since then, Chennai got many new bars, and the manager in question is a big man in the booze business. In not backing the woman, questioning her intentions, and by going back to drink at the same place, you let down a foreigner and lost an opportunity to create a mechanism to ensure safety in bars.
‘The List’, a list of sexual harassers that came out in October 2017 features two names from Chennai. One man was swiftly ousted from his position in an unexpected move. The other remains at large, unnerved by the accusations and volunteering his version of what happened. Known liberal voices descended to defend him, tuning out the demand for an inquiry; an institution that seeks to instil progressive values in its students, has for months refused an investigation citing time-elapse and procedural reasons. The accused is popular, powerful, and privileged, and this case is telling of the protection that all three offer.
When women from city’s theatre community came out with stories of harassment by one of their own, artists organised a forum to address sexual harassment in theatre. While the efforts of the community must be complimented, it should also be registered that holding the meeting at a venue owned by a named sexual predator even after the concern was clearly communicated was a gross misstep. It’s a great act of courage for victims to speak up. It’s no easy task to put years of association or friendship on the line when a person you know and love is accused of sexual harassment.
The choice becomes easier, citizens of Chennai, only if we can put the problem before the person and let process decide the path to justice. I hope we consider sexual harassment one that is severe and do what it takes to battle all its forms and make them safer for all our ilk, even if it means standing up against those we hold in high regard. It does not do well to selectively speak up against sexual harassment or stay clear of its uncomfortable nuances and overlaps. It does do well to remember that the magic our city lies not in its venues or people profiles, but in the minds of those who inhabit it.
Yours, A card-carrying feminist, and one of your own.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton