BENGALURU: In the second wave of India’s #MeToo movement, which brought several actors, comedians, journalists and other workplace harassment victims, under the spotlight, city-based writer-journalist Sandhya Menon finds herself in the “middle of a storm”, much to her own surprise. Sandhya, who spearheaded the cause by calling out the editor of a national daily for sexual misconduct at the workplace, set the ball rolling for scores of women who came forward to share their own stories and trials. Ahead of her session on Sunday at the Bangalore Literature Festival, Sandhya speaks to CE about her expectations from #MeToo, and how she deals with haters and trolls.
This isn’t the first time she’s spoken about the harassment publicly. “This was the first time I went on record with names,” she clarifies. “The past year has been overwhelming ever since Tarana Burke (founder of #MeToo) set things in motion in the US. With every big “outing”, I have had to examine my own experiences and evaluate if my actions were adequate or not. There was no sense of closure for any of these experiences. And when I saw the awful apology from comedian Utsav C, something in me snapped and I checked with a friend if I should do it. My only hesitation was for the harassers’ reputation and the impact on their families and social circles. My friend urged me to go ahead, and I had to remind myself that was not my burden to bear. And so I did,” says Sandhya on her decision to go public.
What happened next- With her post sparking off a movement-was not something she expected, she says. But she isn’t ‘surprised at the number of women coming out’, because of how rampant harassment is. Sandhya has, over the last few weeks, been called brave, a hero, inspiring, but she says she often finds herself wondering if it was ‘bravery or foolishness’ to have done what she did.
“I actually have a really ordinary life, quiet and small, so when I am heaped with these words, I usually just laugh it away or accept that it is a token of appreciation: I can’t take these words seriously. I think the only thing that has been a huge shift for me is that I have realised what it has done to me, to have constantly denied myself the idea that I was treated grossly because I internalised that this was ‘normal’, and that that’s what ‘men do’.
For every word of encouragement on social media, there are plenty of trolls to pull you down. So, how did she cope with the haters?
“The unkind comments only bother me when they are unfair to the people who have decided to put their names behind their stories. Or when people say we are all a bunch of helpless victims wanting our time in the sun - it hurts especially when it has come from older, professional women. Men I mostly ignore. There is absolutely zero logic, it’s just a random childish reaction, not valid criticism. And I have an army of support, so the trolling has not taken a toll on me.”
However, her involvement in the movement has taken a toll on her life and work. “I am three weeks over deadline on all my assignments, and I have no salary at the end of this month. I’m not sure how I am going to deal with this, but I guess I’ll find a way,” says the single mum.
#MeToo is beyond the hashtag
So what lies ahead for the #MeToo movement? “My sense is that the movement has gone beyond social media, but maybe not as big. It would be interesting to see if there’s a surge in sign-ups on Twitter (India) this month,” says Sandhya, adding, “What’s in store for the movement beyond hashtags is more and more women finding inspiration and courage in stories that are already out there. This can only happen if perpetrators and harassers are brought to book; revoking jobs and ostracising in social circles need to happen for harassers to understand what it means to devalue a person. If these things happen, then women will find the courage to seek justice. And believe me, every woman is angry and wants justice,” she says.
Sandhya has some very specific expectations from the movement, for which, she says a lot of work remains to be done. “Policy change at employer level: Tightening of the PoSH Act and how it plays out in workplaces; legislative change that makes policy adoption in organisations easier and more stringent; sensitisation of police personnel across the country so that no woman is re-traumatised when she goes to seek help; government systems that work – whether that is state and national commissions for women, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, or local government bodies that allow for redressal; and finally, better behaved men,” she says.