India’s unprecedented reaction to the #MeToo movement has hit one industry after the other as more and more women are divulging stories of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and ingrained casual sexism on social media. The movement has also drawn a lot of criticism from several quarters with some slamming it as being a ‘naming and shaming’ movement which has no capability of actually changing the system. This school of thought has found agreement in former Supreme Court judge Sujata Manohar.
According to Justice Manohar, who was responsible for writing up the Vishakha guidelines to ensure no working woman is subjected to sexual harassment in August 1997, “No purpose will be served if women limit themselves only to social media”.
In an exclusive interview with the Free Press Journal, Justice Manohar said, “The guidelines which I had penned down dealt only with contemporary cases where a woman is being harassed at her work field. The guidelines were not at all meant to look into cases wherein women come out after decades.”
This, she says, leads to a lot of difficulty for the police in actually finding evidence to corroborate the accuser’s claims.
“The evidence of what took place some 20 to 25 years ago is obviously not going to remain as it is. There should be something reliable in place for the police to prosecute the named accused as there are always chances of some women merely naming others to settle personal scores,” Justice Manohar told Free Press Journal.
“This is not the scenario in current cases where women are being harassed, as the police can easily cross check the allegations,” Justice Manohar added.
The best course of action, Justice Manohar said, would be for women to directly go to the police to name their abusers and harassers instead of staking to social media to out their names.
“No purpose will be served if woman limit themselves only to social media. They have the option to approach the police, instead of the social media. Their failure to report the case also hints that the forum is being misused by many because of which genuine women might have to suffer,” Justice Manohar said.
Justice Manohar also stressed on how the government needs to formulate a new law to resolve complaints as the Vishakha guidelines was designed only for contemporary harassment.
“Unless there is a law to deal with cases as revealed through this movement, no one can do anything. The existing laws do not focus on such kind of complaints; thus, there is a need to formulate a law which can define the nature of offence, and then what kind of punishment must be imposed, and so on,” Justice Manohar said.
This article was originally published in The Wire.