4 Times the Internet Emerged As a Weapon Against Sexual Harassment

By: Malini Bhattacharya

Published On: May 09, 2018

October 2017 was a thin time for patriarchal sexual dominance in India. In an unprecedented show of solidarity and massive tacit accord, women came together in the cyberspace with what has become famous as theMe Too movement, to share their narratives of having been sexually harassed and assaulted. 

Social media, particularly Facebook, erupted with generations of the repressed anger, shame, and humiliation that women and girls had held back, bottled up inside themselves - natural responses to acts of sexual violence that have been unleashed disproportionately on the gender since the beginning of civilization.  

With the #MeToo campaign, women not only found a voice to articulate their experiences of being violated in insidious and blatant ways; another crucial purpose was served. Men, who have harassed and assaulted and raped, and are also the fathers and sons and partners of the female victims/survivors of sexual attack, received a bona fide sense of the magnitude and scale of the problem of sexual violence that women have to grapple with every day of their lives. Facebook, and the internet at large, became a platform - indeed, a stage- for sufferers to come forward and talk about their experiences in safety and security, without fear of being blamed or shamed, with the end of achieving catharsis and a camaraderie that can push forward those who have been through similar nightmares together into light.

The internet emerged, while the movement raged, as a free, friendly, adaptable tool that lent itself to the voices that were dying to be heard for centuries. It offered the comfort of anonymity and physical distance between attacker and survivor, as well as access to an audience of sympathetic listeners prepared to give empathy and aid and solidarity as it had done to other survivors of sexual violence before and after. While controversy has broken out whenever a woman has called out an abuser on the internet, without a doubt gender-based empowerment and enabling has occurred; the way forward for more women, including those from backgrounds of less privilege, is being cleared out. 

Below is a list of five prime cases of sexual harassment that received plenty of social media attention and shook the internet, with women accusing men in positions of prominence (usually) and seeking justice, vigilante style, with naming and shaming perpetrators, many of whom are overachieving men in powerful positions, and telling their stories, no holds barred, on Facebook and other platforms. 

Tarun Tejpal: 

The Tehelka magazine editor’s reputation for straitlaced ways made a sharp downward spiral into notoriety when a younger woman journalist working at the magazine brought harassment charges against the veteran newsman. Tejpal had cornered the woman inside an elevator at a Goa five star hotel and attempted to perform oral sex on her. The victim shared her story in an email to Tehelka editor-in-chief Shoma Chaudhury, which went viral within 48 hours, and resulted in Tejpal going on first a recuse, then being charged at a Goa session court with molestation. Shoma Chaudhury stepped down from her position at Tehelka. 

Ali Zafar: 

Across the border, things aren’t rosier. A Pakistani singer/actress has accused celebrity singer and actor Ali Zafar of Coke Studio fame of sexual harassment. The victim, a mother of two, chose to call out the perpetrator on Twitter, and attached a one page note detailing her charges to her post. She has made an important point about how patriarchal values insist on silencing the victim’s experiences, and the importance of changing this mindset if we are to bring rape culture to its end, particularly in orthodox societies.

Arunabh Kumar:

 The founder and forerunner of YouTube sensation TVF (The Viral Fever),Arunabh Kumar has been described by multiple ex-employees on social media as “a creep” and “a pervert”, and his organization as no place for women to work at. Trouble hit fever pitch when a woman helping conduct a photoshoot at the TVF office brought molestation charges against Kumar, alleging he bought touched her inappropriately and made comments and remarks that made her uncomfortable. The woman took to WhatsApp to communicate her discomfort to friends before she approached police and filed a chargesheet at a Bombay lower court.

Raya Sarkar’s list: 

University of California student Raya Sarkar published a list, last year, of academicians in India and abroad, who have allegedly harassed or assaulted their students. Sarkar issued an open call to women on social media and invited them to contact her with allegations, promising them complete anonymity, while making the names of perpetrators and their institutions and departments public. The mainstream media covered the infamous list, some of those whose names appeared on the list came forward in their own defense, writing letters to the media and requesting that specific charges be made so they could defend themselves, with women (mostly graduate students and researchers) agreeing in social media conversations that they would avoid working with the academics called out in the interest of their safety at the workplace. 

It is always a man in a position of greater power than the woman victim, who unleashes the horror of sexual abuse.This is how the history of assault has looked like, and this is how it will unfold. As a generation of women empowered by education and awareness, we have the enormous fortune of having access to instruments that allow us to join our voices and amplify them so we can make noise until the sleeping earth listens. One day, it will. Until then, it is up to us fight together and show each other the warmest support and hold each other up as a collective who has suffered and battled together.