By Nida Fatima
Empathy need not be explicit. Refusal to openly condemn/take action against a perpetrator is empathy of highest order. It serves a perpetrator in the eye of storm better than any words can.
Sorry as our state of affairs is, this is exactly what huge media houses and organizations are doing. They are simply refusing to acknowledge the presence of the filth that has resurfaced from under the carpet where they had been brushing it all past years.
The official silence with which the past and present organizations associated with MJ Akbar, Suhel Seth, Alok Nath and other sexual predators are greeting their exposure is the same silence that has enabled these men since forever to paw young vulnerable women. A blind eye has never been so efficiently blind, a deaf ear never so perfectly deaf.
For some reason, the women coming out with harrowing experiences of sexual assault are expendable, the predators are not. Or is it the spirit of brotherhood found among companions sailing in the same boat? There is no English word equivalent of the Urdu word ‘hamiyat’ to justify the shameless behaviour on display.
It reminds me of a story by Khushwant Singh called The Bottom-Pincher. It revolves around the daily exploits of a compulsive bottom-pincher and ends on a note of unspoken solidarity/empathy between the bottom pinching protagonist and the man who was caught pinching the bottoms of the protagonist’s own daughter.
There is a word going around that media houses have warned employees against showing sympathy to survivors of sexual harassment online. It is not verified, but it will be no surprise if such a warning has indeed been issued.
There is also a buzz that MJ Akbar will be asked to step down when he gets back to India. That is also unverified. It may or may not happen. Let’s assume that it happens. In that case it will be a bit of a lesson for a single perpetrator. It will not be sufficient lesson for him and it will hardly be a deterrent for others. How does it make a difference to kill one germ in a festering wound? Even the germ will cry foul for singling him out while providing a conducive environment for other germs like him to thrive in.
MeToo is a long overdue movement. It has provided hope for survivors of sexual harassment who till now had been deemed doomed to suffer silently. We want it to succeed and go far beyond the elite workplace. We want it to find its way to the tiniest hamlet. We want the movement to give courage to that most oppressed of women to indict their harassers.
However, in true technical sense a want is a want only if the person wanting something has the power to avail it. Without the power to avail it, it is just a wish or desire.
Pessimistic as I may sound, we are powerless to avail our want unless we get the support of our men folk. Sadly a good number of them have chosen to be silent collaborators with the criminals rather than a voice of support for the victim.
In all honesty I am not too hopeful.