Chaos theory says that the butterfly effect occurs when something as small as the flutter of a butterfly's wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway across the world. A small change in the status quo can trigger something far bigger and deeper than anything, anyone could have imagined.
The past 48-hours have been one of those rare, beautiful times when social media has emerged to be a tool so powerful that it has allowed the urban Indian population to take a giant leap forward in talking about one of the biggest issues we face in the country - sexual harassment.
On the afternoon of October 4, a series of tweets were posted accusing stand-up comedian Utsav Chakrobarty of sexually harassing multiple women, some of them even minors. Triggered by one woman speaking out against him, multiple victims emerged accusing him of sharing explicit pictures, inappropriate messages and making uninvited sexual advances. Utsav Chakrobarty was ultimately forced to come out with a (sham of a) statement. And not just him, the circuit of comedians he worked and interacted with were too made accountable for not speaking up, despite being aware of his behaviour. The wave slowly and gradually exposed the entire Indian comedy industry with female comics openly speaking up, for the first time, about the misogyny within the industry itself. But this was just the beginning.
One of the biggest reasons, we as a country have been failing at effectively tackling crimes against women, is due to the majority of these cases going unreported. Survivors and victims rarely choose to speak out. Society, family, even the authorities condition them to stay quiet about it. Speaking about sex in itself is a taboo in India; speaking about sexual harassment, even more so.
But calling out of Utsav Chakrobarty and watching people finally being made accountable for their actions and their silence (even if it’s just on social media), allowed other victims from other areas of life to speak up too. Women harassed in the media, in corporate structures, even in the film industry all began raising their voices. Men working at high, influential positions were called out by multiple women claiming that they had been at the receiving end of their sexual advances. The courage of every woman speaking out encouraged more to come forward. A chain of stories had begun and links were being added to this chain every few minutes.
Reports suggest that several of these men who have been called out on Twitter over the past 48 hours have been let go from their organisations. Even the men who have significant influence in their field continue to be tensed about their professional future. Organisations have come forth taking a firm stand against any of their employees being accused of sexual harassment and have taken an immediate and effective action.
Even the authorities have been forced to wake up with the Mumbai Police and the Delhi Police taking cognizance of the complaints being made on the social media platform and following up with the victims. An issue that was buried, ignored and submerged for far too long is now finally being acknowledged amongst a small, but significant population of the country.
Several names have tumbled out from the media industry. Men across profiles have been named and accused of harassing reporters, colleagues and even interns. Sexual harassment at workplaces has become a real problem as opposed to mere guidelines and policies for organisations. But something even more significant has emerged out of all this. Multiple men in the industry have become highly cautious in their words and actions.
Some have come forth and said that they’re “scared” of saying anything inappropriate to a woman now even as a joke, lest it is considered sexual harassment.
The scales suddenly seem to have shifted. Women are breaking the barriers of the fear they have lived with for years and decades and finally taking some power back in their hands. Men have had to take a step back and reanalyses not only their own actions but also actions of their friends and colleagues around them. There is a significant shift in the mindset, even if temporary. The problem, of course, continues to be much bigger. Violence against women stretches far and beyond educated, outspoken women in the digital age. But a butterfly seems to have fluttered its wing at last and now we await the typhoon.