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No runaway victory

Editorial |

The fanfare is warranted as the Indian edition of the #MeToo movement bags its first scalp. Yet despite its bringing down a high-profile minister, and in the process rattling the seemingly all-powerful Modi government, the activists for gender-equality would do well to bear in mind that regardless of the banner headlines only one skirmish has been won. And once the profile of the target is lowered their support could dwindle.

There are many more sexual predators haunting the workplace, and unless the activists can expand and sustain their campaign, their toppling of MJ Akbar will not equate with the dismantling of a disgustingly entrenched regime. Signs of male-bonding are already evident, few other victims will be in a position to raise the kind of tsunami that shook Raisina Hill, and a sick fall-out could be that once the furore subsides it will be with added vigour that the exploiters pursue their hapless quarry.

Ensuring a social revolution calls for galvanising the presently adrenalin-laced emotions into a well-structured and funded organisation to carry the fight to where it might not attract the news pages. Indian women have posed themselves that challenge, upon which they must ensure no politicians encroach. Still, well-begun is said to be half-done: society at large must do more than wait and watch.

So much for the sermon ~ now down to the dirty business. In its typical fashion of remaining aloof from what would embarrass, the government has not come out openly against the misconduct of the editor-turned-politician ~ though few would believe that the minister quit for the noble reasons he has cited.

More likely that the game-plan to brazen it out collapsed when it became apparent that this was one story that would not go away: not for many years has the media presented such a united front. True that it was when wearing his editor’s that the minister committed his alleged offences, true also that media organisations had hardly equipped themselves to handle sexual harassment (as opposed to physical violence), but it remains equally true that having learnt lessons from the Emergency the government knew that when the media rose to the occasion it could be a formidable adversary.

Particularly when election season is approaching. Backing a political lightweight was not worth the risk. At the time of writing this commentary, the case of criminal defamation the ex-minister has filed against the first whistleblower was due to be taken up in court.

Whether the fact that 19 others have offered to testify to the ex-editor’s way of functioning would cause any rethinking would only be known when the drama unfolds in court. Akbar might at some stage be required to take the stand: many are hoping that by some miracle a Ram Jethmalani would cross-examine the man who claims to have been defamed. The sparks might fly farther than any of the ex-editor’s fiery essays.