#MeToo Once Again: How India’s “Woke” Men Abuse Their Power

Social Commentary

#MeToo Once Again: How India’s “Woke” Men Abuse Their Power

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The highlight of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault hearing at the US senate, for me, was his “I went to Yale” defence. That a man in possession of considerable power and as influential as Kavanaugh cited an Ivy League institution as evidence of his virtue was troubling – what confused logic permits privilege to absolve people of problematic behaviour? His intention to assert his progressiveness was both his defence and offence. This was a man trying to offer his credentials, his résumé, as example of his innocence.

Kavanaugh is an easy man to dislike. He’s behaved like a big baby who can’t get a toy he desires, even if that means stomping blindly over anyone. His sexism – and that of the conservative men who support him – is palpable. You can hardly accuse them of being liberal or progressive. But what happens when men who espouse those values – worse, are flag bearers of it – emerge as the force that they publicly denounce?

Over the last year or so we’ve witnessed instances of seemingly progressive, “woke” men being lashed by the very wind they pretended to change the direction of. It confirms, unfortunately, that men are capable of both corrupting the integrity of a movement like #MeToo, and escaping from its ruins, somehow its most immediate victims.

It’s not easy being a liberal man at the moment. Especially one who has committed the very fouls he intends to now blow the whistle on.

The latest case in point is that of comedian Utsav Chakraborty, accused of having harassed several women over social media. According to multiple women, Chakraborty, who has featured in several popular videos produced by the comedy collective All India Bakchod, asked them for nudes or sent them unsolicited dick pics. He later apologised for it in a long Twitter thread. Between yesterday and today, accusations have been levelled against other Twitter celebrities like Anurag Verma, journalists like Mayank Jain and K Srinivas, and even author Kiran Nagarkar.

These are men who are supposed to be have been allies. Men with progressive, liberal values that women should have been able to rely on. Even that assurance is gone now, and all we are left with is the lesson that the public persona of the most prominently progressive men can diverge vastly from their private one.

Most men – men like Utsav Chakraborty – have rushed to assert their right on the post-#MeToo world, and absurdly, see themselves as the protagonists in stories that are painstakingly being authored by women. The zeitgeist, to them, will be calamitous until they become its authors, write its manifestos, or walk it to within an inch of resolution.

Chakraborty’s case is neither unique, nor is it an isolated one. It is emblematic of a deeper problem. Firstly, men still find it hard to contemplate what is being asked of them – a sincere apology and a correction of their predatory behaviour at the most. But for some reason, apologies are prefixed with “context”, a yarn of tears, struggle, and measured compunction – unlike their advances or illicit requests that often arrive without any.

There again, men want to be authors, in control of the story. Why can’t apologies be as straight and razor-faced as the viciousness that has made them inevitable in the first place? Second, and perhaps the most troubling aspect of seeing a liberal man contemplate his place in a world where he can no longer hide behind his reformist identity, is his desperation to cling to it; to the idea that they cannot be held guilty for crossing the line, when they themselves have worked to stretch it. Not only is such a man wrong, but in doing so, he undermines the basic tenets of liberalism and the women he pretended to stand by. And clues to this desperation and undermining are often in the subtext.

Among the several apologist tweets – without a clear apology by the way – that Chakraborty put out, what is most jarring is the supposition of the idea that his anti-establishment worldview (which includes championing women’s movements as well) was somehow an assertive ingredient in the heady mix of sexual profligacy. Chakraborty assumes that while men can be conservative and to him they might be the problem most of the time, all women ought to be liberal and their conservatism itself is an impediment to the extent to which feminism can be driven; that they have to for some reason be handheld while being ushered into the age of digital liberalism, an exercise that he must have felt was as mandatory as it was supposedly male-driven. Ridiculously, even through all of this, he has not resisted portraying himself as the victim.

It’s not easy being a liberal man at the moment. Especially one who has committed the very fouls he intends to now blow the whistle on. Surely, all of us have at some point overstepped our limits, made a woman feel uncomfortable. To seek relief in the wider contexts of that incident, to weave limitlessly, for sympathy is to fall criminally short of the least that is expected.

The fragility of any movement is often decided by its credibility. Men who are eager to fire a gun from over its shoulders, with a sense of entitlement, must make sure they don’t blast holes into its very core.