Last week, Shweta Menon hit the headlines across the nation and became the most talked about topic among Keralites in particular. I am not a fan of Shweta Menon and I can barely connect to the genre of movies that she does. But that has nothing to do with the fact that I feel quite angry and outraged by the way things have been snowballing against her simply because she had the guts to expose what had happened with her in broad daylight.
Shweta Menon Molestation: The Reported Story
The reported story is that Shweta Menon attended a local boat race as the chief guest and after the event, she told the media that a local politician had sexually misbehaved with her during the event. Hell broke loose after she said this.
Immediately after hearing this news, I told those who were with me at the time, "Within hours, she will withdraw her complaint." Okay, so no one believed me.
I was told 'No, she's a fighter and she will not spare the politician' and 'She has mass support and she will fight this legally.'
I was 100% certain that Shweta Menon will withdraw her complaint. Come on, if nothing else, I have lived in Kerala for a good number of years and I am sorry to put it like this but I am very certain about the sick mentality rampant there when it comes to issues such as eve teasing and sexual harassment.
The clear lack of an institutional response to safeguard the rights and welfare of women is most urgent in Kerala and the need of the hour there but it doesn't seem likely to materialize anytime soon.
Shweta Menon Molestation: What made her change her mind?
Some plain but very obvious guesses:
1. Her family would have been frightened for her safety (and theirs) given the kind of political threats, blackmails they would have been tackling in the hours after she gave her interview.
2. Her industry colleagues who are probably more familiar with the rules of the political game would have advised her against taking on a powerful politician.
3. There were direct threats given to her by different politicians through media interviews, particularly hinting at Income Tax issues. For actors and celebrities, that is the Achilles heel and Kerala's politicians are smart enough to use that power to get what they want - which in this case - is to make the victim look like a characterless woman who deserved being molested.
As a Keralite, I hate to say this but that sick mentality is unfortunately rampant in Kerala. If a girl/woman is expressive about her views, she is labelled a rebel, characterless, immoral and so on. If a girl/woman interacts or has discussions with men openly on issues that are controversial, again, you meet the same fate. And last but but not the least, if a girl/woman makes the BIG mistake of showing confidence about herself and her views, then that nails it for the moral police and the society in Kerala.
Shweta Menon Molestation: What about the other women in Kerala?
There have been many instances of harassment and sexual molestation I have heard about in Kerala and all of it shocks and appalls me.
For instance, in Kerala, there are many 'respectable' male doctors who are known to take advantage of the fact that their women patients have to strip before them. They touch them in the most inappropriate way and act as if it is part of the medical examination.
Trust me, I am a doctor's daughter, a doctor's sister and a doctor's sister-in-law so you can bet that I wouldn't say this if I didn't know from reliable sources. And for the same reason, I NEVER go to a male doctor even if I have a cold. Unless it is my father, brother or cousin or they take me for the medical examination. The tough thing is that it is next to impossible to prove that a doctor is touching you inappropriately because that is part of the job! You cannot prove it in court unless you are ready to totally undergo a humiliation trial in front of a hundred people!
But sexual harassment in Kerala doesn't stop there.
I recall a friend (a Bank Manager in a pvt bank in
telling me that she had worked in Bangalore and
had got transferred to .
Her job involved visiting the bank's high profile customers, introducing them
to some of the bank's latest financial products and getting them to commit to
those. She told me that in seven out of ten visits, the men conveyed sexual
hints such as they would sign for whatever investment plans she offered them
and they tended to ask, "What will you do in return for this favor?" Kochi
Here is the clincher: These men are not riff raff. They belong to Kerala's higher socio-economic strata - they are well to do, have families of their own and most are in their early 40s and they are hinting this openly to a working woman in the comfort of their own homes.
Another friend who set up a legal practice in Kochi told me this in utmost confidence, "If you are a fairly good looking woman who is doing independent legal practice, get ready to tackle sick male lawyers (esp in the top slot) and even those at the helm of deciding cases may be dropping hints to you."
I felt like throwing up. Honestly! It really sickens me that men in any society, particularly in Kerala, can treat working women this way.
Shweta Menon Molestation: What's going wrong with Kerala?
Now the question (coming back to Shweta Menon) is: If this is what happens with a popular actress who has clout, industry and mass support, can you imagine what the situation is like for ordinary girls and women who are forced to put up with sexual misbehavior and dare not report it? Legally, how does one even begin to fight this problem?
Keralites would have admired and supported the actress if she had fought this case through thick and thin because she is someone who could have done it. It is her personal choice that she withdrew the complaint and we have to respect that too.
The saddest thing about this whole incident is that it has shown that men in Kerala can get away with molesting a woman in broad daylight and they can silence her if she protests.
Personally, it is this sick mentality that I find most ugly and unacceptable about Kerala's so called 'educated' society. I am not saying all men in Kerala are like that. But unfortunately, it is increasingly so and I don't see anything changing for the better unless women show more guts and men who aren't sexually harassing women come forward to openly support them and institutions also strengthen their support for those who are victims of sexual harassment.
On a sarcastic note, I would say that 'Peedanam' or 'molestation' should be made Kerala's trademark synonym because the warped mentality of men in the state seems to be increasing day by day. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against men but somehow an increasing number of men from Kerala offend all women by staring not at their faces but at their bodies when conversing, dropping sexual hints in conversations and not respecting some basic body space in interactions, among many other issues. And this is the case even with many of the Malayali men who are living outside Kerala! Note: I am referring to an age group here: those in their early 40s onward.
My only hope is that the next gen youth in the state may have a different perspective towards these issues. I have interacted with a lot of tweeps and youngsters through social media. I also attended a Twitter festival in Kochi where I experienced, with delight, an openness between youngsters and saw that they treat each other with respect as individuals. My only hope is that they may be able to change the way things are in Kerala and turn the tide against those who indulge in sexual harassment.
But, is that too much to hope for? Time will tell.
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