Reading other women’s #MeToo stories brings back memories of my sexual abuse as a young girl growing up in the late 1970s and 1980s in India.
Like many women, I couldn’t talk about it then. India had a tradition-bound society with strict gender norms and expectations. But a lot has changed since.
A new and powerful anti-sexism movement began in India, long before the present day feminist resurgence in the US, as I explore in a book I recently co-edited.
New Modes of Protest
In the early 21st century, millennial Indian women launched a radically new kind of feminist politics that had not been seen before. Inspired by a vocabulary of rights and modes of protest used by the youth across the world, such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, they initiated a series of social media campaigns against the culture of sexual violence.
The earliest campaigns — the 2003 Blank Noise Project against eve-teasing, the 2009 Pink Chaddi (underwear) movement against moral policing and the 2011 SlutWalk protest against victim-blaming — were limited in their scope but set the tone for this new mode of protest. Campaigns such the 2011 Why Loiter project on women’s right to public spaces, the 2015 Pinjra Tod (Break the Cage) movement against sexist curfew rules in student halls and the 2017 Bekhauf Azadi (Freedom without Fear) March resonated with a much larger number of women, turning this social media-led phenomenon into a true feminist movement.
These online campaigns represented a heightened level of frustration among the youth in a country where, despite several decades of feminist activism, the deep-rooted problem of gender inequality and sexual violence persists.
Mainstream Feminism in India
Mainstream Indian feminism has tended to focus on issues such as child marriage, sex-selective abortions and dowry-related violence. It saw sexuality only in terms of extraordinary forms of sexual violence against marginal women, such as rape of Dalit (formerly “untouchable”), tribal, or Muslim…