‘The best form of feminism is for women to be happy’

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 11 January 2019

Author and one of the leading voices of #MeToo movement, Meghna Pant says that women need to forgive and love themselves and sculpt their own story

Sometime last year, author of best-sellers like Feminist Rani, Happy Birthday! One and a Half Wife, had a baby girl. Typically, instead of wishing her and the child well, Pant was told that it would be her ‘most redundant year professionally’. True to her character, Pant fought back and found a wonderful year in 2018.

To top it off, the author and feminist activist was featured in ‘The Cool List 2018: Stars of today, role models of tomorrow’ in Grazia magazine. 
We seek Pant’s opinions on achieving the latest epithet and the #MeToo movement and all things gender. 

You have contributed to Grazia and now you feature on its ‘The Cool List 2018: Stars of today, role models of tomorrow’. How does it feel?
To have my name mentioned among Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal, Kubbra Sait, and Sriram Raghavan, as someone appropriating the national conversation, was a big honour. At the start of the year 2018, I was told it would be my most redundant professionally since I’d had a baby. I fought back and slaved in the midst of diapers and breastfeeding. 

Aside from publishing articles, speaking at lit fests and debating on TV panels, I published the bestselling book Feminist Rani, (Penguin Random House, 2018). I won the ‘Laadli Media Award’ (2018) for my writing on gender equality. 

I was a mentor for Hillary Clinton’s initiative Vital Voices that promotes women empowerment. I was also one of the leading voices of the #MeToo movement, and chaired India’s first #MeToo conference in alliance with Firstpost. I worked hard. I’m glad it paid off and people noticed!

Your debut novel, One and a Half Wife talked about domestic abuse. You too have suffered it in the past. Yet in all your writing, especially in Feminist Rani pieces, you don’t come across as a bitter woman. Can you tell us how your personal experiences have shaped your writing and your stand on feminism?
If I had let the man who shattered my body and spirit leave me forever broken, then he would have won. Patriarchy, misogyny, violence and hatred would have won. So, yes, I cried, for many years, but ultimately I refused to feel like a victim. I put myself back together. And those broken pieces made me so whole that I became the strongest and best version of myself. I rewrote the story of my own life and in it I chose hope, love and happiness. 

I think the best form of feminism is for women to be happy. After all, that is the entire purpose of the movement, isn’t it? I have women who come to me bearing their stories of physical abuse, domestic violence, of being hugely mistreated in the hands of men, and of women — for aren’t some women complicit in patriarchy as well? — and my answer to all of them is this: When tragedy strikes, and it strikes all of us in its own way, we must learn to rebuild ourselves and change the narrative of our life from victim to victor. Ultimately, who we are is not what others want us to 
become but who we really want to be. So, forgive yourself, love yourself, believe in yourself, and sculpt your own story. You have one life, seize it with both hands, and live! 

You also chaired a conference on #Me Too. How do you see this popular second wave of #Me Too? Has it already lost steam?
I hear this a lot by cynics and naysayers, so I’ll say it again: just because #MeToo is not occupying front-page news doesn’t mean that the movement has lost steam. Go to boardrooms where ICCs (Internal Complaints Committee) are being formed, go to offices where POSH is being taught to employees, go to bars where men have become more respectful towards women, go to WhatsApp where women are giving it back to misogynistic forwards, go to courtrooms where sexual perpetrators are being brought to culpability by brave women, go to rural Bundelkhand where female journalists are fighting for women who have been wronged. Like an earthquake, #MeToo is leaving its aftershocks and the effect is seen across every living room in India.  

Once we have named and shamed the men, what next? Shouldn’t it be logically be in the domain of court and police? 
You are right. Perpetrators — the big fish and small fish — are relying on the lack of due process, along with paucity of evidence, short public memory, gaslighting and defamation cases to shirk responsibility and bide their time. 

Where there’s no change or accountability, we know we are at a tipping point. Will we let perpetrators walk free, or will they have to exact a price? Will we let the accused bide the time, or do the time? Therefore, it is imperative that women who’ve been sexually harassed move beyond social media testimonials and allegations to legal recourse. Today there are many helping hands and systems in place to assist them. 

How can we build up on the gains of the #Me Too movement?
We have to find a larger solution beyond conversations and news cycle. It is important for survivors to avail therapy and counselling so they don’t spend years internalising such incidents, alone, racked with feelings of shame or guilt. Systemic failures have to be rectified by educating men so that they become aware of their actions and show empathy and respect while dealing with the women in their life. 

Companies have to create safe workspaces, gender sensitisation practices and grievance redressal systems. A corrective course for freelancers and the unorganised sector has to be established. Justice has to be doled out swiftly for those who have been wronged. More than anything else, every women must learn how to say NO if she feels violated, threatened or intimidated. Our culture of ‘chup raho’ and ‘abla nari’ has to go! 

Certain reservations are being raised that women are becoming a law unto themselves. For instance, pressure was being built up to drop Suhel Seth from a panel. Or women questioned model Lakshmi Menon’s decision to wed Seth. Are we going in the right direction?
Wise women cannot be relied upon to bear the onus of foolish women, but sometimes we’re left with no choice. Women have to take matters into their own hands when the system fails them. Because they know that this culture of impunity that is granted to rich and powerful men has to end. No man is too rich or too powerful to not be taken to task for his wrongdoings. And yes, the task to clean up anything is the dirtiest task of all, but if it makes for a better place for us all to live, then it must be done. 

As far as Sabarimala case is concerned, can’t we build up opinion, consensus in society? Or is aggressive posturing required of women?
Sabarimala isn’t a simple debate between chauvinism and gender equality, or between tradition and modernism, or even between religious practices and sovereignty. No. It’s an issue of female autonomy. Of sending out a message to India that women are neither impure, nor can they be dehumanised by the internalised patriarchy that has seeped into our religious psyche. Restricting women on the basis of their biology is discriminatory. Excluding women from places of worship is abhorrent. Sabarimala has to open its doors.

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