Priya Ramani is someone most women professionals of a certain age can identify with.
What happened with her when a senior journalist took her into his hotel room to conduct an interview was the kind of thing that happened to many of us. It was something that made her deeply uncomfortable, yet she stayed silent because thought she was uncomfortable, he didn’t “do anything”.
Most of us have had similar encounters in our career.
Not an overt demand for sexual favours in return for professional growth (or to avoid potential professional death), but situations where the intent is made quite clear. We were uncomfortable, but we chose silence. And we did so for many reasons.
We chose silence because they system is so clearly stacked against women, that even other well meaning women would have rushed in to assure us that we were imagining things if we spoke about how we were made to feel. We would have been assured that we should move on since nothing really happened.
We genuinely believed that harassment took only certain very well defined forms. That unless there was deliberate touch in inappropriate places or unless a clear cut proposition had been made, it was not harassment. It took multiple POSH trainings before most of us accepted that the perception of the victim was as valid as the intent of the perpetrator. That if something made us uncomfortable, we had the right to speak up against it.
We chose silence because of the people we were up against. The men who made us feel uncomfortable were powerful people who could destroy careers. They were also part of a cabal that would brand you as attention seeking- “he can have anyone, why would he waste his energy on you?” They were men who knew that their network would stand by them, and help them destroy any woman who complained.
We chose silence because we subconsciously knew that if we spoke up, we would be put on trial not the perpetrator. And we were right in that perception. When Priya Ramani spoke up against her perpetrator, MJ Akbar responded by filing a defamation suit against her- he knew (as we did) that he would get away.
So, when MJ Akbar with his 97 lawyers accused Priya Ramani of defamation, we felt for her because we have remained silent because of the same fear. For us, it was not just Priya Ramani who was on trial, all our hopes and fears were too.