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#MeToo: A Social Reform Or A Judicial Bypass?

Aswath Srinivasan

Over the last two years, we have seen a movement that has been dubbed by many as India’s greatest social reform in history. The #metoo movement has sent shockwaves through society, our existing system, and many industries. Many people have justified the #metoo movement by calling it an alternative system of justice. On the other hand, it has received considerable criticism from people who don’t see the need for an alternative system and consider “mob justice” as injustice rather than justice.

Be that as it may, when there is such a “reform movement” in the making, being dubbed as an alternative to our “flawed system”, it is important to draw a comparison between the two systems to ascertain whether the #metoo movement is a reform or a means to bypass the existing system.

Firstly, our legal system is based on some fundamental principles. One of the most important principles is the statement, “innocent until proven guilty.” In a mass social media movement like #metoo, there is no way to ensure that these principles are prevalent. Any person that seeks to use a system other than the existing one seeks to bypass the sound legal principles of the existing one. There is no alternative system that can replicate the principles of the existing one. If an alternative system existed that was also based on such sound legal principles as the existing one, it would be redundant in the eyes of the person seeking to bypass such principles by using alternative systems.

A very common argument in favor of the #metoo movement is “the need for an alternative system of justice.” This argument is justified by the fallacies and problems in our existing system. However, this is a system based on fixed legal principles. It is not prudent to look for an alternative system that bypasses such principles. The solutions to the problems that exist in our present system can be achieved by reforming our existing system, and not by bypassing it by finding an alternative one.

It is unfortunate that in some cases, due to the existence of such sound legal principles, legality prevails but not morality. However, our system was always designed to be a legal system, and not a moral one, like the #metoo movement. The primary reason that a legal system must always hold legality above morality is that morality is subjective and legality is not. The legality of an act can be ascertained by any prudent person. But the morality of an act is bound to be different in the opinions of different people.

There is also an important social component to this talking point. A person found guilty under the existing system, of committing an act defined as a crime by the same system, he or she is punished by the recommendations of the same system. In an “undefined” system like #metoo that has no established principles and structure, a person who is considered guilty by the majority, with or without any evidence of his or her guilt, is subject to arbitrary cruelty, and not well-defined punishments. Such people are shamed on social media; tend to lose their jobs, relations, and even houses. These people are ostracised from society and labeled a criminal for the rest of their lives and all this, without verifiable evidence or corroborating witnesses.

A key point to be noted is that if any person that avails #metoo platforms to seek justice had incriminating evidence of the crime committed against him or her, by the accused, there is no reason they would not get justice in our existing system. If incriminating evidence as defined by our existing system existed, then any alternative system would be redundant, to say the least. So one can only assume that those who feel the need for an alternative system and question the existing one only do so because they can’t prove their accusations under the existing system that they so desperately want to bypass.

As law-abiding citizens, we must know our laws. It must be noted with the highest importance, that most people who make allegations on #metoo platforms are liable to be sued for defamation. It must be understood that “Defamation” (IPC Section 499) implies making a false statement about a person, which is communicated to a third party resulting in damage to the reputation of the said person. An accusation made under the umbrella of the #metoo movement, which cannot be proven in court, can be considered a “false statement” about the person accused of committing a crime. Publishing such statements on social media under the #metoo movement platform classifies as communication to a third party. Such statements made on such platforms do significant damage to the reputation and life of the person accused of committing a crime. Hence it can be said that most allegations made on #metoo platforms are vulnerable, and can very easily be considered as defamation of character.

We must understand that any person accused of committing a crime has the right to be heard. Our existing legal system does not allow for a person to be convicted unheard (Principles of Natural Justice: Audi Alteram Partem). However, this is not the case in an alternative system like the #metoo movement. People on social media tend to jump to conclusions without hearing the accused person’s version of what transpired during the encounter between the accuser and the accused if the said encounter even happened. In such “mob justice” systems, the accused person’s voice typically goes unheard and gets drowned out in the mob of angry voices abusing the accused person based on their conclusion that they formed based on a one-sided, unverifiable and possibly defamatory statement made by the accuser.

Keeping in mind the effects of a #metoo type allegation on a person’s career, personal life, and even finances, it is important to note that #metoo allegations can be used as a weapon to make “shakedown” accusations like the “Kavanaugh accusations” in the USA. Political or Business rivals often use such allegations to damage the reputation and career of their direct rivals. This can very well be considered a kind of dangerous soft power that is indeed very detrimental to society, not to mention an attack “below the belt” in any political or business rivalry.

When an allegation made on a #metoo platform is eventually proven to be false, it is important to note the fate of the person who made the false accusation in the first place. It is incredibly astonishing and must be noted with deep regret that such accusers very often get away scot-free. It can be observed that the same “mob justice” tendency of the #metoo movement does not backlash on the person who made the false allegation. This, however, does not happen in our existing system. First of all making, a false statement under oath is Perjury, as defined by the existing system. Secondly, as mentioned before, people making such false accusations are liable to be sued for defamation of character.

Our existing legal system protects us from misuse of the system by such people making false allegations.
After comparing the existing system with the proposed alternative system in-depth, one will find it very difficult to justify such an alternative, which claims to eliminate the fallacies and flaws in the existing system but has innumerable dangerous flaws itself. “Mob Justice” systems like the #metoo movement have no structure, spine, or sound operating principles. It is very difficult to even consider it a system to deliver justice rather than just pure anarchy. After making such a comparison, one can safely conclude that “mob justice” is injustice rather than justice.

The author is a undergraduate law student

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