Illustration credit: Rohit Goyal
Illustration credit: Rohit Goyal

Sandhya Menon: The making of an ordinary superhero

The second wave of the #MeToo movement in India is being led by a group of extraordinary women

Sandhya Menon picks me up in a cab from outside a Bengaluru supermarket on Thursday morning. She’s in the middle of moving homes, and every few seconds, her phone rings: it’s either a journalist arranging a video interview, or the movers. “You don’t mind sitting on the floor, do you?" she asks, taking big gulps from a juice bottle I bought for her. No, I say, bemused and utterly fascinated by the manic energy exuding from this woman who brought the second wave of the #Metoo movement in India to a head just over a week ago.

A month ago, Menon was spearheading one of the most active campaigns in Bengaluru for relief efforts during the Kerala floods. Even then, she hadn’t taken a break for days, mobilizing donations and relief material, channelling accurate information, and pleading with truck drivers to take food and clothes to Kerala.

No one who’s been on Twitter the past week could have missed the massive effort Menon and her allies, such as journalists Rituparna Chatterjee, Anoo Bhuyan and Dhanya Rajendran, have put into amplifying the stories of women from all over India. “Why do you do this?" I ask her. “This particular thing, I know exactly what triggered it. It was reading the pathetic apology by (stand-up comic) Utsav Chakraborty—it pissed me off no end. It made me realize most men... have no empathy with women," she says.

A day before Menon went public about her experiences, poet and comic Mahima Kukreja had opened the doors to this conversation by exposing Chakraborty’s despicable behaviour towards women. On Friday morning, Menon could take it no more. Her Twitter thread about senior journalists who she claimed had physically or verbally assaulted her, encouraged many other women from the media and beyond to come forward with their own stories, some of which they had repressed for years. Menon and her “sisterhood" were flooded with DMs. Soon, it was the biggest story of the day, and for once, the media was not protecting its own. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of interviews and TV appearances for Menon, who works as a freelance journalist and content writer.

Ironically, she says, her work is suffering. It’s also taken a toll on her mental health— she has borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. “It’s going to sound weird, but my mental illness helps me in these situations. I can go into a manic phase and forget everything and focus on what needs to get done. It’s only after, when I finally go off Twitter for a while, that for two, three weeks it’s hell. I crash," she says matter-of-factly.

The contours of the movement have undergone subtle changes over the past few days after some false allegations ; a couple of days ago, Menon announced she would no longer retweet accounts shared with her anonymously, though she will continue to protect the identity of survivors. But a curious thing has happened—more women are now claiming their identity as they name their abusers, especially after journalist Ghazala Wahab’s harrowing (oddly more so because of the measured tone) account of alleged harassment by former editor and now MP, M.J. Akbar.

As we walk towards her new home, Menon says she’s thankful her two children are with her parents in Delhi, so that’s one less thing to worry about. She checks her phone, and says she’s just got a DM from a young girl working with a big internet service provider. “Her supervisor slapped her on the arm, and when she shouted ‘That hurts!’, he slapped her across the face and said, ‘Achcha? What about this?’. She’s taken the case to HR but she doesn’t think they are going to do anything," she says, reading out from her phone.

The battle rages, and the sisterhood is whirling its Lasso of Truth.

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