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India’s #MeToo Movement Makes The Most Glamorous Industry Its Subject Of Scrutiny

While India has been under the spotlight for sexual violence against women, sexual harassment at the workplace has seldom been under scrutiny.

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#MeToo, women, sexual harassment
Bollywood actress Tanushree Datta presents a creation by designer Sanjeet Anand at the Bangalore Fashion Week in Bangalore, India. VOA
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India is in the midst of its #MeToo moment as leading figures from the country’s entertainment and media industries face a volley of accusations of sexual misconduct from growing numbers of women.

The firestorm has had a powerful impact. In recent days two leading editors have stepped down, a Bollywood production house has been shuttered, India’s top comedy troupe faces an uncertain future and a popular author has apologized.

#MeToo
India’s Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar (front) arrives in Venezuela’s Caribbean island of Margarita for the 17th Non-Aligned Summit in Venezuela. VOA

The allegations have also touched the government. India’s junior foreign minister, M.J. Akbar, is among those named by several women journalists for alleged misconduct during his previous tenure as a leading journalist and editor. He has not yet responded to the allegations and foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, did not comment either.

The trigger for India’s #MeToo campaign came from Bollywood actress Tanushree Datta who last month filed a police complaint in a 10-year-old case alleging that a leading actor, Nana Patekar, behaved inappropriately during a film shoot. He has denied the accusations and sent her a legal notice.

Soon after, a female comedian, Mahima Kukreja, accused a former member of comedy group All India Bakchod, Utsav Chakraborty, of sending her lewd messages and photos. Following similar accusations by other women, Chakraborty apologized on Twitter saying, “It’s a little too late, but I am sorry.”

The two allegations appeared to have touched a nerve among many women in media. During the past few days, there has been an outpouring on social media from scores of women journalists sharing their experiences of inappropriate behavior, ranging from suggestive messages to unsolicited advances with #MeToo.

#MeToo
Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27, 2018 in Washington. VOA

The Network of Women in Media group called it a “watershed moment for all of us in journalism,” and said it encouraged more women to “document their accounts without fear or inhibitions.”

In the glitzy Bollywood industry, producer and writer Vinta Nanda, accused actor Alok Nath of sexually abusing her almost 20 years ago on a Facebook post. Nath has told a news agency, “It must have happened, but someone else would have done it.”

Nanda told reporters the movement taking place is “very encouraging, very enabling and this is the reason why I have brought it up.”

Lawyer Vrinda Grover who has helped draft India’s laws on sexual abuse and harassment, said that enabled by technology and social media, women had spoken out because in a new environment, “They will not be immediately blamed as in the past.” On the other hand, it is bringing consequences for harassers.

A high profile movie company, Phantom Films, was dissolved after HuffPost India published an investigation alleging that one of the founders, Vikas Bahl, had assaulted a female employee after a party in 2015. The other partners apologized for mishandling her complaint.

#MeToo
Queen” star Kangana Ranaut hasn’t been far behind in calling out Bahl,

A popular author, Chetan Bhagat, issued an apology after a woman uploaded a screen shot of a text in which the married writer said he wanted to “woo” her.

The editor of a leading newspaper, Times of India, K.R. Sreenivas, has been sent on leave pending an investigation after several women accused him of making sexual propositions. The political editor of another popular daily, the Hindustan Times, Prashant Jha, stepped down after a former colleague accused him of harassing her.

Amid a global movement to hold powerful men accountable for sexual misconduct, Indian women have picked up courage, said journalist Rituparna Chatterjee. “The floodgates to women’s anger have been opened.”

Some women said they were inspired by the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, the university researcher in the United States, who accused, without evidence, U.S. supreme court judge nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. He is now a Supreme Court justice.

#MeToo
The hushed whispers are getting louder. Flickr

This is not the first time when efforts have been made to bring the #MeToo movement to India, but in the past it has quickly faded away. Last year for example, a crowd-sourced list of academics accused of harassment got little attention.

Also Read: Nana Patekar Denies Accusations of Sexual Harrassment

But lawyer Vrinda Grover calls the ongoing spontaneous campaign a “significant moment” in the effort to address workplace harassment. But she points out that the women who have spoken out largely represent the educated, urban elite and says it will be much harder for those working on shop floors, on construction sites and as household maids to bring attention to their stories.

While India has been under the spotlight for sexual violence against women, sexual harassment at the workplace has seldom been under scrutiny. (VOA)

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  • P. B. Josh

    Although this exposure applies only to the famous men, it surely will open eyes of less successful men involved in this kind on action. But just like men many women employees are also lazy/useless/inefficient etc. So punishing those women employees could be tricky for bosses because they can claim punishment for their refusal for bosses’ advances.

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  • P. B. Josh

    Although this exposure applies only to the famous men, it surely will open eyes of less successful men involved in this kind on action. But just like men many women employees are also lazy/useless/inefficient etc. So punishing those women employees could be tricky for bosses because they can claim punishment for their refusal for bosses’ advances.

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Star ICC Asks Anonymous Accuser Of Sexual Assault Charges To Step Forward

The accuser said that while she was at the company, there were "clear instructions" given to make the sales team fulfil the targets.

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Star ICC
#MeToo: Star India internal panel writes to anonymous accuser to come forward

The Internal Complaints Committee of Star India on Sexual Harassment (Star ICC) has written to the anonymous accuser — who had alleged “sexual exploitation” of women employees — asking her to reach out to the committee or its external member on allegations made by her in tweets.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Star ICC, formed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 said it had reached out to the accuser through two emails on the ID provided by her through her tweets. The committee’s external member is Veena Gowda, a Mumbai-based woman rights lawyer.

The accuser, who tweeted through handle @ApurvaS17 — saying she would remain anonymous — had made sexual harassment allegations against the company’s officials in an open letter.

Star ICC
Star believes that the allegations made in the tweet without the complainant coming forward and giving any further detail, is a malicious attempt.

Asked to comment on the allegations, a Star India spokesperson said in a statement that despite no response by the anonymous accuser to the messages sent, the Star ICC had “suo moto conducted a preliminary inquiry and found no basis or factual accuracy” in respect of the allegations.

“We strongly urge any genuine complainant to approach the Star ICC. At Star, we stand with women in drawing the line on any behaviour that violates human dignity or the ability for women to pursue their dreams with respect and freedom. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment,” read the statement in response to an email query by IANS.

It also said that the anonymous tweet shared on October 13 raised an allegation that “runs completely counter to everything we believe in and the norms and values that we deeply embrace.”

The statement further said: “Star believes that the allegations made in the tweet without the complainant coming forward and giving any further detail, is a malicious attempt to malign and defame the reputation of the company and the CEO.” It said that Star reserves its right to initiate appropriate legal proceedings in this regard.

Star ICC
The Star ICC had “suo moto conducted a preliminary inquiry and found no basis or factual accuracy.

The accuser in her tweets had said that the #MeToo movement had encouraged her to come forward and that she had quit her job at Star India in the Airtime Sales section after 26 months and nine days and was now a homemaker, “taking care of my baby and hubby in a beautiful country, far away from Mumbai.”

The accuser said that while she was at the company, there were “clear instructions” given to make the sales team fulfil the targets in case they want to continue with their employment contract, “for which even if you have to take the clients to a hotel room and sleep with them for days.”

She said there were many instances when she and three of her female colleagues (interns) had clear instructions to reach a hotel after office hours for a private party hosted for influential friends.

Also Read: India’s Junior Foreign Minister M.J. Akbar Quits Following #MeToo Harassment Allegation By Women

She says the influential friends were “mostly bureaucrats and sometimes politicians and foreign nationals” who were “all ready to violate you, force you to dance against your wishes, drink with them, make drink(s) for them, exchange your numbers and even quietly accompany them to their respective rooms if they want you to”.

Veteran writer-director Vinta Nanda, who earlier this month accused actor Alok Nath of sexually violating her 19 years ago, wrote on Twitter: “I’m neither shocked nor surprised. I salute your courage to have come out and spoken out. The rot runs deep.” (IANS)