The accusation of sexual harassment by a Pakistani singer Meesha Shafi against actor Ali Zafar, has shone the spotlight on Bollywood’s open secret and the lack of a fair redressal forum for victims of sexual harassment. Despite being in existence for 100 years, the film industry still does not have a cell to address harassment at the workplace.
Aditi Rao Hydari, who has worked with Ali in the film London, Paris, New York, says the issue of sexual harassment goes beyond an individual. “Sometimes, both perpetrator and victim exhibit a high level of ignorance. The former thinks he is entitled to misbehave, while the newcomer or struggler may not even know that he or she is being sexually harassed. Suppose a man of some age and experience puts his arm around a newcomer and the latter feels uneasy with the touch, how can he or she be sure it is not just a friendly or paternal touch? Such confusion often dilutes the gravity of the crime and deflects from finding solutions and getting justice.”
Aditi says the biggest hurdle, however, is that that sexually harassed youngsters have no redressal forum. “Where do they go for justice? Most workplaces in India have a complaint cell for sexual offences. There’s no such cell in Bollywood. The most that a harassed person can do is complain to the producer or director or share the trauma with a friend and then move on. We need to set up a proper grievance cell for sexual offences in the film industry.”
Also, Aditi feels, the person harassed should feel no fear or shame in coming forward with the grievance. “There is the fear of being ostracised by the film industry, of not getting work if one speaks out. That fear should be dispelled. Whenever I’ve faced situations that have made me uncomfortable I’ve turned down the project. Have I lost out on good work because of my refusal to ignore unacceptable behaviour? I may have. But, at least I can look myself in the eye in the mirror,” she says, hinting that she, too, has been at the receiving end of unsavoury behaviour....