Over the last few days many women across India have taken to Twitter to tell their stories of sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of some of India’s most powerful men. Actors, newspaper editors, authors, comedians… the list goes on, are all being named and shamed for their misconduct. India’s #MeToo movement has arrived.
Sharing her views, author Shobhaa De echoes the same sentiment, “A vital dialogue has begun. It is important that this first step does not get diluted or trivialised. We need to maintain the tempo while not losing sight of the larger objective which is to ensure fair play and justice. Women need a safe environment period. This last week has exposed many perpetrators of sexual harassment. More are bound to emerge, provided there is widespread support for those speaking up. After we are done with the shock and awe of revelations, we should move on to the next level, which will lead to long term shifts.”
De is one of many women who are drawing attention to this rising movement. Many believe that the next step is legal action. Says De, “Unless those at the receiving end of such treatment file charges, not much can be done. Most women are not empowered enough to file FIRs. Most men are in denial. We need a dramatic change in our psychological landscape first.
And that change must be reflected in our popular culture movies must address the issue and stop projecting women as sexual currency. That would be a huge step forward.”
With the first volley of complaints originating from the film industry, many have questioned the practices being followed there. Speaking on the topic, noted writer Malavika Sanghvi, who authors one of Mumbai’s influential society columns says, “It’s a worldwide phenomena and it’s not limited to any one particular industry alone across the globe. It’s been witnessed in publishing, IT, finance, bureaucracy, education, media showbiz and that too, not recently, but for some time now. Women are now speaking up, and telling their true stories. Bollywood will see much more of it in the coming months.”
With allegations flying around against some of the industry’s most powerful men, the story of Bollywood’s long history of sexual misconduct against women has taken on a whole new shape, making it hard to keep up with who’s to be blamed and who’s in the clear. Many say a culture of toxic masculinity in the industry is responsible for the abuse, on which Sanghvi states, “Let’s be honest, there is a patriarchal dominance that prevails everywhere, in every industry, and yes, Bollywood is no exception.”
Newspaper editors too!
While Bollywood’s catharsis was being carefully watched, women from publishing started to come out with stories of how some of India’s most powerful male editors had harassed them. One such name that is currently being discussed is Hyderabad’s Resident Editor at Times of India, KR Sreenivas, who allegedly made a pass at fellow journalist Sandhya Menon while dropping her to work in 2008 in Bengaluru. Her Tweet saw several other journalists come out claiming that Sreenivas had abused his position by harassing them as well. Another name from the TOI camp that is being discussed is Jaideep Bose or JoJo as he was known to insiders, the Head Editor of Times of India…leaving many wondering how misconduct at the highest levels will be treated by TOI and their HR departments; which have till now been getting a lot of heat from journalists for having been lax when it came to such allegations against their top honchos. TOI wasn’t the only media firm to be shamed by Menon’s tweets, also in the fray were Guatam Adhikari, formerly editor of DNA and Manoj Ramacharan of Hindustan Times in New Delhi. Other users on Twitter also claimed Prashant Jha and Dhrubo Jyoti of Hindustan Times, Mayank Jain of The Wire, Anurag Verma of Huffpost India to have been involved in predatory behaviour as well. The latest tweets have also hinted at our current Minister of State for External Affairs M. J Akbar. Few journalists have narrated details of their unpleasant experience with “ “a brilliant editor of a national daily.” on First Post and Rediff.com but haven’t named Akbar directly. But the Twitter thread has many taking his name. Same is the case with journalist T. S. Sudhir too. He’s off Twitter now soon after one girl hinted at him too. As a former editor, Akbar’s trysts with young journalists are being mentioned on Twitter detailing incidents where he invited women up to his hotel room and spoke how he could have any woman he wanted. Times MD Vineet Jain is being called out with Twitter users uploading pictures of him with a string of models and inclusing his name in the many twitter threads. Says an ex-employee of TOI who requested to remain anonymous, “He would ask our editors to write cover stories on upcoming models, they would be promoted in Bombay Times. Some were even allowed to live in TOI owned apartments in Mumbai.” Which explains why complaints about misconduct from TOI editors went unheeded the man who heads the empire wasn’t above board too.
Authors as well
Independent authors like Kiran Nagarkar and Chetan Bhagat too have been shamed and accusers have shed light on their respective incidents of sexual harassment against these writers, prompting, in the case of Bhagat, an apology where he says, “I am really sorry to the person concerned. The screenshots (of Bhagat’s harassing texts), are of course real, and I am sorry if you felt they were wrong I hope you will accept my apology... Just in terms of more information, these screenshots are several years old, and I had met the person in question a couple of times. We hit it off really well as a friendship, and as I say in the screenshots, I did feel a strong connection with her. I did find her a good human being, sweet, cute and funny (sic).” Sports stars like Jwala Gutta too have taken to tweeting their views. The badminton player recently replied to a tweet saying, “This has been happening for a very long time… when I spoke up I was banned from playing all (my) tournaments. I (had to) withdraw my entry from international tournaments, (they) tried to isolate me etc etc. problem is that women speak… that’s their problem (sic)!” Former TOI employee Zahra Khan, who now runs her own online media company in Mumbai says on the topic, “I think India’s #MeToo movement has arrived. Recent events of women coming forward with their ordeals is a step in the right direction. It is incredibly hard for women who’ve faced sexual harassment physical, verbal, or otherwise to come forward and speak their truth. We have a long way to go before Indian men understand that their actions are emblematic of a much deeper problem. For many men, ‘consent’ is a boundary that must be pushed instead of being respected. And for us women, it is simply a way of life navigating our way around men who see how far they can go without crossing the line. Given this scenario, I doubt the situation will be better for women in the foreseeable future. Which is why it is so important for us in the media to support the victims, give their stories a voice, and reach as many people as possible. Change has to come.” Women who aren’t in the spotlight too are catching on. Hyderabadi-girl Shoa Hussain who now works for an MNC in Bengaluru says, “There is a shift happening, women feel more empowered now and will not stand this kind of behaviour. The idiot sitting across the desk has no right to be abusive, he has no right to get a higher pay and no right to behave like a privileged, entitled buffoon. I was abused at the age of three, it’s impossible to find a woman out there who hasn’t faced some form of abuse... we experience it every day, in the bus, in the elevator, while out playing in the neighbourhood. It’s therefore all the more important for us to talk about this and let it gain momentum. Now is the time for change.”