India's #MeToo movement has been gaining momentum over the past few days as many women took to Twitter to unveil the sexual predators among the country’s most powerful men. Actors, film makers, newspaper editors, authors and comedians are all being named and shamed for their sexual misconduct. The revelations are pointing fingers at many stars of the entertainment business. Starting with Bollywood's Nana Patekar, the list features All India Bakchod-fame comedian Utsav Chakraborty, actors Alok Nath, Rajat Kapoor, filmmaker Vikas Bahl and down South, Kollywood lyricist Vairamuthu and Malayalam actor Mukesh.
The harassment allegations against actor-turned-politician Mukesh was raised by Bollywood casting director Tess Joseph, who, 19 years ago, was the director of his TV show Koteeswaran. According to her, the actor had called her to a hotel room during the shooting of the show. In a series of tweets, she says, “I was 20 years old, quiz directing Koteeswaran when the Mallu host Mukesh Kumar called my room multiple times and then changed my room to beside his on the next schedule. My then boss Derek O’Brien spoke to me for an hour and got me out on the next flight. 19 yrs on thank you Derek… I was the only woman in a crew of men. One night when the calls where never-ending, I stayed in my colleague's room.” She also accuses Le Meridien Chennai of enabling predators. “Le Meridien Chennai, you are the worst for being enablers when I asked you why my room floor was different. So nonchalantly I was told Mr Kumar asked for it. I want to say this to every hotel, every crew member who has allowed and been party to enabling predators – you are a huge part of this.”
Mukesh, however, has denied the allegations saying he does not remember the woman who raised the charges.
Multiple National Award winner and Padma Bhushan recipient Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu has been accused of sexual harassment by a woman who had to work with him on songs for a film. In a message to journalist Sandhya Menon, the woman, who prefers anonymity, alleged that the incident took place when she was 18 years old while working with Vairamuthu on a project. “In the pretext of explaining lyrics, he came to me, hugged me and kissed me. I did not know what to do. I said ‘OK sir, thank you’ and ran from his house,” her message reads. She alludes the incident may have taken place at the lyricist’s residence cum office. She added that after the incident she made sure she was never alone with him when she had work to do and that she would always be in a group of people.
She also charged the lyricist of being a leading predator in the film industry who, with his political connections, would silence his victims. “But it happened to me and this is the truth,” the survivor of sexual harassment by the famous film personality concluded. Vairamuthu, however, said he did not want to comment on the allegations.
Noted playback singer Chimayi Sripaada has been one of the braver women who revealed all the sexual abuse she had suffered from her childhood and in the movie industry. She put all this out on her Twitter account over the past few days with a series of tweets in support of the anonymous lady who had made the allegations against Vairamuthu. She said, “The Industry knows, the men know the time is bloody up.”
After having sought the permission of her anonymous friend, Chinmayi shared the lady’s horrifying experience at the hands of Vairamuthu. In her message giving nod to publish it, the woman recalls the incident. “He ordered some buttermilk for me. When I started drinking it, he said a little bit is still on my lips…He came closer. I was sitting in one of those big couches at his Besant Nagar house’s huge meeting room. And he almost kissed me. I ran away grabbing my phone and bag. All my friends and singers know about this. I warned them all as soon as it happened to me. It was the worst day of my life. My husband still does not know. He may not allow me to pursue my career,” it reads.
Chinmayi, however, reacts to social media queries saying she would never stop rendering the songs she has sung in Vairamuthu’s lyrics so far. “Dheivam Thanda Poove, Sara Sara, Mayya Mayya are some of my finest songs that display my singing prowess in some composer's fantastic work. Anyway, I am sure he will make sure I don't sing anymore.”
Actor Alok Nath, thought to be a clean, family man for the longest time, has been accused of sexual harassment by writer Vinita Nanda. In a Facebook post, Nanda, writer of the popular 1990s TV show Tara, has opened up about how Nath sexually violated her nearly two decades ago. “I have waited for this moment to come for 19 years,” she writes, adding, “Irony is that the man, the predator in question here is the actor par excellence who is known as the most sanskaari (cultured) person in the film and television industry.”
She also details individual encounters with the “predator”, including a time when she met him after leaving a party in the middle of the night. “I started to walk home on the empty streets… Midway, I was accosted by this man who was driving his own car and he asked me to sit in it and said he would drop me home. I trusted him and sat in his car. I have faint memory after that. I can remember more liquor being poured into my mouth and I remember being violated endlessly. When I woke up the next afternoon, I was in pain. I hadn’t just been raped, I was taken to my own house and had been brutalised. I couldn't get up for my bed. I told some of my friends but everybody advised me to forget about it and move on,” the writer explains the horrific ordeal.
Since the writer's post has gained immense traction on social media, many, including celebrities like Mini Mathur and Swara Bhasker shared the post on Twitter and many others applauded her courage. When we got in touch with Vinita, she says that she was touched by the support. “I took to the social media to let the load off my heart. I did not expect this reaction. But I am glad people are listening and I am glad I have come out,” she says, adding that she is relieved to have finally spoken out. “I am feeling so relieved. For years, I have not been able to speak out. I do wish this courage had come to me much earlier. I needn’t have suffered so much then. I am just feeling so happy that we are in that space where women will be able to get justice and support today that was not there five years ago.”
Amidst the furore, it was but obvious that a response was expected from the alleged perpetrator, Alok Nath. And a response did come, one that was perplexing and appalling in equal measure. “Neither I am denying this nor would I agree with it. It (rape) must have happened, but someone else would have done it. Well, I do not want to talk much about it as for the matter if it has come out, it will be stretched,” said Alok Nath to a news channel. Asked how he felt about people questioning his sanskaari image, Alok said, “People will say anything to spoil the image. Leave my image, whatever has been said, it is absurd.” He also commented on how he felt about Vinita making the allegation, saying, “At one time she used to be such a good friend... today she said such a big thing. In a way, it was me who made her what she is.” He further went on to make a preposterous claim that, “It is useless to react on the allegations as in today’s world whatever a woman says, only that will be considered. In such a situation, it would be wrong to say anything.”
This insensitive comment didn't go down well with anyone. but Vinita nonchalantly says, “What do you expect him to do? Say I did it?”
Having received support from the Cine And TV Artistes’ Association (CINTAA), Vinita feels motivated, “The #MeToo movement prompted me as I was not alone. Earlier, when I wanted to speak, people asked me to let go and move on with my life but I have lived that pain inside. The environment is so motivating that it has motivated me too to come out. This environment ensures safety and safety ensures freedom.”
She also urges people who have suffered at the hands of predators, to come out, “This is a moment for change, so your silence will only hold barriers to its evolution. Speak out. Shout out from the top of the roof.”
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, K.R. 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 Gautam 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 including 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. “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)!”
“A vital dialogue has begun,” comments author Shobhaa De. “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. More are bound to emerge, provided there is widespread support for those speaking up. Most women are not empowered enough to file FIRs. Most men are in denial. We need a dramatic change in our psychological landscape first.”
Former TOI employee Zahra Khan, who now runs her own online media company in Mumbai says, “For many men, ‘consent’ is a boundary that must be pushed instead of being respected. For 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.”...