It is thanks to the reportage by The Times and The New Yorker, which jointly won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize For Public Service for exposing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as the predator he is, that women around the world have come forward to expose high-profile predators in every field.
In India, the #MeToo movement spread only because of the courage of actress Tanushree Dutta who spoke out about the harassment she faced at the hands of actor Nana Patekar on the sets of her movie Horn Ok Pleassss, a decade ago. This was the much-needed trigger that the survivors needed to come forward with their own stories unmasking idols and inspirational figures.
But sadly, while these men have been called out and shamed to a certain extent, have they really been punished?
M.J. Akbar has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexually harassing them. He lost his ministry and reputation but remains an MP and his career as a journalist doesn’t seem over as the Hindustan Times newspaper, owned by a woman (Shobhna Bhartiya), got him to write for their Op-Ed page.
Tanushree Dutta’s director in the film Chocolate, Vivek Agnihotri had wanted her to take off her clothes and dance naked on the sets! Yet, the pervert was recently invited to Bhavan’s College in Ahmedabad as chief guest for an event!
Nana Patekar fortunately has been dropped from Housefull 4. But for how long he’s out of films, remains to be seen.
Director Vikas Bahl of Queen fame has been accused by several actors, including Kangana Ranaut, of inappropriate behaviour. Yes, his business partners have disowned him but he seems to be surviving in Bollywood as he is still involved with post production work on Hrithik Roshan’s upcoming film Super 30.
Sajid Khan has been outed as the creepiest of filmmakers by Lara Dutta, Bipasha Basu and actor Priyanka Puri. His former assistant and a journalist revealed how sleazy he really is, especially preying on juniors and upcoming actresses. His sister, Farah, and cousin, Farhan Akhtar, say they are shocked, but not a word about disassociating themselves from him. Only Akshay Kumar took a stance and refused to work with him on Housefull 4 and Sajid was sacked as director of the film. The Indian Film and Television Directors Association (IFTDA) too suspended him for a year. Rajat Kapoor, after being outed as a repeated harasser by two women, says on twitter, “I will try harder to be a decent man.” Alok Nath of course has proven to be the worst, after it emerged that he harassed multiple women and allegedly raped producer/writer Vinta Nanda of Tara fame. The Cine Artists Association has expelled him, but his movie roles haven’t dried up. He will be seen in De De Pyaar De starring Ajay Devgn and Rakul Preet.
Flipkart’s Binny Bansal has stepped down as group CEO because of a 2016 complaint of sexual assault but he remains a shareholder in the company.
Why does it seem like that these men are getting away with just a rap on the knuckles? The wave of himpathy seems strong; it is this sympathetic stance patriarchal society often takes towards powerful men. This is not unusual because the old boys club has always been stronger than the sisterhood. How else can you explain a woman like Shobhna Bhartiya giving MJ Akbar, a man accused of assaulting women journalists, space to write in her newspaper?
Not all bad news
There hasn’t been one arrest or legal consequence the men have had to face because of their inappropriate behaviour. So, is it worth it for the survivors to continue their fight?
One of India’s leading feminists, writer Manisha Chaudhry, says there is no reason to feel disheartened. She feels women are not on a soft wicket. “It is true that action can only be taken according to the law of the land. The fact that these men have had to step down from their jobs/posts based on allegations is a huge step forward,” points out Manisha. It’s just that there is not enough knowledge of the law and how it can be used in our favour. “Even a person with time and resources will think twice as cases can go on for years and years. You take time off from work, make an appearance in court time and again only to realise the accused has not shown up and the case keeps getting postponed. I think the system has become a victim of its own weight,” says Manisha. Our laws are very good and strong, but to pursue a case to its logical end is a difficult thing.
“But at least they have been called out. People now know them for the creeps that they are. They have suffered professional damage.
Up till now the subtext has been ‘It’s ok, women also make compromises’, but that’s changing. The fact that you have so many survivors speaking up and people paying notice to what they are saying is a huge step forward,” says Manisha.
Women, act now!
No matter how painful the ordeal, if you want the court to prosecute the person who has subjected your to sexual harassment, you shouldn’t wait 20 years. Act now!
Neeha Nagpal, associate partner, Agarwal Law Associates explains why you can’t waste time. “The difference between an act of love and rape, is consent. Consent is the cornerstone of a meaningful act of love, while rape is a living horror.”
In most #MeToo allegations, the predators have conducted themselves in a discrete manner. Proving that lack of consent is in most cases, especially in most of the #MeToo cases, premised on circumstantial evidence. Thus, it gets difficult to prove as time goes by. To my mind, in such cases time is of the essence and legal action against the predators has to be taken forthwith.” But the good news is that the #MeToo campaign has galvanised women into action. “Because of the delay and lack of credible information, the predators play the victim card by suing for defamation. The lesson to be learnt with the #MeToo movement is to come out then and there, not wait,” explains Neeha.