The rise of In­dia’s #MeToo move­ment

Women take to so­cial me­dia as frus­tra­tion grows five years af­ter law change

Weekend Herald - - World - Emily Sch­mall in New Delhi

In­dian ac­tresses and writ­ers have flooded so­cial me­dia in re­cent days with al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault, re­leas­ing pent-up frus­tra­tion with a law that was lauded in­ter­na­tion­ally but that crit­ics say has done lit­tle to change the sta­tus quo in the world’s largest democ­racy.

“Peo­ple us­ing so­cial me­dia to ar­tic­u­late their com­plaints should be recog­nised in the con­text of fail­ure. The sys­tem has in ef­fect failed us, has failed women,” T. K. Ra­jalak­shmi, the pres­i­dent of the In­dian Women’s Press Corps, said in a panel dis­cus­sion on Thurs­day in New Delhi.

The Sex­ual Ha­rass­ment of Women at Work­place Act of 2013 holds In­dian work­places li­able for sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and pre­scribes a sys­tem for in­ves­ti­gat­ing and re­dress­ing com­plaints. Employers must cre­ate com­mit­tees that are at least 50 per cent women, presided over by a woman and with one ex­ter­nal ex­pert, to process com­plaints. The law builds on the land­mark 1997 Vishakha case, in which In­dia’s Supreme Court held that sex­ual ha­rass­ment at work vi­o­lated a woman’s con­sti­tu­tional right to equal­ity.

But nearly five years since the law came into ef­fect, many man­agers and em­ploy­ees are not aware of it. Those who are rarely im­ple­ment it fully, in part be­cause of the enor­mous taboo in In­dia of dis­cussing any­thing re­lated to sex, said Naina Ka­pur, the lawyer who ar­gued the Vishakha case be­fore the Supreme Court.

“Ev­ery time I get a call it’s af­ter the event has hap­pened. It’s sup­posed to be ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cated and it hasn’t been,” Ka­pur said, adding that in In­dia, “as women get more into the mar­ket­place and the work­place, their ex­pe­ri­ence of sex ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence is a grow­ing area of con­cern but it’s not be­ing heard.”

Based on the non­stop TV cov­er­age, al­leged vic­tims are mak­ing them­selves heard on so­cial me­dia, by­pass­ing com­pletely the pro­to­col cre­ated by the 2013 law.

The so­cial me­dia storm be­gan in Septem­ber, when former Bol­ly­wood ac­tress Tanushree Dutta spoke to sev­eral In­dian TV news chan­nels about her frus­tra­tion with a fruit­less po­lice com­plaint she filed in 2008 against ac­tor Nana Patekar for al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment on a Mum­bai movie set.

Dutta said that af­ter Patekar groped her dur­ing a dance rou­tine, she fled the set and a mob sur­rounded her car, smashed the wind­shield and trapped her in­side.

Patekar has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. Then on Oc­to­ber 4, Mum­bai com­edy group AIB an­nounced it had de­cided to de-list ev­ery video fea­tur­ing former mem­ber Ut­sav Chakraborty, whom women had taken to so­cial me­dia to con­demn for al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

On Oc­to­ber 7, an un­named former em­ployee at Phan­tom Films writ­ing in the Huff­in­g­ton Post de­scribed al­le­ga­tions she had made in 2015 against one of the com­pany’s part­ners, di­rec­tor Vikas Bahl, whom she said be­haved in­ap­pro­pri­ately dur­ing a trip to Goa.

The fol­low­ing day, com­pany part­ners Anurag Kashyap and Vikra­ma­ditya Mot­wane dis­solved Phan­tom Films. Bahl has filed an in­tent to sue his former part­ners for defama­tion.

Also on Oc­to­ber 8, journalist Sand­hya Menon shared screen­shots of her con­ver­sa­tion with two women claim­ing that ac­tor Ra­jat Kapoor ha­rassed them over the phone.

Kapoor apol­o­gised on Twit­ter if he had “slipped and through my ac­tions or words caused pain or hurt”. That same day, former TV pro­ducer, di­rec­tor and writer Vinta Nanda said on Face­book and in TV in­ter­views that she was raped 19 years ago by ac­tor Alok Nath.

Nath said in a TV in­ter­view that he nei­ther de­nied nor agreed with the al­le­ga­tions. “It must have hap­pened, but some­one else would have done it,” Nath said.

Ac­tress Sandy Mridul ex­pressed her sup­port for Nanda in a Tweet. Fel­low ac­tress Deepika Amin fol­lowed on Twit­ter: “Ev­ery­one in the in­dus­try knows that #AlokNath is an ob­nox­ious drunk­ard who ha­rasses women.”

On Oc­to­ber 10, ac­tor and heavy­weight Bol­ly­wood pro­ducer Aamir Khan and his wife Ki­ran Rao put out a state­ment say­ing they were “com­mit­ted to do­ing any and ev­ery­thing to make our film in­dus­try a safe and happy one to work in”. In a tweet, Khan said they were about to be­gin work with some­one who had been ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct and that the mat­ter was pend­ing in court.

Per­haps the most star­tling devel­op­ment has been the string of ac­cu­sa­tions against Ju­nior Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter M. J. Ak­bar. In less than a week, at least nine fe­male jour­nal­ists have ac­cused Ak­bar of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour when he was a news­pa­per ed­i­tor in Kolkata and Delhi. Nei­ther Ak­bar nor the min­istry has re­sponded.

But for In­dia’s bur­geon­ing #MeToo move­ment to take hold in a broader strata of In­dian so­ci­ety, the 2013 sex ha­rass­ment law must be im­ple­mented more broadly, said Su­ni­eta Ojha, a lawyer who reg­u­larly con­ducts work­shops on the law.

“It re­quires a com­plete change of at­ti­tude to­ward women and to­ward work­place ethics. Employers, in­stead of look­ing at it as a has­sle, they have to see it as an in­vest­ment. If they start do­ing that, it starts to have a very pos­i­tive ef­fect,” she said. Mum­bai po­lice on Thurs­day said they had opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Patekar af­ter Dutta filed a fresh com­plaint, charg­ing him with vi­o­lat­ing two sec­tions of the In­dian Pe­nal Code re­lated to of­fend­ing a woman’s mod­esty. If found guilty, he faces a max­i­mum of two years in prison.

Dutta said that af­ter the al­leged at­tack in 2008, she also lodged a com­plaint with Cine and TV Artists As­so­ci­a­tion (CINTAA).

Dutta’s lawyer, Nitin Sat­pute, said Dutta de­cided to speak out again about what al­legedly hap­pened to her in 2008 be­cause she hoped the spot­light would help en­force the work­place sex ha­rass­ment law within CINTAA. “Some are rich, some are poor, but many women are work­ing there, and it will ben­e­fit all,” Sat­pute said. AP

Pho­tos / AP

Ac­tivists of the Congress Party women’s wing shout slo­gans against Bol­ly­wood ac­tor Nana Patekar dur­ing a protest in sup­port of former ac­tor Tanushree Dutta (left) in Mum­bai.

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