#MeToo has brought change to Bol­ly­wood, says star

Global Times - - LIFE -

Awave of #MeToo rev­e­la­tions in In­dia has cre­ated fear among sex pests and more re­spect for women in one of the world’s largest film in­dus­tries, Bol­ly­wood star Farhan Akhtar said on Wed­nes­day.

The #MeToo cam­paign against sex­ual ha­rass­ment, which be­gan in the US en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, gained trac­tion in In­dia after Bol­ly­wood’s Tanushree Dutta in Septem­ber ac­cused a vet­eran ac­tor of sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing her on a movie set a decade ago.

The move­ment found res­o­nance in Bol­ly­wood, where the vast ma­jor­ity of pro­duc­ers and film­mak­ers are men, most of whom are from prom­i­nent fam­i­lies in the film in­dus­try, which is no­to­ri­ous for its ex­ploita­tion of women.

“Be­ing in the film in­dus­try, the power struc­ture al­lows you to eas­ily get away with some­thing like this,” the ac­tor-di­rec­tor-singer told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in an in­ter­view from Mum­bai, the cen­ter of the Bol­ly­wood film in­dus­try.

“I do feel that [#MeToo] would have put fear into peo­ple’s minds and that it will com­pel peo­ple to be a lit­tle more re­spect­ful, to be more aware of what a per­son en­ter­ing a room, look­ing for a job... is feel­ing and that you can’t ex­ploit them.”

Akhtar, 44, is a UN good­will am­bas­sador for women’s em­pow­er­ment and has long been a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for gen­der equal­ity in In­dia, where he founded in 2013 the Men Against Rape and Dis­crim­i­na­tion cam­paign.

He was one of the few Bol­ly­wood celebri­ties to sup­port Dutta, who felt so shamed by those ques­tion­ing her story and by the way the In­dian me­dia treated her that she left Bol­ly­wood and went to live in the US.

Akhtar also called for his cousin, Bol­ly­wood film­maker Sa­jid Khan who was ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, to “atone for his al­leged ac­tions” in Oc­to­ber on Twit­ter.

The #MeToo cam­paign has spread across In­dia, with com­plaints of sex­ual mis­con­duct lev­eled against prom­i­nent jour­nal­ists, film per­son­al­i­ties, co­me­di­ans and ex­ec­u­tives.

A ju­nior min­is­ter re­signed after sev­eral women ac­cused him of sex­ual ha­rass­ment be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics.

Akhtar said such cases have “put a tremen­dous amount of fear into those men and into their psy­ches.”

But ac­tivists say #MeToo has had lit­tle ef­fect on the ma­jor­ity of women, es­pe­cially in re­mote, ru­ral ar­eas where sex crimes are rife and of­ten go un­re­ported due to stigma.

Two men set a woman on fire last week after she told the po­lice that they had at­tempted to as­sault her.

Lo­cal me­dia out­lets re­port on sex crimes daily, de­spite a greater fo­cus on women’s safety after the fa­tal gang rape of a stu­dent in New Delhi in 2012 that led to tougher laws.

Akhtar said bet­ter aware­ness about gen­der equal­ity, es­pe­cially among the youth, and speedy jus­tice were key to bring change in In­dia, which recorded nearly 40,000 rapes in 2016.

He also urged men to change their sex­ist at­ti­tudes.

“There is a sense of pa­tri­archy, which is in­her­ently within the cul­ture,” he said.

“Whether it is crimes against women, whether it’s dis­crim­i­na­tion against women, whether it’s just so­cial bias against women – these things should be anom­alies, they should not be the norm.”

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