Carrying the #MeToo movement in India forward, the past week and a half brought new accusations and updates in its train. Homegrown co-founder Varun Patra was forced to resign amidst sexual assault charges last week, as popular veteran actor Alok Nath, who had been accused of rape by filmmaker Vinta Nanda, was granted bail by a Mumbai sessions court on Tuesday.
An internal complaints’ committee (ICC) probing into the multiple allegations against Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Atul Johri gave him the clean chit this week, delivering another setback to women seeking justice through due process.
Nanda had come forward with her account, at a time when survivors all over the country were voicing their experience of sexual harassment at work, accusing Alok “sanskari” Nath of raping her 19 years ago. Over a Facebook post that described the alleged incident, Nanda had also accused him of taking credit for her success. She did not name him in her post, but filed an official complaint with the Oshiwara Police Station right afterward, on October 17, 2018.
Nath had then responded by neither accepting nor denying the allegations, saying that the incident may have occurred but it didn’t involve him. His wife defended and declared his innocence just days before another actress, Sandhya Mridul, also accused the actor of sexual harassment, describing her ordeal while shooting a telefilm.
“I come from a time when nobody wanted to hear. I was a nobody. When I tried to speak I was labelled arrogant and difficult. And replaced from work,” she said, detailing how she felt threatened working with Nath and how she managed to avert a more dire situation.
The Mumbai court said while granting him anticipatory bail, that Nanda may have accused falsely accused Nath of sexual assault and rape, basing their observation on the fact that she did not remember the exact date of the incident and also because she waited for years to speak about it.
“The offence against the actor has been registered on the basis of patently defamatory, false, malicious, derogatory and imaginary report of the first informant or complainant (Nanda),” the judge noted, adding that it cannot rule out the possibility of Nanda being motivated by her “unrequited and un-reciprocated love” for Nath, or a “personal vendetta towards him.”
This is a huge blow to the movement but also underscores why the battle for justice shifted online in the first place — women have understandably lost faith in legal recourse and due process.
Other Bollywood figures named during the movement include directors, actors, casting agents, music composers, and producers. While some of them like Vikas Bahl and Sajid Khan were forced to resign, others like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Kailash Kher and Anu Malik are yet to face the consequences of the charges brought against them.
The reputed online arts and entertainment magazine fell from grace last week when allegations of sexual harassment were brought against its co-founder Varun Patra. Two days after an anonymous survivor issued accused him of secretly recording the audio of their sexual encounter, which had taken place on November 11, Homegrown issued a statement saying Patra had stepped down from his position.
According to the survivor’s account, Patra admitted to keeping an audio recording handy due to the #MeToo movement. He later admitted to this, citing a perverse logic that he wanted to protect himself against false allegations of sexual misconduct.
The accuser shared her testimony via illustrator Priyanka Paul’s instagram account on January 3, where she also claimed Patra had breached her consent during the act by refusing to use protection and sodomising her despite her refusal. She recounts the night and says, “Towards the end of the night, we went to my room and had sex, in the middle of which he felt the need to stick his fingers in my ass. I told him not to do it, and he did it anyway, 3 times. I brushed it off as miscommunication but I shouldn’t have.”
“Varun absolutely does not deserve to hold the position he currently holds, he doesn’t deserve to be in the same space as women who have altered the way India views sex, and he most definitely shouldn’t be getting a shout out for uplifting women’s voices and promoting women having powerful positions in the media world,” she wrote.
A year after eight female students of JNU accused professor Atul Johri of sexual harassment, the ICC gave him a clean chit, noting there was no need to suspend him and further expressed concern for his safety. Saying he posed “no threat” to the complainants, the panel headed by Vibha Tandon demanded security for Johri and his family instead.
Allegations against Johri first surfaced in March 2018, following which the accusers moved Delhi High Court. The court in May directed the ICC to probe the matter and submit its report in August, which it did noting that “various ingredients of allegations of sexual harassment against the defendant by the complainants are proved wrong”.
The matter is now listed for hearing on January 25, though Johri’s counsel expressed hope that the HC would remand its earlier directive and reinstate Johri in his administrative posts. The varsity’s ICC drew strong criticism from the student union in December, for its decision to take punitive action against one of the students who had complained.
In the latest report, the committee concluded that “the defendant is not a threat to the complainants or any other member of the JNU community”, that he is “not a threat to any witness and is not in a position to influence the witnesses or temper (sic) the evidence”. The ICC said that “all the apprehensions of the complainants in this regard are totally baseless and unfounded,” while noting that the administration should look into Johri’s complaint dated April 7, 2018, wherein he claimed “students gheraoed his house, threatened his family and shouted derogatory slogans, pasted defamatory posters on walls, car, and other parts of campus”.
“There is no case made out against the defendant, therefore, there is no need to remove the defendant from the campus. There is no need to suspend the defendant,” the ICC report said, listing 13 recommendations to prevent such incidents in future.
Second wave of India’s #MeToo movement
Right when the gavel fell on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court, which birthed the #WhyIDidntReport movement, Indian women in October rallied over social media, coming forward with their triggering accounts of verbal, emotional and physical abuse at the workplace. It all started with Tanushree Datta’s interview with Zoom TV in October, where the Bollywood actress revisited her traumatic experience on the sets of Horn OK Pleassss (2008) with Nana Patekar.
Accusing him and three other crew members at the time, she eventually quit the film only to be severely heckled by Patekar’s cronies. It took ten years for people to take note and actually listen, as the #MeToo wave finally hit India. Arriving a year after Hollywood was similarly wracked by accusations exposing its toxic masculinity and widespread culture of abuse, Dalit feminist and lawyer Raya Sarkar had tried to expose predatory figures in Indian academia way back in 2017. Her list of sexual harassers in academia (LoSHA) was criticised and ultimately crushed by liberal feminists and men’s rights activists.
But this time, the momentum gathered storm, and the toxic male camaraderie in Indian media, film industry, art scene and the stand-up comedy scene took a beating and faced a reckoning that was long overdue. Women journalists also took to Twitter to report on decades of abuse of power from their male counterparts.
Notwithstanding the class disconnect and the campaign’s limited reach when it comes to giving rural women a voice, the Indian chapter of the #MeToo did expose men we have come to worship, men in the highest positions of power and men who thought they could get away. From Vikas Bahl, Rajat Kapoor, Sajid Khan and Kailash Kher, to MJ Akbar, Jatin Das and Subhas Ghai, the names keep pouring in.
In a recent interview, Sarkar said, “I am glad so many women are whistleblowing abusers and men who have no right to occupy the positions they do in society from where they abuse and exploit the most vulnerable. A lot more can be done because Dalit, adivasi and bahujan women’s voices are missing from the discourse right now. Marginalised women’s trauma and their voices should not be an afterthought, instead should be in the core of any emerging campaign.”
Why it matters
While some allegations led to resignations, others have started an important conversation about what sexual harassment at the workplace constitutes. Most importantly, it shone a light on the oppressive culture thriving on male privileges, taking professionalism and decency for granted, a gross lack of understanding what consent means and a state of largely internalised misogyny that women are waking up from.
According to global data analytics and media intelligence firm Meltwater, India created 25% of the global online chatter around #MeToo mid-October. On social media, where the movement started, the mentions shot up to a record 2,60,000 while the movement found 28,900 mentions in editorial news that month, help it maintain a healthy momentum.
Read Qrius’s extensive coverage of the names that emerged over the course of the movement here.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.