By Preeti John
The past few days have seen a flurry of activity across social media with women from the Indian media coming forward to name men who have harassed or assaulted them, laying bare the dark underbelly of the media industry. The #MeToo movement has finally truly reached our shores. Sure, it has taken nearly a year for more women to stand up since last year’s crowd-sourced list naming men in academia who had sexually harassed or assaulted women, but it is a movement long time coming.
In India, sexual harassment has long been shrugged off as ‘normal’ or a ‘way of life’ despite being widely rampant. Routine street-side catcalling and sexual harassment is known as ‘eve-teasing’, an almost endearing term as if it is a friendly game between friends. Women and girls are often touched and groped in crowded spaces, while walking on the street, in public transportation or even while waiting to cross the road. But they seldom talk, because victim blaming is almost always the instant response.
Silence no longer appears to be acceptable for some women, and to them I say bravo!
A sea of accusations
Actor Tanushree Dutta first reopened this can of worms a few weeks ago by naming Nana Patekar as her alleged assaulter. The response from Bollywood has been vastly lacking to say the least, but Dutta has galvanised scores of other women to come forward.
Next came allegations against comic Utsav Chakraborty, who was accused by multiple women of sending them unsolicited pictures of his genitals.
A day later, journalist Sandhya Menon recounted the harassment she was allegedly subjected to by two senior editors, K.R. Sreenivas and Gautam Adhikari.
Since I'm calling them out.
Let me tell you about @KRSreenivas who is currently resident editor @toi Hyderabad (I think) who offered to drop me back after a day's work.
We were about to launch Bangalore mirror back in 2008 and I had just moved to this city.
— Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil) October 5, 2018
And finally, one more calling out and I'm done.
Gautam Adhikari who was the editor in chief of DNA Bombay. His exec assistant and I were think friends and we'd go out a lot. Once he told her you girls are always going out, I'm new to the city show me some sights
— Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil) October 5, 2018
Scores of other women came forward with their own experiences of alleged harassment and assault by Sreenivas and Adhikari.
I was 20/21 and interning with Femina, Bangalore (which shares an office with TOI) during my summer break. Sreeni lived in my neighbourhood. I bumped into him while running an errand for my mother and he asked where I lived, told me where he lived, general chit-chat.
— Pavitra Jayaraman (@Pavitra_J_) October 5, 2018
He tried to push me into his hotel bed but I pushed him away and managed to run out the door. Later, when I told my resident editor, I was told that Adhikari had asked him to “sideline” me on the job. The Times Of India asked him to leave but I believe they brought him back.
— Sonora Jha (@ProfSonoraJha) October 6, 2018
The Wire reporter Anoo Bhuyan named Mayank Jain, principal correspondent at Business Standard, as a ‘sexual predator’, and many other women came forward with their own accounts involving Jain.
— Anoo Bhuyan (@AnooBhu) October 4, 2018
I was an intern with Bloomberg Quint when @Mayank1029 was an employee there. At an office party, after getting shit drunk out of his mind, he tried to touch me inappropriately multiple times under the garb of casual flirting and dancing.
— Poorbita Bagchi (@PoorbitaB) October 5, 2018
Over the weekend, many other powerful men in the media were named for alleged inappropriate conduct. These include former HuffPost journalist Anurag Verma, accused of sending lewd images via Snapchat; author Kiran Nagarkar, accused of inappropriate behaviour with women who were interviewing him; cultural critic Sadanand Menon, who has been accused in the past as well; photographer Pablo Bartholomew, who allegedly propositioned a junior journalist; political editor at Hindustan Times Prashant Jha, accused of making repeated passes at a colleague despite her refusal; author Chetan Bhagat, accused of harassing a women despite her refusal; The Quint reporter Meghnad Bose, who has been accused of inappropriate and misogynistic behaviour by former classmates at the Asian School of Journalism; and founding editor of The Wire Sidharth Bhatia, who has been accused of harassment.
And then emerged reports of film director Vikas Bahl having allegedly assaulted a film crew member some years ago, which were followed by actor Kangana Ranaut too detailing instances of Bahl allegedly harassing her.
Some acceptance, some action, but mostly denial
Most of those who have been accused have categorically denied the allegations, although some have accepted and issued apologies.
In a statement emailed to Qrius, Pablo Bartholomew said:
I am responding late to the post on Twitter by Deepanjana Pal of 05 October 2018 written anonymously by her friend alleging that I had harassed her over the phone after she interviewed me and that I had subsequently spoken to her editor derisively about what she had written. I am not on Twitter and had no access to the post until it appeared in the media.
With no other context, timeline and explanation beyond the account of the anonymous person’s story, it makes it quite worrisome that anyone can name and be anonymous, with lack of answerability or fact. With no facts presented, I am at loss to address or respond to the stated accusation.
I hereby record that I am committed to Gender Equality. If I unintentionally and/or inadvertently have made the concerned individual feel uncomfortable, I would like to be offered the opportunity to explain myself instead of carrying forward this charade of naming and shaming.
My intentions have never been to offend or harass anyone. But if I have come across as such, then the matter should be probed fairly, and I will give it my full cooperation, or, this should be resolved through a comprehensive dialogue where I, too, am given the chance to put forth my version.
Among those to accept their actions, Bhagat apologised to the woman who came forward and his wife Anusha.
Note how Bhagat put the onus of inappropriateness on the woman: “I am sorry if you felt they were wrong I hope you will accept my apology.” He isn’t sorry for doing something wrong, but is sorry if she felt they were wrong.
Bose issued apologies as well:
In a series of tweets, Verma said his behaviour had been “problematic”, but that he had used the term ‘send nudes’ “very loosely” like a meme.
I have also used the "send nudes" term very loosely. For me, it was a meme back then but I didn't realise the damage I was doing by sending it to people.
— Anurag Verma (@kitAnurag) October 4, 2018
Note how he uses his apparent misunderstanding of what a meme is as an excuse.
And comic Chakraborty apologised by saying he was facing a “scary personal truth”. Although this came after he first denied the accusations.
Some organisations have taken action in response to the allegations. Business Standard has set up an internal committee to look into allegations against Jain.
13. Internal committee set up at @bsindia to investigate allegations on Mayank Jain.
Jain not sent on leave/ fired.
Committee may not have mandate to administer due process.
Ill depose if required.
Other women can consider deposing.
Pls stay in touch.https://t.co/i0LMcwuo5a
— Anoo Bhuyan (@AnooBhu) October 7, 2018
The Wire too has urged people to come forward regarding allegations against Bhatia.
The Internal Complaints Committee at @thewire_in is headed by our managing editor, Monobina Gupta.
Anyone who wishes to make a specific complaint against The Wire’s employees, including its founding editors, may email firstname.lastname@example.org https://t.co/lf9hsYtRsX
— The Wire 🏳️🌈 (@thewire_in) October 8, 2018
Times Group employees have called for a “thorough and swift investigation” into allegations against a senior editor (assumed to be Sreenivas).
Internal petition to the Editors by employees at Times of India: “As a newspaper that has proactively covered the #MeToo movement and written edits thundering against sexual harassment at workplace, the least we can do is practice what we preach.” pic.twitter.com/dystG6YVE1
— Somesh Jha (@someshjha7) October 6, 2018
Meanwhile, Phantom Films, the production house jointly owned by Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Madhu Mantena, has been shut down after reports of Bhal’s predatory behaviour emerged. Motwane and Kashyap have denounced Bahl’s behaviour, but their responses have come years after they were first made aware of the allegations against him.
Men often wonder what constitutes sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour. For women, this question often causes bafflement. How can you not know what is inappropriate? After all, behaving in the right manner isn’t so difficult.
But for clues on how clueless some men can be about appropriate behaviour, one only need look at some of the apologies issued by the men accused.
Take for instance the ‘I’m sorry you felt that way’ response. By putting the onus of finding behaviour inappropriate on women, men absolve themselves of the responsibility of knowing and doing what’s right. Why should the woman school you on appropriateness?
The fact of the matter is this, most men do not know, or choose to ignore, what makes women uncomfortable. When in doubt, here’s are some quick points to remember: Do not touch a woman unless she asks for it. Do not pass lewd comments about any woman. Do not send any woman images of your genitals unless she explicitly asks for it. Do not assume a woman is easy and/or wants to sleep with you just because she is polite and talks to you kindly. Do not assume you have a right to any woman, and to behave however you want, just because you are a man. And do not assume that because one woman kept mum about your behaviour that it is ok to harass and assault others.
It has been a busy few days. Many women have come forward, and their brave act will inspire many others to voice their experiences as well. Countless voiceless others have found some catharsis in knowing they are not alone.
Women often do not report harassment and assault because of the stigma or the impact on their careers. And importantly, there are scores of women in smaller cities and town who may not be able to report their experiences.
But women are speaking up, and it is through these voices that the fight must go on. No more silence.
Preeti John is Editorial Head at Qrius.
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