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#MeToo awakening in India

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New Delhi: Former Minister M.J. Akbar at a Delhi Court on Oct 31, 2018. The court recorded Akbar's statement as a complainant witness in a criminal defamation suit filed by him against journalist Priya Ramani. Akbar told Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal that the allegations levelled against him by Ramani were false and defamatory and in the process his reputation has been tarnished. (Photo: IANS) by .
Former Minister M.J. Akbar at a Delhi Court

It took a year since the #MeToo wave hit Hollywood for its tides to be felt in India across the showbiz, media, art, literature and political worlds. But it has led to, hopefully, a social awakening about gender dynanics and prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace…writes Radhika Bhirani

Mumbai: Actress Tanushree Dutta during a media interaction to promote M2 campaign in Mumbai on Sept 27, 2018. (Photo: IANS) by .
Actress Tanushree Dutta

In September, former beauty queen and actress Tanushree Dutta sparked the fire when she renewed an old allegation against acting veteran Nana Patekar of harassment on the sets of a 2008 film, “Horn OK Pleasss”.

Nana, has denied the allegations — as have several other popular celebrities who have been named and shamed.

But amidst the accusing-and-denying game, efforts have been stepped up to ensure sexual harassment and abuse are either kept at bay, or dealt with sternly.

Former journalist-turned politician M.J. Akbar had to put in his papers following a slew of accusations against him. Filmmaker Sajid Khan has been suspended from the Indian Film and Television Directors Association (IFTDA) and actor Alok Nath has been expelled from the Cine And TV Artistes’ Association (CINTAA).

New Delhi: Actor Alok Nath during the launch of a product in New Delhi on Sept 7, 2017. (Photo: Amlan Paliwal/IANS) by .
Actor Alok Nath

Vinta Nanda, a writer-director who has accused Alok of sexually violating her years ago, is hopeful of positive change.

“The MeToo movement has brought about a tectonic shift in a deep-rooted patriarchal mindset. It’s impact is so deep that it won’t be long before we witness our politics, our economy and justice system being readjusted to accomodate 50 per cent of the population of the woprld, which has since forever been isolated from the mainstream for no rhyme or reason,” Nanda told IANS.

IFTDA President Ashoke Pandit feels the #MeToo movement has set the tone for posterity, establishing that voice of a victim — whether a man or a woman — will go unheard.

“However big you may be, but if you are a sexual abuser, you will not go scot-free. This movement was a much-needed cleansing act for all industries to make the work environment safe, especially for the womenfolk,” Pandit told IANS.

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act has been reinforced by organisations across the board, warning predators against inappopriate behaviour.

That demand for sexual favours is rampant in the fashion world has been depicted in films freely for the past few years. But it was model Kawaljit Singh Anand’s open accusation aimed at designer Vijay Arora which opened the MeToo discussions about the harassment that models face.

Mumbai: Actor Nana Patekar addresses a press conference regarding sexual harassment allegations levelled by actress Tanushree Dutta against him, in Mumbai on Oct 8, 2018. He maintained that the "truth" he spoke 10 years ago regarding Tanushree Dutta's accusation of sexual harassment on the sets of a 2008 film, stands true today and will continue to be. Beyond that he said that his lawyer has advised him not to talk about the matter. (Photo: IANS) by .
Actor Nana Patekar

The MeToo wave hit the political realm with journalist Priya Ramani’s tweet on Akbar.

Ramani had written an article on Akbar in ‘Vogue India’ last year without naming him. In her article titled “To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world”, she recounted how Akbar called her to a hotel room in Mumbai and made her uncomfortable with his behaviour.

As if a simmering geyser of helpless resentment suppressed underneath the layers of societal disapproval, job insecurity and social stigma found a vent, a slew of women journalists came out with their horror stories involving Akbar.

Journalist Ghazala Wahab wrote the most hard hitting piece with others, including Pallavi Gogoi and Suparna Sharma, revisiting their insults at the hands of then editor and now a resourceful Union Minister.

Before a sceptic could cast aspersions on the veracity of the women’s claims on grounds of their long silence, the “predator” himself gave the answer by hiring a powerful law firm with a battery of 97 lawyers to represent him in a court against Ramani who, by her own admission, could afford just one lawyer to battle the defamation suit filed by Akbar.

Mumbai: Filmmaker Sajid Khan seen at Mehboob Studio in Bandra, Mumbai on June 9, 2018. (Photo: IANS) by .
Filmmaker Sajid Khan

Probably Akbar could silence Ramani, or a few others who dared to speak up, but he had no control over the political churning that was taking place all this while.

Akbar had to resign from the Union Council of Ministers on October 17 in face of pressure from the opposition and the civil society.

Reputed names from the art world such as Jatin Das and Riyas Komu were also accused of sexual harassment, prompting the organisers of art festivals, galleries and auction houses to pay heed to the rising tide of MeToo movement in India.

Sotheby’s India Managing Director Gaurav Bhatia was sent on leave soon after stories of sexual misconduct surfaced, followed by Subodh Gupta, who, just recently, “stepped back” from his curatorial role at Serendipity Arts Festival.

An Instagram page “Scene and Herd”, despite being anonymous, has shun light on several prominent figures by posting alleged accounts of sexual harassment.

In the literary space that is fast turning into a glamorous affair with the rise of lit fests and many writers emerging as celebrities, the MeToo movement brought down some prominent names. These included bestselling author Chetan Bhagat, veteran Kiran Nagarkar, poet-journalist C.P. Surendran and lit-fest regular Suhel Seth.

It was interesting to note that women from the writing fraternity led the movement, both on social media and in talks organised at book stores and other literary forums, urging publishers and organisers of literary events, Jaipur Literature Festival in particular, to create a safe space for women.

While there was no response whatsoever from the publishers’ end who went ahead with their book deals with some of the authors “named and shamed” on social media, literary festivals stayed away from featuring them at their events.

Industry insiders, however, seem to suggest that the movement has turned into witch hunting, pointing out that those who have been accused had just the same right to put forth their side of stories as those accusing them; that they should be given the benefit of doubt until actually proven guilty of what they have been accused of.