Has ‘MeToo’ moment arrived in India?

By Florine Roche

Mangaluru, Oct 10: Former Miss India and actor Tanushree Dutta made breaking news recently with her allegations of sexual harassment against celebrated actor Nana Patekar, sending shockwaves in the Bollywood industry. The flurry of activity on the social media from Bollywood biggies and the general public following Tanushree’s bombshell, is a reflection of the prevailing mood in the society against sexual harassment. Bollywood is usually known for its infamous silence whenever controversies crop up involving artistes and on issues.

But this time around, a few stars and some young actresses have been very assertive in expressing their views about the prevailing sexual harassment in Bollywood but their number is small. Interestingly these young artistes have not shied away from expressing their opinion knowing full well that taking sides in Bollywood can always be counterproductive. They have been vocal in their support to Tanushree despite her allegations coming a decade late after the actual incident.

Nana Patekar and Tanushree Dutta

Even as the Tanushree bombshell was having its ripple effect, controversial actor Kangana Ranaut came out with another shocker accusing producer director Vikas Behl, who directed her in the movie ‘Queen’, of misbehaving with her. Of course Kangana’s accusation is viewed from a different viewpoint by many in Bollywood and outside. Considering that Vikas Behl is directing the next venture of Hrithik Roshan ‘Super 30’` which is slated for release in January 2019 along with Kangana’s ‘Manikarnika: the Queen of Jhansi’, many point out that personal animosity between the two is the real reason behind the recent accusations as Kangana wants to target Hrithik through Behl.

Since then many Bollywood artistes and celebrities have shared their ‘me too’ moments in the social media sending a tremor in the film industry which is known for treating its female artistes as mere sex objects than as professional actors. Only a few female artistes have mustered courage to come out openly about the sexual harassment they faced as they fear that they might be branded as ‘publicity hungry’ or they are doing it for money. This was how some artistes and even the general public reacted to Tanushree Dutta’s recent accusations against Nana Patekar.

Sexual predators everywhere

It is not just the Bollywood which is facing the effects of the ‘me too’ campaign in India which many describe as coming of age of Indian women asserting themselves. The social media is awash with allegations of sexual misconduct from high profile men from fields such as entertainment, film industry and the media. Take a look at this, eminent author and columnist Chethan Bhagath who was accused of sexual harassment was forced to publicly apologize to the woman and also to his wife. It may be remembered that Chethan Bhagat had supported Tanushree Dutta a few days back following her accusations, saying her accusations require a patient hearing. India’s stand-up Comedian Utsav Chakraborthy is accused of sending sexually explicit messages to women including minor girls. Female stand-up comedian, actor and writer Aditi Mittal was the first one from the industry to express solidarity with the woman who raised the bogey of sexual harassment allegations against Utsav.

That the MeToo moment of India has arrived and that too with a bang is evident from the fact that it has exposed India’s media industry which always takes the high moral ground on a number of issues. Many young and seasoned women journalists took to twitter to share their harrowing experiences of misconduct and sexual harassment from their male colleagues and bosses in the media industry.

Some of the high profile journalists representing big media houses as Editors were named and shamed publicly by these women who came out with their names and the incidents of sexual harassment and misbehavior involving them. Considering the general attitude against sexual harassment in India, it really requires amazing guts to come out with details of harassment against powerful people in the media who have an aura built around them. These women have to be appreciated for their valor and their expose has given a new impetus to the ‘MeToo’ movement in the country.

The main motto of the ‘MeToo’ campaign is to encourage women to recount their ordeal of harassment without fear or guilt. This open confrontation and shaming in the social media by many women journalists against their male bosses for harassment at some point of their professional career, is an indication that women in India no longer consider it as demeaning to speak about such atrocious incidents despite the general tendency to put the blame entirely on women.

Cynics may argue that this online movement of naming and shaming the sexual predators is not the best way to deal with the issue at least in India. According to some, this movement is a restricted one and may not have the repercussions witnessed in the US when sexual misconduct allegations against American movie mogul Harvey Weinstein were made public. Weinstein was forced to resign from his own company following the scandal and this incident gave the much needed fillip to the ‘MeToo movement’ across the globe. One can say that we cannot expect similar results in India. But at least a beginning has been made and in itself is a good omen.

The Beginning

Tracing the history of the movement, it was in 2006 American civil rights activist Tarana Burke who began to use the term ‘Me Too’ as part of her initiative to create awareness on all forms of sexual abuse faced both by men and women. It took another 11 years for it to become a mass movement in October 2017 when the ‘Me too hashtag’ campaign became viral. Following the article in New York Times detailing three decades of sexual harassment by American film producer Harvey Weinstein, the campaign gained momentum all over the world when some of the well-known names of Hollywood including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie shared their excruciating experiences of sexual harassment they faced from Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein

American actress, singer and activist Alyssa Milano was the first one to make this ‘me too hashtag’ popular and encourage women to come forward and share their stories of sexual harassment. Many women came forward and the phrase went viral when popular celebrities like Uma Thurman, Ashley Judd and many others decided to talk about their personal experiences as well.

While some of the younger actors have started to speak out about sexual abuse in India’s largest film industry, Bollywood, many chose to maintain a stoic silence, which is on the expected lines. It was left for some women journalists to seize the momentum and the result is there for everyone to see. Many women from all walks of life are coming forward in the social media to name and shame their predators.

Long way to go

Now that the battle cry has been launched and it has a long way to go. At this crucial juncture it calls for some herculean efforts from Indian women to take the momentum forward to ensure that we put an end to this culture of misconduct and sexual harassment. The momentum should not remain elitist but has to reach out to women even in the remotest corners of the country to make it into a mass movement. Considering the prevailing mood, it seems women are determined to put an end to this culture of stoicism and not allow men go scot-free after committing such heinous crimes.

There will be questions asked - like why it took so long or what is the hidden agenda behind the accusations by Tanushree and others years after the incident and so forth. The blame will again be on women even when the perpetrator is a male. It must be noted that Tanushree did complain soon after the incident without success and was finally forced to leave the country, as per her own admission. And for the female journalists, there was not a forum earlier to air their views. Now that the MeToo campaign in the social media has provided a proper platform for women, I am sure sexual predators will exercise restraint in their behavior.