Over the past week, Indian social media is witnessing what can truly be called as a reckoning. One that is long-awaited, and which is likely to stay here for a while.
Inspired by the momentum against sexual harassment – being gained worldwide – and triggered by the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns in the United States, survivors of sexual harassment in India have come forward, and provided accounts of their experiences.
India’s fresh wave of #MeToo has arrived a few months after Raya Sarkar’s crowdsourced list that had exposed the rampant misogyny in the form of harassment and assault in the Indian academia. However, the first-hand accounts of women journalists are significantly different from what the country had witnessed then.
Firstly, this time, many survivors have mustered the courage to step up, and reveal their identities. Secondly, the new wave has triggered action against the perpetrators in a number of institutions. Senior editors at two major newspapers — Hindustan Times and the Times of India — have been asked to step down from managerial positions following complaints by multiple women of sexual harassment.
The #MeToo campaign and the slew of harassment charges are not limited to the media and the advertising industry. The campaign has now reached Modi government’s Cabinet with at least nine women providing testimonies against the former journalist and now the union minister of state for external affairs – MJ Akbar. The most serious charges, so far, have been levelled by by Ghazala Wahab, who wrote in The Wire about her last six months at the Asian Age, where she worked from 1994 to 1997, during which Akbar was the editor. Action against Akbar is likely to be taken once he returns to India.
Celebrity consultant and author Suhel Seth has also been featured in the growing list of men who stand accused of sexual harassment by women in the #MeToo movement. At least four women, including one – who claimed to have been a minor at the time of the alleged incident – have accused Seth, 55, of sexual harassment. On Wednesday afternoon, filmmaker Natasha Rathore, 27, posted screenshots of a WhatsApp message she sent to Seth this week recounting an alleged incident that took place “some time last year at his condo in Gurgaon”. In the message, she wrote: “You shoved your tongue down my throat even when I resisted — I whacked your head and said ‘behave yourself’. You put your hand into my kurta and grabbed my breast and I remember whacking your hand too and pulling it off.”
Thirty-three-year-old journalist Mandakini Gahlot, who has worked at The Indian Express, described an alleged incident involving Seth at the 12th Regulators’ and Policymakers’ Retreat held at the Taj-Fort Aguada Beach Resort and the Taj Holiday Village in Goa from July 13-17, 2011.
The movement has provided women space to come forward and share instances of workplace harassment, unwanted advances, persistent and unwanted sexual attention. It was kick-started when earlier this month allegations of sexual harassment against Bollywood actor Nana Patekar had surfaced. Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta has accused him of harassing her in 2008, while shooting for an item number. An FIR against Patekar has been registered now.
The vantage point of the complaints emerging on social media is the absence of the due process in the respective industries or the attitude to dismiss and to brush aside the accounts of the complainants.
On October 4, a female comic and poet on Twitter posted a series of tweets accusing comedian Utsav Chakraborty of sexual harassment. This led to AIB – the association the comedian was associated with – issuing an apology. While Tanmay Bhat was accused of being complicit in Chakraborty’s case by the complainant, another AIB co-founder Gursimran Khamba too was accused sexual harassment by another woman. AIB has ended its association with Bhat, and has sent Khamba on a long leave.
Twitter has witnessed a massive outpour of stories shared by women, mostly journalists in the past week. Journalist Sandhya Menon tweeted about how KR Srinivas, the resident editor of the Times of India (Hyderabad), had sexually harassed her. She went on to say how her official complaint to the HR department did not yield any concrete result. Menon also alleged that the confidentiality of the complaint was breached.
Sandhya Menon ✔ @TheRestlessQuil
What followed was more and more women coming forth and corroborating her account. Anoo Bhuyan, a journalist with The Wire, called out Mayank Jain, a correspondent with Business Standard, for sexually harassing her. More women continued to tweet about his predatory behaviour.
Bloomberg Quint and Scroll, both released statements against Jain, an ex-employee. This led to the Business Standard setting up an internal committee to review the allegations against him, post which Jain has resigned.
Other names that have surfaced include Meghnad Bose, a senior correspondent at The Quint, Chitranshu Tewari, an employee at Newslaundry. As a result of the online allegations, internal enquiries have been initiated by the organisations.
It must be noted that to many, this may seem like a subversion of the due process; however, it should be noted that women took to social media because of the failures of the due processes, lack of trust and fear of backlash. The outpouring has, in a way, given women a revived sense of hope with the due process being initiated. In the case of India’s latest reckoning, hierarchical nature of the abuse suffered by women, the failure of organisations and disproportionate power structures that prevail at organisations need to be reflected upon.