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14 October, 2018 10:38:08 AM

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#MeToo campaign: Magic or curse?

As the clamour for justice grew louder and became somewhat deafening, there were feeble responses even admission of the guilt followed by an apology
Kumkum Chadha
#MeToo campaign: Magic or curse?

Till it struck the political arena and brought in politicians into the fold, the Me Too or #MeToo campaign was more about Bollywood.  The MeToo campaign has taken India by a storm to flag instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault especially in the workplace. The phrase was used as early as 2006 but gained steam last year when Harvey Weinstein, the noted Hollywood producer was accused of sexual harassment by over 70 women.  The movement has now hit India, where women share their gory stories about harassment and sexual abuse at workplace at the hands of their powerful and influential bosses.
Founded by Tarana Burke, an African American civil rights activist in New York, it started off as a movement to help survivors of sexual violence particularly young women of colour from low income groups.

The Weinstein scandal brought it centre-stage with women coming out in the open to share their anguish against sexual harassment.
It hit headlines following allegations of sexual harassment and assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein. That being the trigger, it was only a matter of weeks when women openly came out against sexual abuse, assault and even rape. This was but the beginning of a movement nobody knew which way it would go. But it had its impact with hundreds and thousands of women sharing their horror stories and tales of helplessness against the powerful. The Weinstein scandal had shown the way and as many women corroborated disturbing and horrific details of the director’s alleged predatory behaviour, almost every country, at least  in the West experienced its own version of a Me Too moment. In India there was a kind of silence with a few ripples though, till it struck the bigwigs of Bollywood.

It took a gutsy Tanushree Dutta, who  in an interview, alleged that film star Nana Patekar misbehaved with her while filming a special song for Horn Ok Pleassss in 2008. She first made the allegations against Patekar and said that he pushed to change a dance routine to make it more physically intimate. The Bollywood actress has now filed a new complaint with the police, reviving her 10-year-old case against  Patekar, for allegedly ordering changes to a movie dance sequence so he could grope her.

Her revelations, though explosive,   found little support among the big names in the film industry including megastar Amitabh Bachchan who initially dismissed it with “Neither am I Tanushree, nor am I Nana Patekar, so how can I comment on this?”

Nana Patekar apart, there were other names that came out including Bollywood writer and producer Vinta Nanda accusing a prominent actor Alok Nath, of raping her in her home in the 1990s. Known for playing a father figure, Nath’s response was shocking to say the least: “It must have happened, but someone else would have done it.”

Add to thata 17-year-old girl, accusing a comedian, Utsav Chakraborty, of sending unsolicited pictures of his genitals.

Silence followed dismissive, casual so what kind of an attitude or  how would  I knowkind of stand taken by the likes of Bachchan. As  the clamour for justice grew louder and became somewhat deafening, there were feeble responses even admission of the guilt followed by an apology: “The past 24 hours were a crucible. I faced a very scary personal truth.

I can’t think of myself as a victim anymore. Please tell me what to do now. How to make things right? I don’t want anyone to be hurt anymore.” wrote Utsav followed by others like writer Chetan Bhagat who  while apologising said that he had perhaps “misread” the situation. Then there is Stand-up comedienne Kaneez Surka who has accused popular comic Aditi Mittal of forcefully kissing her and putting her "tongue in my mouth" while she was hosting a show in 2016. Aditi has immediately apologised following Surka's revelation and said that it was a "joke".

An emerging director, Vikas Bahl, dissolved his film company when stories accusing him of masturbating on a co-worker after a party some years ago surfaced.

Had it not been for the Me Too campaign zeroing in on the media and government, it would perhaps have blown over. Innumerable stories about powerful and influential editors taking advantage of young reporters’ vulnerability went viral on social media taking its toll on  a BJP minister and former  journalist, M.J.Akbar. There are accusations  of  his behaving inappropriately, with several women who have alleged that he made sexual advances during his tenure as former editor of newspapers including the Kolkata-based Telegraph, the Asian Age and the Sunday Guardian.

If one  journalist has spoken about her experience of “an interview sitting on a bed in a hotel room followed by an invitation to come over for a drink”, another has said that he “made life at work hell” when she declined his sexual advances. Another journalist Ghazala Wahab, gave harrowing details of how she would be called into his office and molested her as she bent over a dictionary to look up a word for his weekly column.

If some have described him as the “King Kong of sexual harassment”, others  have said that his office in Asian Age newspaper was his harem. Another journalist Priya Ramani wrote about “the bed, a scary interview accompaniment” and how Akbar sang old Hindi songs and offered her a drink. Some have said that youngsters were  put on Page 1 duty, which meant their “going into his office alone every day so that he could draw up the page.”

Some heads have rolled including a senior editor’s and a film director’s who stepped down after filmstar Akshay Kumar refused to shoot with the tainted.

Amid all this hullaballoo, several questions await answers. Is everything so black and white with all women being victims and all men beasts? Yes, there is a case for it being difficult for women to speak about sexual harassment and the gory experience particularly when they know that it is a lone battle that has to be fought.

Therefore, support for those who have dared to speak is in order and their due. But this should not stop at this. The judicial system must be in sync with these developments and if need be fast-tracking courts and day to day hearings of such cases must be in place for early recourse and those who have dared to speak must be supported. The camaraderie that has helped them to come out and dare to speak must remain till justice is delivered be it at the level of the Police or the courts. The reason Dutta could not file an FIR ten years ago and has succeeded in doing it now is because she has enough support and the law enforcing agencies cannot afford to trip under the public gaze.

Having said that, it is imperative to safeguard misuse of the Me Too campaign by women who can and may slap charges on a false pretext simply because a personal relationship went sour or a promotion was denied by her boss because she did not deserve one. Recall the misuse of the dowry law where almost every death of a married woman was alleged to be a murder  because she failed to comply to the alleged demands of dowry. Therefore, even while the campaign is much needed and its shrillness more than welcome it should remain as Burke said “the two-word magic” instead of a curse which makes truth a casualty.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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