Professionals from Bollywood speak about how the industry deals with sexual harassment
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From Chetan Bhagat, Kiran Nagarkar to Kailash Kher, Vikas Bahl and a current TOI editor, K.R. Sreenivas, women are finally telling stories about sexual harassment.

New Delhi: “Hands on our thighs (on our skin above skirts)”, “forcible kissing me while keeping me shoved against the door”, “touched me inappropriately (hand around waist, cupping….)”, “straight up harassed about sexting”, unsolicited photographs of genitals, incessant phone calls as well as blackmail about those who dared to complain (“his concern about my ability to write an article on his work”) — these are just a few of the numerous accounts of alleged sexual harassment faced by young women across the country in the last two days.

A year after the #MeToo campaign around allegations of sexual misconduct against the powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein gained currency in the US, the movement seems to have touched a chord in India.

Over the last two days, women have recounted, on social media, the sexual harassment, both overt and subtle, that they have faced at the hands of powerful men in the film and music industry, in the media, the publishing world as well as in the judiciary.


Also read: Time we listened to Tanushree Dutta and Christine Ford, not Brett Kavanaugh and Nana Patekar


Famous writers such as Chetan Bhagat and Kiran Nagarkar have been accused of crass and unwanted attention. Kailash Kher, the singer, who has been feted as the voice of India, allegedly touched a woman journalist’s thigh and then insisted that she stand next to him during a photograph. Gautam Adhikari, a former editor of the largest newspaper in the world, The Times of India, is accused of having forcibly kissed a younger colleague.

Even a former Bombay high court judge, B.G. Kolse Patil, allegedly pulled at the collar of a woman journalist’s kurta and asked “why I had left the top button of my kurta open”. When the woman retreated quickly, Patil allegedly “apologised profusely. He said he thought we could be friends”. Kolse Patil is a prominent Left activist leader too.

Anger and outrage have collided with guilt and humiliation these past couple of days, as women are “coming clean” about sexual abuse and harassment they have long repressed. As the rage ricochets across social media, women are providing “evidence” through first-person reminiscences, secondary support by other women as well as phone screenshots they sometimes remembered to take.

Others in the dock include film director of Queen, Vikas Bahl, independent photographer Pablo Bartholomew, Resident Editor of Times of India’s Hyderabad edition, K.R. Sreenivas, arts critic Sadanand Menon, a Hindustan Times editor Prashant Jha, and several other known names in the fields of media and advertising, music, modelling, literature and comedy.


Also read: Indian women understand hashtag #WhyIDidntReport only too well


 

Wave of charges

The fresh wave of allegations emerged three days ago, after a woman accused Utsav Chakraborty, then a member of comic group All India Bakchod (AIB), of sending her objectionable photos and messages.

The woman’s allegations were backed by several others who claimed to have undergone a similar experience with Chakraborty. Shortly after, AIB issued an apology statement and announced that Chakraborty was no longer an AIB employee.

The incident came in the backdrop of similar charges in Bollywood, when actor Tanushree Dutta last week recounted the alleged sexual harassment she had faced by actor Nana Patekar as well as, alleged cadres of the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti, 10 years ago.

In several interviews, Dutta alleged that she had been forced to do “an intimate dance sequence” with Patekar and then when she refused and retreated to her van, a mob attacked her car and held her hostage till the police reached the spot. Film director Vivek Agnihotri, she said, even asked her to take off her clothes.

Dutta’s allegations were dismissed by several people in the film industry — notably by Patekar himself. But it has set off a storm on social media.

On Friday, the rage spread to the media and publishing industry.

Celebrity author-next-door Chetan Bhagat was named on Twitter by a woman who accused him of refusing to answer a question over the phone unless she sent him an intimate photo of herself. Another woman said he told her he “felt a connection” with her and “felt like wooing” her even as he showered her with praise. The woman posted screenshots of Bhagat’s unwelcome attention.

 

 

Bhagat, in a Facebook post, has since written an apology. He admitted that the screenshots were real, and added in his own defence, “Just in terms of more information, these screenshots are several years old, and I had met the person in question a couple of times”.

“We hit it off really well as a friendship, and as I say in the screenshots, I did feel a strong connection with her. I did find her a good human being, sweet, cute and funny (as I also say in the screenshots).”

Explaining his actions at the time and stating that he had deleted the woman’s number “soon thereafter and we haven’t been in touch for years”, Bhagat said “Maybe I was going through a phase, maybe these things just happen, or maybe I felt the person felt the same too based on our conversations. However, it was stupid of me, to feel that way and to even share that with her… I should have had better judgement, but I guess I erred a bit there. Maybe I misread the friendliness.”

Film director of Queen Vikas Bahl, who has emerged on the list of alleged perpetrators, is said to have assaulted in May 2015 a former employee in Phantom Films, the production house in which they both worked. (Phantom Films, set up by Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Madhu Mantena, has since been dissolved.)

And then there is the story of Kiran Nagarkar, the brilliant writer, whose fall from grace is described in the following manner by a female journalist who went to interview him:

“He did sit too close on a sofa. He insisted on a hug after. His hands lingered on my arms after, as he held my hand, asking me to keep in touch…”

 

As for singer Kailash Kher, he is said to have insisted that the journalist interviewing him stand next to him for a photograph. This, just after he had allegedly placed his hand on her thighs.


Also read: Bollywood will take a few years to name sexual harassers: Divya Dutta


 

Media editors under scrutiny

Meanwhile, younger women journalists have gone public about the alleged sexual harassment they have faced at the hands of some of the most powerful media editors in the country.

Gautam Adhikari, the former editor at The Times of India and DNA was accused of using his position to secure sexual favours. Sonora Jha on Twitter said Adhikari “tried to push me into his hotel bed but I pushed him away”.

Adhikari then allegedly threatened to use his power to marginalise her. “I was told that Adhikari had asked him to ‘sideline’ me on the job,” Jha said.

Responding to the allegations, Gautam Adhikari told The Print that he did not “recall these incidents from many years ago”.

“I have always treated colleagues with respect and courtesy. If I have made anyone uncomfortable in my presence I would sincerely apologise,” he said. “But I have not sexually harassed anyone as alleged. I would add for your information that I retired from the media several years ago though I still write occasionally”.

Another name put forth by several women journalists in these accounts is current Resident Editor of Times of India, Hyderabad, K.R. Sreenivas. A screenshot of a Facebook chat showed Sreenivas persistently telling the woman that he loves her, despite the woman’s objections.

 

 

In the light of the allegations against Sreenivas, the publisher for Times of India, BCCL, issued a statement elaborated on “a strong POSH(Prevention of Sexual Harassment) policy” that the organisation had and how it does not tolerate any act of sexual harassment at the workplace.” It added, “In keeping with this the committee will investigate matters brought to its attention under the procedures laid down in law.”

Then there was Anoo Bhuyan, a reporter with the web portal The Wire, who accused Mayank Jain, a journalist from the Business Standard of “predatory behaviour.”

 

 

The last 72 hours have also seen a re-surfacing of allegations against art critic Sadanand Menon which had initially been made earlier this year and in October 2017.

 

Meanwhile, Avantika Mehta with the Twitter handle @bitingfriends put out screenshots of exchanges between her and Hindustan Times political editor Prashant Jha.  She maintained that he had wanted to “hit on her,” millennial jargon for someone who makes an unwanted pass.

But as Mehta herself pointed out, the incident with Jha took place when she was no longer an employee of Hindustan Times — an example of the dangerous territory that people of both sexes can sometimes find themselves in.

An HT spokesperson maintained that facts were being verified and an internal investigation will take place in the matter.


Also read: Unlike West’s ‘MeToo’, subcontinent’s men don’t hang their heads in shame. Women do


 

Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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7 COMMENTS

  1. Response to Anonymous Allegations through Twitter Post dt.05.Oct.18 posted by Ms. Deepanjana Pal.

    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.

    Pablo Bartholomew – 08 Oct. 2018

  2. Writing in Quora.com, a young boy writes: My mausi (maternal aunt) was 20-odd. She came from a sleepy, small industrial town called Rourkela to New Delhi, to pursue journalism all by herself. She worked as a crime reporter for newspapers like The Patriot and Hindustan Times for close to a decade.
    She took the latter to court in 2000 on charges of sexual harassment at workplace. It was one of the first instances in the national capital where someone had taken a famous media house to court on this count. Everyone dissuaded her from doing so, including famous social workers and women’s welfare workers (yes, women tried to dissuade her). She didn’t listen to any of them and pursued the case to a natural conclusion. She won the case in 2012. She got Rs 10 lakh as compensation from the case, which she gave towards a children’s fund at a Delhi orphanage.

  3. The most embarrassing thing in the whole sequence of disclosures is not the disclosures themselves. (These are confident women mentioned here who would be the last ones to be COY about the incidents and “disclose” them only multiple years later. The male concerned would have been ticked off there and then, in each incident, I am SURE about that.) The REAL REASON for embarrassment, in my opinion, is hidden in the following quote from the article:

    “A year after the #MeToo campaign around allegations of sexual misconduct against the powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein gained currency in the US, the movement seems to have touched a chord in India.”

    AFTER this “MeToo” against someone in THE U.S.A., ..the movement touched a chord in India. If this sequence of confessions or revelations had originated in ISRAEL, or even ICELAND, would it have “touched a chord in India”?

    It is this continued slavishness to “the affluent part of the West” that is truly embarrassing. Half the stuff reported here is fake — I am sure about it without knowing the truth!

    • I would reckon 90% is genuine. Some of the men have already apologised. Why did Dr Christine Ford wait for 36 years ? See the dog’s breakfast the powerful Republican establishment made of her completely truthful testimony. We should respect, support, encourage the women who are speaking up, some still too fearful to name the perpetrators. They have to go to work tomorrow morning, where some of these men are still in charge. The real benefit from this outpouring of pain and anger will accrue to the young women who will now be joining the work force. There is reason to hope that they will be more physically and emotionally safe.

      • “Completely truthful testimony”- my ass. She can’t remember any significant details and she has no corroborating witnesses. Moreover, it makes little sense that she didn’t report her experience 12 years ago when Kavanaugh was in the center of another highly public controversy about his appointment to a Lower Court.

      • You are right, 90% of these stories must have happened, but the percentage of women feeling “me-the-miserable-lass” must be much lesser than that figure.

        Men always keep testing the waters, and women have always had a sixth sense to immediately know when, and who is trying to swim in their direction. And they immediately dunk the guy if they don’t like him. Few words would be shot out like Rafale aircraft’s missiles and the guy would go covering for cover.

        My point is, attempted flirtations go on all the time in offices, and in most cases women are smart and confident types who take them as muted compliments. Only seldom, not as frequently as in 80 or 90 percent of the times but a miniscule fraction of that do they really feel “tortured and nervous”. They know how to put the guy in his place. We must remember that men who work in mixed-sex offices are not as boorish as SOME taxi drivers. They are cultivated enough to take a hint in most cases. If by a freak chance someone displays his passion to an embarrassing extent, then he honestly might be gripped by extreme passion via a vis that particular lady. Then that is just destiny. Such a man may make a nuisance of himself, and she may have to involve others to make him see the light.

        I fully agree with you that, “…We should respect, support, encourage the women who are speaking up …”, but there is also something called ON THE JOB TRAINING. They will learn the ropes on their own very easily. In fact the ladies who have written about their “experiences” in this article, true or false or exaggerated, are doing greater harm to their younger “sisters” who might be on the verge of joining a job by frightening them. Offices are lovely work places!

  4. Good that the dam has burst. It will hopefully make work places more safe for young women. A few cases, like Ms Tanushree Dutta’s complaint to Bombay Police, should be taken to trial. For the rest, the culture of impunity and immunity will be dented. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that the Vishakha guidelines are respected.

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