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.
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.
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.
A statement ; We're sorry pic.twitter.com/Lpa9HKyORb
— All India Bakchod (@AllIndiaBakchod) October 5, 2018
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.
— Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) October 6, 2018
— ???? Sheena (@weeny) October 6, 2018
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…”
More on Nagarkar pic.twitter.com/YKt1H7gsSp
— Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil) October 5, 2018
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.
From a journalist in Muscat pic.twitter.com/6edAfH0S6T
— Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil) October 5, 2018
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”.
He tried to push me into his hotel bed but I pushed him away and managed to run out the door. Later, when I told my resident editor, I was told that Adhikari had asked him to “sideline” me on the job. The Times Of India asked him to leave but I believe they brought him back.
— Sonora Jha (@ProfSonoraJha) October 6, 2018
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.
— Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil) October 7, 2018
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.”
— Anoo Bhuyan (@AnooBhu) October 4, 2018
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.
This is going to give me hell, but I'm going to do this for women and men everywhere who have and are interacting with him. Sadanand Menon. Please stay away from him. And please don't put him on panels. Thanks https://t.co/gKciplinWZ
— Divya Karthikeyan (@divya_krthk) October 5, 2018
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.
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