The #MeToo movement in India exposed some high-profile men as alleged sexual predators, but their ‘misdeeds’ may already have been forgotten.
New Delhi: One of them is back as a columnist for a national newspaper, while another is about to get married to his model-girlfriend. Yet another has reclaimed his place at the top of the world’s richest cricket board.
When #MeToo knocked on India’s doors over a year ago, the resulting cascade disrupted nearly everything in its path. News cycles, professional hierarchies, a culture of shameful silence, and even seemingly sacrosanct political careers were overturned in weeks.
But the momentum of the movement has slowed down. As the focus of the country shifts to politics, state and national elections, the latest corruption scandal and the economy, few are asking questions about what happened next.
In circumstances where legal recourse has been sidestepped, it turns out that a significant number of the high-profile men accused in the #MeToo movement are leading relatively regular lives.
They have, for the better part, been accepted back into their professional spheres — their alleged misdeeds quietly forgotten.
M.J. Akbar, accused of sexual harassment by at least 20 women and rape by one, resigned as minister of state for external affairs on 17 October — heralding perhaps the most significant victory of #MeToo in India.
Just over a month later, on 28 November, a column by him was published on the editorial page of Hindustan Times.
On Twitter, several people argued that the decision had helped provide a platform for well-connected men to redeem themselves.
How could @htTweets & @IndEditorsGuild let this happen? Do the testimonies of the many women who’ve spoken out bravely against #MJAkbar’s sexual harassment mean nothing to them? They are complicit in normalising such crimes by powerful men at the workplace.https://t.co/vpEBfwKuVH
— Vishal (@VishalChoradiya) November 29, 2018
The former minister has denied all allegations, and filed a criminal defamation case against the first woman to speak out against him — journalist Priya Ramani.
On 21 November, roughly 40 days after Rahul Johri, the chief executive officer of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), was first accused of sexual assault through an anonymous complaint shared on Twitter by poet Harnidh Kaur, a three-member independent inquiry committee ruled him innocent.
The panel was also looking into two other testimonies of sexual misconduct against Johri.
In a subsequent article for ESPNcricinfo, veteran sports journalist Sharda Ugra wrote that when he returned to work from a three-week period of forced leave, “There was a cake waiting for Johri…”
“Within two days, an article endorsing him as a ‘thorough gentleman’, appeared in an online advertising magazine, Campaign India,” she added.
Her opinion, titled “Why the Johri investigation has been a kick in the gut for women”, outlines a series of “missteps” that took place during the inquiry. She calls the BCCI’s response to the accusations against their CEO “clumsy, shoddy and insensitive”.
Ugra also reminded readers of a photograph tweeted by the BCCI on 20 November.
In it, the three-member inquiry committee is seen handing over its report to the chief of the BCCI Committee of Administrators (CoA) Vinod Rai. “When the report was handed over to the CoA, a photograph went out on social media, as if to celebrate the signing of a multibillion-dollar contract,” Ugra wrote.
UPDATE: The independent inquiry committee handed over their report to the CoA at 11: 30 AM today during a meeting held at the BCCI HQ. pic.twitter.com/50m7vjqww8
— BCCI (@BCCI) November 21, 2018
This wasn’t the first time the BCCI was dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct against Johri. In February this year, a female BCCI employee had complained about sexually inappropriate behaviour by him — a matter allegedly hushed up by the CoA.
As ThePrint previously reported, the complainant subsequently resigned from the BCCI, but was cajoled by the CoA into rejoining in a new role, under another reporting manager, after a written apology from Johri. No credible action was, however, taken against the CEO.
When the fresh allegations cropped up in October, the BCCI decided not to entrust the matter to their internal complaints committee and instead formed an independent probe panel, consisting of retired Justice Rakesh Sharma, former Delhi Commission of Women chairperson Barkha Singh and lawyer-activist Veena Gowda.
According to the limited sections of the 21 November report made available to the public, the panel concluded that the allegations were “mischievous and fabricated”, and were “manufactured with the ulterior motive to harm Mr. Rahul Johri and throw him out of the BCCI”.
However, the opinion was not unanimous. Gowda had recommended “gender sensitivity counseling” for Johri, and stated that his conduct was “unprofessional and inappropriate” and would “adversely affect its reputation”.
But this isn’t all that Gowda said. As The Hindu reported, a statement was conspicuously censored from the released report.
She had also alleged an “effort (of the CoA and BCCI) to close the concerns/disputes between the parties themselves without going through the due process of law”.
“The CoA and the BCCI should be held accountable for the manner in which this issue has been handled,” she had said.
“The CoA and particularly the chairman, Vinod Rai, have handled the Johri case appallingly, in every sense,” The Hindu Publishing Group chairman Narasimhan Ram, who tweeted Ugra’s article, told ThePrint.
“Even procedurally it was completely wrong — they didn’t have an internal complaints committee and the external complaints committee was loaded,” he added. “I was shocked to read the comments made by the retired judge where he is blaming and shaming the alleged victims.
“Vinod Rai did not consider what is credible and the likely impact of this on women working in the organisation, and women everywhere who are following this,” he said.
“This should be a case study for organisations on how not to handle a case of alleged sexual harassment,” Ram said.
However, for Ram, despite the “complete mess” of the situation, the Johri episode is “not a defeat of the #MeToo movement, but rather an obstacle”.
“Men like him have not been rehabilitated,” he said. “They are being protected by their power.”
Even the CoA was divided on whether to let Johri resume his duties as BCCI CEO, but with Rai seen to be in his corner, he was reinstated with immediate effect.
“I resumed office today and all my colleagues have been warm and welcoming,” Johri told PTI at the time. “It has been a tough one and half month for me and my family. I wish no one has to go through what I have gone through.”
For Ugra, the message from the BCCI was simple: “Take that, you delusional women, we won. We won. We always win.”
The India Today TV executive editor and top news anchor was accused by journalist Vidya Krishnan of sexually assaulting her in 2003, when she was a fresher and an assignment took them to Punjab as part of a group of reporters. The allegation was published in The Caravan magazine on 1 November.
Two weeks later, India Today told NDTV that they could not investigate or even comment on the allegations since Sawant “was not employed with us in 2003”.
“Nevertheless, Mr Sawant has been asked to provide an explanation,” the statement read. “Besides dismissing the allegations entirely, he has informed us that he is consulting lawyers to seek legal remedy.”
As Vidya’s horrific account makes headlines, NDTV asked India Today for a comment, they’ve said: “The article is distressing to read. Unfortunately, we are in no position to comment on it or investigate the matter since Gaurav Sawant was not employed with us in 2003 1/n https://t.co/q6ZeiTCudf
— Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi) November 12, 2018
Sawant sent defamation notices to Krishnan, The Caravan, and the author of the article, Nikita Saxena, on 14 November, denying all allegations.
In an official response to ThePrint, the India Today Group corporate communications department said Sawant “has been questioned thoroughly as per due process”.
It added that Sawant had “dismissed the allegation in its entirety and countered every incident mentioned in the article” in a written explanation.
“He has filed a legal notice against the publication, its journalist and the complainant,” India Today said. “This matter, which is between these respective parties, is under legal investigation and remedy. As per the principles of natural justice, we will not make judgement on either side and shall await outcomes.”
Sawant continues to be the lead anchor of the IndiaFirst segment on India Today, which is aired Monday to Friday at 8.30 pm. He also remains active on Twitter.
On 3 December, in a Facebook post, journalist Vinod Dua recalled the time when, all of 17, he played the harmonica at the annual day of Daulat Ram College in 1971. It was the day India and Pakistan began their third war.
A day before, Dua had offered comment on the upcoming 2019 general elections, asking “Shall we make a fool of ourselves again?”
It appears that Dua, a consulting editor for The Wire who was accused of stalking and sexual harassment by film-maker Nishtha Jain on 14 October, has continued providing political commentary to his followers via his personal Facebook account.
The Wire also appears to no longer be reeling from the controversy.
Just two days after Dua was accused, the media organisation released an episode of his show Jan Gan Man ki Baat, where he criticises the #MeToo movement and defends his innocence.
In their official statement, The Wire had said they had “no clear roadmap” on how to deal with “Ms Jain’s complaint against Mr Dua which goes back to 1989”.
An external committee consisting of former Supreme Court judge Aftab Alam, former judge of the Patna High Court Justice Anjana Prakash, Prof Neera Chandhoke and former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh was set up on 17 October to investigate the matter. According to The Wire, Dua also voluntarily suspended his show.
The founding editor of The Wire, Siddharth Varadarajan, told ThePrint that “the external committee’s deliberations started in October and are still on”.
“Vinod Dua was never employed by The Wire,” he added. “He contributed his programme, Jan Gan Man ki Baat, on a pro bono basis”.
Varadarajan also confirmed that his programme “would remain suspended till the end of its (the committee’s) work”: A rather unfortunate circumstance for Dua, who once lamented the loss of the platform due to “a scurrilous post on the FB (that) was taken seriously by us”.
Dua’s Twitter bio, which read ‘Jan Gan Man Ki Baat | @thewirehindi | @thewire_in | @TheWireUrdu’ till 6 December, now says ‘Jald aa raha hoon main HW NEWS’ (I am coming soon on HW NEWS).
He is set to make a comeback on HW NEWS with a segment that will air Monday to Thursday at 9 pm. Dua tweeted his announcement with a 50-second-long promotional video Thursday, in which he posits his show as the “one voice without fear.”
— Vinod Dua (@VinodDua7) December 6, 2018
While he was conspicuously absent from Twitter between 10 October and 16 November, he has sporadically tweeted a few videos and links to Facebook posts since then.
The chief of bureau and political editor for Hindustan Times stepped down from his position two days after a former colleague accused him of sexual misconduct. The bureau was redirected to report to Editor-in-Chief Sukumar Ranganathan.
In a series of tweets dated 6 October, former HT correspondent Avantika Mehta put out screenshots of exchanges between her and Jha, saying she did “everything and beyond to not piss him off while he says he wants to hit on me”.
The following day, Ranganathan tweeted that HT will “assess all claims stringently and fairly if the accusers come forward — and not merely from the statutory perspective, but from that of creating a safe and productive newsroom for everyone”.
But just to close the loop, we will assess all claims stringently and fairly if the accusers come forward — and not merely from the statutory perspective but from that of creating a safe and productive newsroom for everyone.
— sukumar ranganathan (@HT_Ed) October 9, 2018
Three days after the allegations surfaced, the newspaper told journalists that it had begun the “process of investigation”, and that Jha would have “no managerial role till the investigation is complete”.
According to sources at Hindustan Times, Jha still reports to the HT office regularly. “The inquiry against him was set up on 7 October and has a 90-day time limit that hasn’t expired — so, the report has not come out yet,” a source said.
The sources added that Jha also continues to file reports, but under the byline of ‘HT Correspondent’ and not his name.
Multiple attempts to reach Hindustan Times had not elicited a response by the time this report was published. The report will be updated when it responds.
Jha’s Twitter bio reads “Journalist at Hindustan Times”, although he has not tweeted since 4 October.
Suhel Seth is about to get married.
The branding magnate accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and assault — including “shoving his tongue” down model Diandra Soares’ throat — has sent out a ‘save the date’ invite for a party on 25 December at his Gurugram penthouse.
Seth, who went conspicuously off-the-grid after the allegations surfaced — his Twitter and Facebook continue to remain silent and the website of his branding consultancy company, Counselage, is still “currently undergoing scheduled upgrades” — seems to be back on Lutyens’ Delhi party calendar.
Sources close to Seth confirmed that he was present at a party in Delhi just last week.
According to a recent report, the celebrity consultant proposed to his girlfriend of one year, model Lakshmi Menon, in his Magnolias apartment at the end of October. Mumbai Mirror reports that the engagement took place in the presence of Seth’s mother, his brother Swapan Seth and less than 10 close friends.
Following the exchange of rings, Seth reportedly left for a vacation to Goa and Switzerland with Menon.
Seth, who recently lost his contract with the Tata Group after the conglomerate decided not to renew it, sent the ‘save the date’ invitation to “an exclusive set of close friends, not more than a hundred people”, a source told ThePrint. The invitation is co-signed by fiancée Menon.
This report has been updated to reflect a change in Vinod Dua’s Twitter bio.