While Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was fighting valiantly to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court, the seeds of a new, powerful #MeToo movement were being sown in India. On Sept. 26, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta accused
director Vivek Agnihotri and actor Nana Patekar of sexual misconduct on movie sets in 2005 and 2008 respectively. She received much backlash on Twitter, with many accusing her of making false allegations.
But her efforts paid off.
Not only did a witness come forward to corroborate
her account, but even Bollywood as an industry — which has historically steered clear
of confronting predatory behavior — came out
to support her, using #BelieveSurvivors on Twitter. Dutta’s claim received widespread media attention, prompting a series of survivors to come forward and report their stories, outing powerful and prominent figures in journalism, entertainment, sports and politics.
And just like that, a raging #MeToo movement began in India, and it appears that there is no stopping it.
A major flashpoint of the movement has been the accusations
against YouTuber and comic Utsav Chakraborty for sending sexually explicit messages — including unsolicited pictures of his genitals — to women, especially minors. Having surfaced on Oct. 4, these allegations led to Chakraborty being boycotted
in Indian comedy circles, his videos being delisted from the channels they were featured on and all his future performances being cancelled.
It also came to light that Tanmay Bhat, co-founder of comedy group All India Bakchod, was aware
of Chakraborty’s actions at the time and still continued to hire him for the group’s sketches. Bhat and co-founder Gursimran Khamba were also accused of sexual harassment on Twitter. These allegations led to
both Bhat and Khamba “immediately stepping away from all business at AIB.”
Additionally, several extremely powerful figures in the news industry, including top editors and bureau chiefs of publications including DNA, the Times of India and the Hindustan Times, have been accused of sexual harassment. Of the accused, many have apologized, stepped down from their positions or been put on administrative leave. In Bollywood, singers, actors and directors have been accused of sexual misconduct, leading to actors walking out
of films and massive production houses being dissolved
It is particularly tragic when people who present themselves as outspoken feminists and allies end up being the predators.
One of the directors recently accused of sexual misconduct was known for having directed an iconic feminist film called Queen, which represented a complete departure from the traditional Bollywood narrative of a women being incomplete without the love and validation of a man. Chakraborty and others at AIB were known to produce edgy satirical content filled with incisive social commentary. Another female comedian whose sets were inundated with feminist critique of the patriarchy was also accused
of forcibly kissing a fellow comedian without her consent.
If the very people India depended on to subvert gender stereotypes and propagate equality end up being harassers, then what can be said about the rest of the country?
But now is not the time to mourn the loss of perceived role models. It is the time to listen to survivors, create a climate conducive for them to keep coming out and report, until one by one, everyone guilty of sexual harassment is called out, exposed and justly punished. The momentum must only be further increased, and the movement propelled forward. Only after the higher ranks are purged of all predators can we then rebuild our society and create a culture of accountability and justice.
One year ago, public allegations against Harvey Weinstein propelled the #MeToo movement in the United States, eventually leading to arrests and the boycotting of several highly prominent men including Louis C. K., Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen. In India, however, attempts to initiate such a movement have struggled to gain similar momentum — until now. In October 2017, for instance, 24-year-old law student Raya Sarkar posted
a crowdsourced list of over 60 male academics who allegedly harassed or assaulted women. Even though Sarkar collected evidence that corroborated the survivors’ testimonies, this attempt at starting a #MeToo movement in India was derailed by prominent feminists, who claimed
that it “[delegitimized] the long struggle against sexual harassment.”
This new unprecedented #MeToo wave, however, has the potential to be a watershed moment in India. It has only been about two weeks, but almost everyday another prominent figure is accused of sexually inappropriate behavior.
“It’s almost like a wave has come,” said Vrinda Grover, a New Delhi lawyer and human rights activist. “Until now, we have seen consequences only on the women who complained. This time, the consequences are for those who have committed the misconduct.”
As this point, the movement remains confined to privileged circles. It has sparked a widespread conversation about consent and harassment among the urban, educated elite, but has had little to no effect on the majority of women in India, who are perpetually at risk
of systematic sexual violence, abuse and oppression. To many of them, a #MeToo movement is nothing more than a distant reality. This fact does not undermine the movement as it stands, but merely implies that it is in its infancy and has much to accomplish.
It has yet to percolate into rural areas and empower women across all sections in the country. It has already hit a few college campuses
, where students have taken to social media to share their #MeToo stories and are rapidly coming forward to expose sexual harassers.
Finally, what is to become of these allegations?
So far, most of them have manifested in somewhat increased accountability within the court of public opinion. But there needs to be due investigation into these allegations and subsequent legal action, reparations or some official consequence in order to create a culture of accountability. As of today, India has very limited social or legal structures to deal with such unprecedented allegations. Frameworks would need to be created and implemented to set a precedent for the future.
Only once this is achieved can we dream of a society where women don’t have to come forward a decade later and say, “me too.”
Dutta, now 34 and living in the US, said
that India is still in the process of evolving. “Maybe the evolution is slower compared to the West, but evolution is inevitable. It is happening in the remotest, darkest corners of our planet.”
Kaashif Hajee is Opinion Editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org