If it took women this long to speak up in media/cinema, it will take much longer in more hierarchical professions.
India is experiencing its second wave of the #MeToo movement, in which women across the world—some of them public figures—have levelled sexual harassment charges against certain men, many of whom occupy powerful positions in media. Last year, a list of prominent academicians alleged to have sexually harassed female colleagues/students was put out on social media. Over the past few weeks, women in the entertainment industry and in journalism have used social media to name their alleged harassers. From Tanushree Dutta accusing Nana Patekar of having molested her ten years back during a shoot to last week’s outpouring of rage and anguish from women journalists who have suffered sexual harassment at the hands of the male peers, the Indian #MeToo moment reveals one thing—while we have long taken comfort from the legal and systemic provisions we have to deal with sexual harassment, especially at the workplace, these have failed women abjectly. No wonder, then, women who suffered silently for years are now angry enough to put their faith in a “name and shame” mechanism, knowing fully well it may not give them the closure a legal follow-up complaints could have. To be sure, the failure is not exclusively Indian—that top-billed actresses in Hollywood, some of whom wield considerable power themselves, suffered for long in silence before they could muster the courage to expose Harvey Weinstein, a former studio mogul, as a serial sex-offender should show how redress-mechanisms for sexual harassment the world over has failed women.
To be sure, the due process—which even the #MeToo activists agree is important—is perhaps as much the imperfect solution as it is part of the problem. But, ‘name and shame’ campaigns, like the ongoing one on Indian social media, are important because it allows survivors to find courage to name predators through a collective. This, of course, in turn, forces administrators or the people in charge, whether of a comedy collective like AIB or a news-media house, to take the problem seriously and begin a process of redress. AIB, for instance, has sacked its CEO and co-founder Tanmay Bhat, who, as per some reports, was in the know of harassment of an AIB employee at the hands of one its former comedians—and still failed to act. Similarly, allegations of harassment by director Vikas Bahl has forced the dissolution of the production house Phantom Films; Bahl’s former partners at Phantom, Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane have both issued statements of regret on the matter even as greater accountability is bring sought of Kashyap who, again, is alleged to have been informed by Bahl’s victim and failed to act on the complaint. All this is, no doubt, a change from the culture of complicity that has allowed predators to rise to powerful positions even as their victims were forced into silence for years. It is for policymakers and civil society to now closely examine how the system is failing women against powerful male colleagues and fix “due process” to make it more effective in curbing harassment. If it has taken this long for women to come out in journalism/cinema where, relatively speaking, they are more empowered, imagine how difficult it is for women to speak up in the corporate world or other areas that are a lot more hierarchical. Of course, there can be collateral damage with people getting wrongly accused. But, there is a legal route for restitution—and penalties for false accusation—in such cases. At the moment, focusing on the failures of the redressal mechanism that have led to the #MeToo movement is what is needed.