Ira Trivedi on her #MeToo story naming Chetan Bhagat, Suhel Seth: Was my duty, moral responsibility

Rohini Nair
In her column, Ira Trivedi details her own experiences with sexual harassment in the literary world — more specifically from two prominent figures who have also been named in other #MeToo accounts: Chetan Bhagat and Suhel Seth.

An Outlook column by the writer Ira Trivedi is the latest missive lobbed by the #MeToo movement that currently has social media timelines in India in its grips.

In the column, Trivedi details her own experiences with sexual harassment in the literary world €" more specifically from two prominent figures who have also been named in other #MeToo accounts: Chetan Bhagat and Suhel Seth.

Trivedi begins by explaining why she's felt compelled to speak out about these experiences, and these men.

'I have been debating against men (and women) who believe that the #MeToo movement is just about defaming men; who believe that women use it to catapult themselves into the limelight; who just want to live out their personal vendettas. I have tried my best to make the point that the #MeToo movement isn't about sending men to jail or naming-and-shaming or piling on the allegations. It is about shattering the assumptions that underpin the perceived €" and severely skewed €" power dynamic between men and women in India. It is about understanding the basic fact that there are bounds around each woman's personal space that cannot be invaded without permission, that are not €" and cannot €" be defined by men. It is about creating better and safer working and living conditions for women. Ultimately it is a way for women to tell their stories and by doing so, to educate others. Every woman's story is important and a lens into how pervasive the issue is,' Trivedi writes.

Having been called on to discuss #MeToo on various platforms, Trivedi said she felt a sense of responsibility to articulate her own experiences, and that unless she did so €" without fear €" she didn't "deserve the sort of platform that (she) gets to speak and write on women's issues".

What follows is an account of how she met Chetan Bhagat nearly a decade ago at the Jaipur Literature Festival during a panel discussion they were both a part of; over the years to follow, she writes of a series of passes Bhagat allegedly made. Trivedi writes that she shrugged off the behaviour as just "Chetan being Chetan", but "harmless as it was, it still made (her) deeply uncomfortable".

Of Suhel Seth, Trivedi writes that his inappropriate behaviour grew in frequency along with his stature. Lewd comments, being over-familiar physically €" these are a few of the behaviours Trivedi describes.

Trivedi's column also addresses why she continued to interact with Bhagat and Seth especially since their behaviour made her so uncomfortable:

"The truth is that both these men were and remain powerful, important and influential, particularly in the world that I inhabit," she writes. She says she continued to associate with them socially "fearful of burning that bridge, scared of saying something that would turn them against me, afraid that if I were to speak up, no one would care to listen. As a writer, who began her career at the age of 19, I thought that this was the cabal that I was a part of and occasionally bearing their discomfiting behaviour was the price that I had to pay for their acquaintance."

"Over the past few days, I have thought deeply about why men like Chetan Bhagat or Suhel Seth behave in the inappropriate way that they do," Trivedi adds. "Is it to gain validation? Or is it simply because they feel that they can just get away with it all?"

In a short interview with Firstpost, Trivedi spoke about #MeToo and coming out with her own story.

Was this column difficult to write? To articulate your own #MeToo story?

It was. This is a deeply personal story and it took a lot of courage and support from friends to come out with it.

A lot of the #MeToo stories that have emerged have been from the fields of journalism and entertainment; not as many from the literary world. Why do you think that is? One assumes harassment occurs as much in this sphere as well.

It does. But the world of literature, publishing and journalism are intertwined. This happens in every world, and as the #MeToo movement gains strength, we will hear more and more stories.

Have fellow writers confided in you about encountering troubling behaviour/harassment from other writers or publishers? Or have you witnessed behaviour that troubled you because of its inappropriateness?

No. I can't say that I have heard any specific complaints other than with the people who I called out.

What are some of the power structures or ways of functioning specific to the literary world that make harassment or inappropriate behaviour difficult to call out, and also to avoid?

It the same power structure as any other world. If anything I think the literary world is a little better.

What could the repercussions be, for instance, of calling out someone for being a harasser?

I think now, fewer than earlier. It's the same as any other industry. Women will be thought of as troublemakers and maybe jobs etc will become unavailable to them.

One feels a greater sense of shock when a well-regarded writer is accused of impropriety. Maybe there is a sense that writers are more evolved as individuals, or more sensitive or empathetic.

It's about the ego. As the ego gets bigger one gets blinded and forgets what is dharma versus adharma.

What can writers, publishers, agents, even readers do to ensure that harassment of any sort is not encouraged?

The first step is to be brazen and come out with your story. The #MeToo campaign has provided a good platform for that. Through this platform, women are getting a chance to tell their stories and get a platform they deserve.

What has the feedback to your Outlook column been like so far?

It's been so overwhelming. I was afraid and nervous before I posted this article, but I knew I had to share my story. I would have felt like a coward if I had not.

Has it been cathartic in any way to articulate these experiences?

I don't think it's about that at the moment. It was my duty and moral responsibility, and I did it.

Did you happen to read Mr Bhagat's Facebook posts in response to being called out for his inappropriate messages to women?

I know the gist of it. I'm sure there are so many more women out there who haven't come out yet.

What do people get right about the #MeToo movement and what do they get wrong?

People don't understand the #MeToo movement. It is not about putting men behind bars, and it is different than sexual harassment €" there are laws for that, and people can use them. #MeToo has a different purpose, I have spoken about it in my piece.

What do you think this second wave of #MeToo stories has made possible in India? What do you think is the way forward from here? What can we do better? How can we be better?

We have to be our own moral police. Newspapers, literature festivals, etc have to take a strong stand and ostracise these predators. They shouldn't be allowed to be cultural icons/influencers.

Also See: #MeToo in India: Suhel Seth named in sexual harassment allegations by three women

Tavleen Singh dubbing MeToo in India 'imitative of West' exposes her disconnect; realities for women are same worldwide

Chetan Bhagat responds to #MeToo allegations: 'I am not a harasser; never was, never will be'

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