#Metoo one year on: Voices die down, survivors victimised, yet a ray of hope remains

A year after #Metoo promised to revolutionise women's rights and voices in India, not much has happened, apart from the survivors being further victimised.

It has been a year since the #Metoo movement took the country by storm, opening up a Pandora’s box as several women across industries came out with their own #MeToo stories. As the movement gained momentum, more women came out to discuss a subject which is often looked upon as a taboo, calling out those men who had used their positions of power to abuse them. In many ways, #Metoo was an awakening for women as they realised the importance of coming out in the open, rather than hiding behind fear and stigma.

In the United States, the sexual harassment charges levied against Hollywood producer-director Harvey Weinstein, brought the #Metoo movement into the mainstream, more than a decade after it had been created by activist Tarana Burke. For India, murmurs of the movement began in 2017 itself, after California-based law student, Raya Sarkar brought out her list naming around 60 academicians from colleges and institutions across India who had been accused of sexual harassment. However, it was the film industry once again which brought the wave into the public limelight, when Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexual misconduct during the filming of their 2007 film, Horn Ok Pleassss.

Reverberations were felt across various sectors, including media, education, arts and politics, which resulted in the naming and shaming of many powerful men. It was also not just women who spoke up - male survivors of sexual harassment also put out their #Metoo stories. There was hope that this movement would be a harbinger of change for the status of women in society.

However, a year on, the noise and momentum seem to have died down. And with that, the accused are slowly turning on the victims.

Hounding the survivors

Earlier this month, the Delhi high court ordered Google and Facebook to remove anonymous social media posts that contained sexual harassment charges against artist Subodh Gupta and others in the art field, after he had filed a Rs 5 crore defamation suit against the Instagram handle Herdsceneand. Further, the court has also asked Facebook to provide details of the person behind the Instagram account before the next hearing on November 19. Moving the High Court, Google in its application, called the proceedings “clearly initiated with a view to putting an unreasonable restraint on the freedom of speech and expression on the internet as well as the freedom of the press”.

Gupta is not the sole accused to have turned against their accuser. In Tamil Nadu, singer and dubbing artist, Chinmayi Sripaada had accused lyricist Vairamuthu and actor Radha Ravi of sexual harassment. Over the year that followed, Chinmayi has been subjected to brutal trolling, character assassination during court hearings, threats and has lost many opportunities. She has also been banned by the Tamil industry’s dubbing union and has not been getting work, despite the court granting an interim stay on the ban. Eight other women had also accused Vairamuthu of sexual harassment – charges that he has denied. Meanwhile, the lyricist has carried on with his active social life, taking up film projects and will also be writing the lyrics for a Mani Ratnam project, Ponniyin Selvan, with AR Rahman as its music director.

Further, after TV’s ‘sanskaari’ actor, Alok Nath was accused by writer-producer Vinta Nanda of sexual harassment during the days when she worked with him in the TV series Tara, more women – Sandhya Mridul, Renuka Shahane, Deepika Amin and a crew member of Hum Saath Saath Hain have spoken out against his sexual misconducts with them and others. Nanda had also registered an FIR against Nath on October 17th, 2018. Following the allegations, Nath sued Nanda for defamation, asked for an apology and a compensation of Re 1. The police, as per reports, however, will soon be closing the case against Nath, citing lack of evidence.

Nath, who was last seen in the Ajay Devgn Tabu starrer, De De Pyaar De, still has projects coming his way, including one on sexual harassment, ironically named Mein Bhi, which as per its director Imran Khan, is not getting a distributor. Nanda, in an interview with News Minute, speaks about how the many people whom she thought were well-wishers and friends, have distanced themselves from her, after the incident. Nanda has also said that she was also ousted by a multinational production house with whom she was working after she questioned them about hiring a casting agent who had been accused of sexual harassment.

Similarly, Patekar has also been given the clean chit by the Mumbai Police, which has not been able to find any evidence to support Dutta’s claims. Speaking to Quint, Dutta has said that she has challenged the closure report in court, calling the police investigation spotty, vague and biased.

Last year, Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao had disassociated themselves from producing and acting in the upcoming project Mogul, directed by Subhash Kapoor who had been accused of alleged sexual harassment by actor Geetika Tyagi. Ekta Kapoor had also removed Kapoor from her series, The Verdict, with Balaji telefilms announcing that they would not employ him until his legal problems were solved. A year later, Khan, however, announced that he has got back into the project and that he would be co-producing and acting in Mogul. A year after being ousted from Indian Idol, following sexual harassment charges levied by singer Sona Mohapatra and many other women, singer Anu Malik is also reportedly being reinstated in the show.

Among the most high profile cases is that of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and journalist and former Minister of State for External Affairs, MJ Akbar, both of whom were charged with sexual harassment. In April, this year, a junior court assistant and a former employee in Gogoi’s office sent a letter and a detailed affidavit to 22 Judges of the Supreme Court, narrating how Gogoi had allegedly sexually harassed her. She also spoke about how, when she resisted his advances, she was targeted personally and professionally. A three-judge bench formed to look into the charges, which had Gogoi heading it, rubbished the charges,

Bengaluru based journalist Priya Ramani accused Akbar of sexual harassment in a tweet she had put out last year. A number of other women also came out with their horrifying accounts of abuse in the hands of Akbar– charges that he has refuted and called malicious. Akbar also slapped a defamation case against Ramani, who has revealed in court that her ‘disclosure’ of alleged allegations against him has come at great personal cost to her. Akbar, on his part, reportedly has a team of 97 lawyers fighting on his behalf.

A silver lining

After an ex-employee of Tech Mahindra had complained of discrimination and harassment on the grounds of being a homosexual, the company fired the accused on grounds of harassment. Addressing #MeToo, Chairman Anand Mahindra had vowed to not spare anyone, nor hide charges of sexual harassment in his company. The tweet put out by Mahindra had many hailing him for running an organisation which encouraged people to come out against abuse.

While the last one year’s events since #Metoo first broke out in the country, may not seem too encouraging, the fact remains that the movement has been able to bring the topic of sexual harassment into the mainstream. It is also heartening to see that industry stalwarts such as Mahindra championing the cause and supporting women who have chosen to speak out against their accusers.