Tamil actress Varalaxmi Sarathkumar speaks out about sexual harassment, exploitation in film industry
Days after a noted Malayalam actress' abduction hit the headlines, a Tamil actress has spoken out about being propositioned by an executive at a TV channel.
Varalaxmi Sarathkumar posted an extensive message on her social media account on Monday, 20 February, in which she described the incident. She captioned her post, "Needs to be said."
She said that she had been in a meeting with the executive, at the end of which he made a pass at her.
"I was in a meeting with the programming head of a TV channel for half an hour, at the end of which he said, 'So...when can we meet outside?' I asked him, 'Regarding some other work?' He replied (with a smug smile, as is the norm) 'No, for other things.' I hid my shock and anger and told him, 'Please leave'. He said, 'So — that's all?' and smiled and walked away."
Varalaxmi said that this was not an isolated incident but indicative of a mindset that assumed actresses were sexually available. She wrote that a reaction she had often come across was, 'You knew the film industry was like this when you joined. Why complain now?' "But I didn't join the industry to be treated like a piece of meat or follow the same practices of exploitation (that other women had been subjected to)," Varalaxmi wrote. "I love acting. I work hard and it's my profession of choice... my options should not be to 'either put up with it or quit'."
The actress also said that this kind of harassment was faced by women across the board — no matter which industry they worked in, or which socioeconomic strata they belonged to.
She said, "Instead of telling women how to dress...or behave, how about we asked men to stop thinking with their genitals, and treat women like free, capable, equal human beings?"
"Our education is failing us...We need to act now, or safety for women will be just a dream," she added.
Read the full text of Varalaxmi's post:
Just a day before she put up this post, Varalaxmi had shared a message of support for the Malayali actress who was abducted and assaulted, asking for strong action against the culprits.
The Malayalam film industry has universally condemned the attack on the actress, who was attacked by a gang of men while she was travelling in her car with a driver. The men drove the actress' car around for a couple of hours while they took photos and videos of the actress, allegedly with the intent to blackmail her. They left her vehicle at a busy junction, after which the actress drove herself to a producer's home and asked for help. The police believe a driver employed by the actress may have been in connivance with the attackers.
There was also some conjecture that the actress' strained relations with a leading Malayalam actor may have been the motive for the attack.
As support for the Malayan actress poured in over the weekend, Varalaxmi too was lauded for being courageous and speaking out against harassment.
Actor-turned product designer Lekha Washington was among those who tweeted out messages of support for Varalaxmi. "Thank you Varalaxmi," Washington wrote. "1000 percent agree with you (sic)."