Alok Nath raped and violated me 20 years ago, but norm was to stay silent, writer-producer Vinta Nanda tells Firstpost

Swetha Ramakrishnan

October 09, 2018 11:52:22 IST

Editor's note: Following Rituparna Chatterjee's report — Is India’s #MeToo moment here? Women are angry and they are naming and shaming their abusers — Firstpost will publish a series of articles collating personal accounts of those who have made allegations of harassment, along with responses from those who have been accused of such behaviour. This is an ongoing exercise and will be updated to reflect new developments. If you wish to draw our attention to instances of harassment you may have experienced or witnessed, tweet to us @firstpost with the hashtag #MeToo.

TV producer-writer Vinta Nanda on 8th October, adding to the long list of women who faced sexual abuse at workplace, accused her co-worker "the most Sanskaari person in the film and TV industry" of rape and sexual assault in a Facebook status. In a detailed interview to Firstpost, Nanda confirmed that she was talking about Alok Nath. Here are details of the incident which happened at least 20 years ago as shared on Nanda's Facebook page:

In a long and powerful interview with Firstpost, Nanda recalled the toxic sexist environment which was rampant in the television industry around the time this incident with Alok Nath happened. The norm was to stay silent and normalise this behavior, she said. Nanda spoke about her mental trauma, which she claims forced her to drink irresponsibly and dabble in drugs up until 2008, and how she finally found her voice back, as a writer, with social media.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Rampant sexism in the TV industry in the '90s, and why Vinta Nanda chose to speak out

"The reason why I wrote my story  yesterday was because I felt that moment of "now or never". This moment never came to me in the '90s. Because there was no such #MeToo movement, or gender discourse being talked about. The kind of accepted environment at the time was that this is the norm. If something happened to you, you kept quiet. We were making a very feminist show (Tara) which even today is ahead of its time for television, so right from the first episode onwards, since the women were the story tellers and were in charge, the men were in discomfort and the male stars were uncomfortable, but that was the norm back then. Big male stars didn't work in female-driven stories.

It was, therefore, never an option to speak about my incident. I didn't imagine this would happen to me to begin with and there was no option to speak about it. The few people who I spoke to — friends and colleagues — would always ask me to forget about it and move on. This is as recent as last year when I spoke to a friend about it, and she also turned around and said, "why do you keep bringing it up? It's the past. Forgot about it."

"Yesterday (8 October) I asked my mother if I can go public with my story. I wanted to. But she asked me 'why I want to rake up the past, that so much drama will unfold, you'll go back and forth, and he will give his point of view, then you will. Ho gayi baat, forget it,' she said. My mother also wants to believe nothing happened."

"Another reason why I felt like burying my story back then is that I realised I was an independant woman, very well-educated, I was economically and financially successful and I was writing this show that was so feminist, but this incident happened with me nonetheless. To even admit to that fact was very tough. I was brought up to do whatever I liked, I would roam around all day or night, since I had my own wheels, I could smoke openly and I came from a background where I was told to be independent and make my own choices. I used to love to go out and have a good time, and we were anyway known to be women who were "too forward". So within that space, the thinking was that "she asked for it" or "why was she even drinking". For the longest time, I accused myself and wondered if I asked for it. Why did I drink? It became like that. Ever since then, I don't drink unless I'm with trusted friends. All that boldness of my own also came down post the incident."

The trauma of silence

"I wrote that status because I felt very guilty of not opening up. On one hand I would say, "yes women should speak out" since I am a feminist — but then I would wonder what I'm rallying about, keeping my story so buried inside. If I'm not coming out in the open, who am I to say that young girls should speak?'

"Also, what is the trauma of silence? I wanted to talk about what silence does to you. What it did to me. Because so many people told me to stay silent, forget what happened and move on. And I did that. I even went back to this man, that was the extent of normalisation. It was after this incident that I quit my job, because I  wondered what I was doing with my life. And that's when the real trauma began. Staying silent really broke me down. The couple of time I tried to go back to work, I would start crying in meetings and have nervous breakdowns in the middle of the office. A lot of people used to wonder what happened to me. So I stopped going to work, because there wasn't even an environment for mental health back then. I became abnormal, because if I saw a man I would take a step back. It had become very awkward. I started feeling awkward about everything."

"As a writer, I was processing everything that was happening and I told myself that I had to be "normal" and I had to stop being nervous. In the process, I had a tryst with drugs. A very good friend of mine asked me to try some drugs to feel better, and I did so that I could be normal with people, especially with men. I wasn't able to relate with a man after the incident. The drugs helped me dance, sing, maybe even make love to a man. Otherwise I couldn't do it. So that went on for a while but it became a vicious circle."

"I wrote a piece about my incident for the French magazine L'Officiel sometime in 2003-2004. I had not named Alok Nath in the piece, but it got printed and people knew who I was talking about. Post that, I became worse because people, now, knew what had happened and whom I was referring to. So getting work was next to impossible. People said, "don't touch her, she's a trouble maker".

'Social media helped me find my voice'

"Till about 2006-2007, I was in a very messed up state. But then there were friends who helped by trying to pick me up. One of my Muslim friend's asked me if I'd be interested in doing roza with him as it was the Ramadan month. I wanted to come out of this mess, so I kept the 30-day roza and after that I bounced back. I was able to start working and keep the memory at the back of my head. Maybe those 30 days of cleansing and detoxing is what changed me."

"Post that I started working, I started my own organisation called Asian Centre of Entertainment Education and I was working on gender issues and how to leverage entertainment and media for the gender discourse. It had become more or less a mission for me to bring the issue of safety and equality for women in the workplace to the fore. Social media helped a lot, it helped me find my voice. Irrespective of whether I was getting work on not, I was able to put my thoughts out and was present in the face of the world. It really helped me forget."

"I spoke out now because I felt it's not fair for me to carry a flag for an issue when you've yourself not had the courage to speak up. I had to rid myself of this guilt. Every young woman should realise that silence is far worse, it is a bigger perpetrator and it's a killer. Because you then become easy prey and I have been there. The fact that I was silent made it seem like I was scared. I have had men pushing themselves on me with no fear because they assumed I would not talk. I just want women to know that they can and should talk about their experiences."

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Alok Nath has since responded to the allegations made by Nanda: "Neither am I denying this nor I would agree with it. It (rape) must have happened, but someone else would have done it. Well, I do not want to talk much about it or it will be stretched."

In several follow-up media interactions Vinta Nanda has said she will meet legal consultants and take necessary action soon.

Navneet Nisha, the lead actress of TV show Tara, who was spoken about in Vinta Nanda's FB post, also backed her claims. "I dealt with the four-year harassment by slapping the man in question, and it is done and dusted. l suffered the loss of the show and was further shamed by the man through media and I endured that," she said.

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Network 18, of which Firstpost is a part, has received complaints of sexual harassment as well. The complaints which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our PoSH committee for appropriate action.

Updated Date: Oct 12, 2018 15:20 PM