Spotlight on #MeToo: Tackling workplace harassment in Indian media

A news report about 1,300 Indian men running amok on a cruise liner and allegedly harassing other passengers was the first domino that in tipping over, set off the series of events that can be called the second wave of the #MeToo movement in India.

The widely circulated news item was retweeted by All India Bakchod collaborator Utsav Chakraborty, who commented on what an embarrassment such behaviour was to all Indians. When Mumbai-based writer-comic Mahima Kukreja saw the tweet, she was struck by the hypocrisy of Chakraborty's stance: he's sent her an unsolicited dick pic two years ago. And it wasn't an isolated incident — Chakraborty had apparently done the same to several other women, asking them for nudes. A few other women said he had touched them inappropriately or made unwelcome advances. Over 4 October 2018, tweets detailing Chakraborty's misconduct piled up on timelines, disturbing screenshots of messages he'd sent women. AIB delisted his videos; it later emerged that one of the founders — Tanmay Bhat — had been previously apprised of Chakraborty's behaviour, but continued to collaborate with him. Chakraborty issued a rambling, self-serving 'apology'; Bhat stepped down from AIB.

But the storm was far from over.

On 5 October, journalist Sandhya Menon tweeted about the harassment she had faced in the professional sphere. Specifically she named three senior journalists: KR Sreenivas, Gautam Adhikari, and Manoj Ramachandran. Menon — and Kukreja — also began sharing accounts of other women, who had shared their #MeToo stories with them. Some of these accounts were anonymous, others named both survivor and the alleged perpetrator. And it seemed there was no end to these accounts.

#Spotlight is a watch on sexual assault and everyday harassment in the workplace. The project is an attempt to collate experiences, opinions and resources on sexual harassment in the Indian media and newsrooms.

#Spotlight is an attempt to collate experiences, opinions and resources on sexual harassment in the Indian media and newsrooms.

More than 20 days after Utsav Chakraborty was ousted, prominent personalities in the worlds of media, entertainment, culture, and other sectors continue to be named in #MeTooIndia stories. The accounts cover a range of behaviour — from inappropriate comments and unwelcome advances, to sexual harassment, and assault. The misconduct detailed has occurred in a variety of settings, but the workplace figures prominently in these #MeToo accounts; if not the office itself, then professional meetings and events, networking spaces, work-related interactions. The other striking aspect of these revelations has been how few of the women ever felt safe enough to step forward and voice their experiences at the time they were assaulted, despite the seeming implementation of provisions for dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace.

The recency and urgency of this wave of #MeTooIndia allegations may make it seem as though the movement has only just come to India, but of course that is not the case. Several cases of harassment made the headlines in 2017 as well: An anonymous blogger called 'Indian Fowler' accused The Viral Fever founder Arunabh Kumar of sexual harassment; multiple allegations surfaced against venture capitalist Mahesh Murthy; a news report detailed an anonymous complainant's sexual misconduct charge against filmmaker Vikas Bahl and a subsequent shake-up in Phantom Films, the production house he co-founded; Khodu Irani, the owner of popular Pune club High Spirits, was named by scores of women for having engaged in lewd and toxic behaviour; and Raya Sarkar's List of Sexual Harassers in Academia was shared — throwing open a discussion over due process vs 'trial by social media', the validity of anonymous accusations, and highlighted a schism between Indian feminists. Reporters from The Guardian and the BBC meanwhile, attempted to uncover stories of sexual harassment in Bollywood.

February 2018 saw spoken word poet Shamir Reuben being called out for sending sexually suggestive messages to young women — some of whom were only 16-17 at the time Reuben propositioned them. And in the days leading up to Mahima Kukreja and Sandhya Menon's tweets, Tanushree Dutta's decade-old allegation against Nana Patekar — the actress had accused Patekar of misbehaving with her during a song shoot for the film Horn OK Pleassss (2008) — received renewed attention. Dutta's account was bolstered this time by journalist Janice Sequeira and assistant director Shyni Shetty, both of whom were present on the sets that day.

So the time was rife for #MeTooIndia's second wave.

In the days since the outpouring began on Twitter, and spilled over onto Facebook, several of the men named in this round of allegations have issued statements, apologised for their misconduct, been removed from their positions, stepped down voluntarily, and submitted to investigations. Some of course, have fought back.

Apart from these consequences, the #MeTooIndia movement has also demanded that both men and women face certain questions: What constitutes harassment? What behaviour can we call out? How do we make the movement more inclusive? Whose voices are we amplifying? Whose voices are we shutting out? It has required us to introspect: How far are we willing to go to support survivors — especially if the perpetrators are known to us? Where do we go from here?

These questions have no easy answers, and how we choose to respond to them will evolve as #MeToo rages on.

The questions we can answer at this point, include: What resources are available to survivors, those experiencing harassment? If you know of someone being harassed, how can you help? As an organisation that wishes to ensure the wellbeing of all employees, what are some of the measures to take?

#Spotlight is Firstpost's resource centre to answer those queries. Here, we've collated the #MeTooIndia allegations pertaining to the media industry, and also outlined resources and guidelines on combating harassment at the workplace. You can also reach out to us with tips and stories that you hope will be highlighted.

From how to file complaints (whether you're a full-time/contractual/part-time employee, or work in the unorganised sector) to self care, what you can do to help a co-worker, to how organisations must establish their Internal Committee (formerly known as the Internal Complaints Committee), conduct appropriate training and sensitisation workshops, to step-by-step guidance on reporting sexual violence — #Spotlight is an attempt to compile the answers to all of these requirements, and reduce the confusion surrounding anti-sexual harassment provisions at the workplace.

At Firstpost, the #Spotlight is on #MeToo.

For help, information, connecting with resources, or reporting harassment, write to us at spotlight.firstpost@gmail.com


Updated Date: Oct 30, 2018 09:00 AM

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