Sajid Khan
Delhi Commission for Women has written to India's information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur, requesting that Sajid Khan (above) be removed from reality show Bigg Boss 16 Image Credit: IMdB

Even a Bollywood script has more pretence. A man accused of sexual abuse by multiple women is now a celebrity contestant on national television, a platform to reclaim what he says are his lost years, a victim of his own arrogance, he further claims. Salman Khan, who hosts the show stands by with an indulgent smile on his face. Let’s now cut to the dark reality.

In 2018, ten women dived deep within themselves to speak publicly of traumatic personal violations. As the #MeToo movement reached Indian shores they bravely outed filmmaker Sajid Khan for sexually harassing them. Their accounts were graphic.

Four year later, the victims along with other women who called out well- known names both within the industry and outside are left floundering as Sajid Khan’s self-perceived trauma is given a misogynist red carpet on the show Bigg Boss. Needless to say there has been no apology. On the contrary Khan channelling a scene from one of his slapstick comedies is almost sorry for himself.

A lifetime of scars and, this is all it took for justice to be lampooned. Sajid Khan is the same man who was barred by Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association from directing any Bollywood films once the revelations broke. He had promised a comeback only once the allegations against him were cleared. The accusations remain.

Ten is a vast number and leaves very little room for doubt yet in the game for TRP and eyeballs, misogyny has once again been given immunity. Surprisingly, Colors TV which broadcasts the reality show has a woman CEO.

Not so surprisingly, supporting Khan is former contestant Shehnaz Gill who chose to send millions of her followers the wrong message. Sajid Khan’s rehabilitation is almost complete. He is on track to release a film next year and Shehnaz is part of the cast.

This public embrace is a pushback against not just the known victims but also those who were mustering courage to speak up. They will now think twice, an everlasting damage in a society that never made it easy for its women.

The messaging couldn’t be more stark, when justice is complicated and those who protect powerful, it is show time on prime time television. Time heals, but not always the ones who need it’s healing power.

An industry that survives on hype and drama meanwhile in its silence enables other perpetrators to carry on. Shehnaz Gill is not the only actor in Sajid Khan’s next.

Dismissing the victims

It is opportunistic to dismiss the victims for not speaking up immediately as though the timing lessens the crime. It does not. In a callous system lacking empathy, it is the victim’s prerogative to speak when she can.

In Hollywood the backlog of allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein can be traced down 30 years with 80 women over time coming out with their stories of abuse. Academy award winner Morgan Freeman lost not just his advertisements, his legal team stopped representing him.

Majority of those accused in the country have after a minor blip resumed normal programming and are belligerently flouting it in the faces of the victims, whether through networking, talks shows or playing at being an editor. Like Sajid Khan there has been no apology, they bet on memories being short and they were already powerful to begin with.

Much though has changed for the victims, lives have been derailed and livelihoods taken away. Tanushree Dutta who kickstarted the #MeToo movement in India has been victim shamed and her family hounded.

The actress opened a pandora’s box in Bollywood when she accused Bollywood titan Nana Patekar of sexually abusing her on a movie set in 2009. She has no work and has alleged attempts on her life including slow poisoning and tampering with breaks of her car. Can we look her in the face? Can we look our young women in the face?

Instead of empowering women and girls to speak up against atrocities this is a job well done of shutting them up. The Delhi Commission for Women has written to the Information and Broadcasting minister asking for Sajid Khan’s removal from the show.

Whether that happens or not, the question remains, as a society how was it acceptable to act as though all was well?