Dubai: The #MeToo movement has shaken up the media and entertainment industry in India with a cascade of allegations from women and an ensuing debate over consent and complicity.
Women across India have spoken out on social media this week against comedians, journalists and authors in spontaneous outpouring amplified by journalists themselves. Several Indian women journalists took to Twitter to share their encounters with sexual predators in the media industry.
The women confronted senior journalists who had harassed them at some point, with male journalists who are part of mainstream media houses named and shamed publicly.
On October 5, for instance, Anoo Bhuyan, a reporter at news website The Wire, accused a fellow reporter of the Business Standard newspaper of making unsolicited sexual advances. Two women journalists replied to Bhuyan’s tweet, saying they had similar experiences with him. In response, Business Standard said it had set up an internal investigation committee to probe the accusations.
Soon after Bhuyan’s tweets, freelance journalist Sandhya Menon tweeted that an editor of the Hyderabad edition of The Times of India newspaper had made an unsolicited advance at her in 2008. Using her Twitter handle @TheRestlessQuil, Menon also posted screenshots of texts from three other women who had worked as interns at the paper and said they were sexually harassed by the same person during and after their internships.
Times of India promised to investigate the incident and said: “A highly empowered and accessible committee under this policy and under the law is in place to investigate and address all allegations of sexual harassment,” adding that the group was headed by a senior woman executive.
Former editor and federal Indian minister MJ Akbar was also named yesterday for sexual harassment by two journalists on social media, though Akbar did not react to the allegations. Priya Ramani had initially levelled the allegations against Akbar, while another former colleague Prerna Singh Bindra came up with charges of sexual harassment yesterday.
And journalist @priyakamal tweeted: “Ten years ago, as a cub journo, I was harassed at The Hindu by a senior business reporter in Hyderabad. I wasn’t believed immediately. They didn’t have an internal committee either. Had to withstand that creep for 3 months before they finally let him go with full benefits... #MeToo”.
Popular journalist Barkha Dutt also joined the conversation addressing the toxic culture rampant in the industry. “Thank you @TheRestlessQuil for a searing conversation about #MeToo in Media. Maybe women are quiet — and this happened to me — because you have to fight so hard to make your place that you think talking about a violation will give everyone the excuse they need to stall your work,” she tweeted.
The Editors Guild of India asked media organisations around the country to hold unbiased inquiries into all reported cases. “Anybody found guilty of sexual harassment/assault should be punished,” it said in a statement. Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy, a vocal supporter of women’s rights, said: “[Women] are using their words, smartphones and laptops to speak their truth and be heard,” adding that it was a form of “civil disobedience” because, having lost faith in the justice of public institutions, they were making use of the tools available to them.
While many tweeps saluted the courage that the women journalists had shown, not every social media user was convinced of the “Trial by Twitter”.
Activist and actress Swara Bhasker said it was essential that anonymous accounts be discouraged while levelling charges. “Brave women are sharing their names and stories, enabling other women to speak up. We need thorough, investigative journalism that questions both alleged perpetrators & victims & corroborates stories & fact finds,” she tweeted.
Namit Jain, who goes by the handle of @mbacarpenter, tweeted: “I hope that the Twitter Vigilantes of the #MeToo movement realize that by validating & believing every anonymous complaint, they’re handing over a potent weapon to quite a few people who haven’t been harassed but are just looking for an opportunity to get back at someone.”
How did it start?
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly sparked the torrent of allegations about senior journalists in India. But it seems to have started on October 4, when a young female comedian accused Utsav Chakraborty, a 33-year-old comedian and former member of comedy collective AIB, of sending her an unsolicited photo of his genitals. More allegations followed as other women responded with similar concerns. Chakraborty had derided on Twitter a group of Indian men who had misbehaved on a cruise liner in Australia, before himself being called out for sexual harassment.