More power to #MeToo, but now what?

[dropcap]“[/dropcap]Come on bull in a China shop… haven’t you heard? You be my Chinese doll. Waise bhi, you have chinky eyes. I never had a chinki ch#t.” – This is what Hindustan Times executive editor Kunal Pradhan allegedly told a public relations executive when she approached him for a story.

In a series of tweets, thegirlwithnoname talked about her meeting with Pradhan, where she also mentioned that being a part of the PR profession, she was used to the ‘mildly’ flirtatious behaviour of editors. She wrote, “I was used to editors mildly flirting, being in PR, so, I said thank you and kept the phone.”

While I read the tweet in the morning and shared it with my former HT colleagues, some said, “I am not shocked”, while others supported Pradhan saying, “Thoda extreme nahi hai? I doubt he can talk like that.”

In a tweet on Tuesday evening, Pradhan claimed the user is fake and the allegations are false. He claimed to also have filed a police complaint on Tuesday morning. The editor-in-chief of HT, Sukumar Ranganathan, also came out in support of Pradhan.

While over 80 men from media and Bollywood have been accused of sexual harassment by various women since September, it got me thinking, what now? With no legal case against most of these perpetrators and mostly anonymous social media accounts claiming harrassment by these men, will the accused actually get away with this?

Every day, a new name lights up my phone early in the morning. Some are shocking, while others are more or less expected. The #MeToo movement has shaken up the world of Indian media with editors of some top media organisations keeping a low profile, lest they be named and shamed by someone they had taken for granted in the past.

How did it start?

Almost a year after #MeToo created ripples across Hollywood, actress Tanushree Dutta returned from the US and gave Bollywood a jolt. In September, she accused Nana Patekar and Vivek Agnihotri of harassing her on the sets of two different movies. While defamation complaints have been filed against Dutta, the accused have categorically denied her claims.

But this is just the story of how the movement gained momentum in India.

So, let’s go back a few years. In November 2013, former editor-in-chief of Tehelka Magazine, Tarun Tejpal, had to step down from his post after a female colleague accused him of rape. He is out on bail since July 1, 2014. In another high-profile case, an FIR was filed against TERI chief RK Pachauri on allegations of sexual harassment, stalking and criminal intimidation. Pachauri was granted regular bail from the trial court in July 2016.

Now, let’s fast forward to October 24, 2017. A list of 58 academicians from 29 Indian universities was published on Facebook. The list was compiled by law student Raya Sarkar who claimed to have gathered the names directly from students with the intention of warning other young women about sexual harassers. The alleged crimes listed against the professors ranged from verbal abuse to molestation and rape. The list is no longer public. Many questioned why the list only featured names of the assaulters and not any victims.

So, this is how #MeToo took shape in India. Now, let’s take a look at how the movement has affected the society.

The Good

After years of repression at home and the workplace, social media has finally given a platform to women to voice their issues and experiences without the fear of losing their jobs or lives.

If we talk of the Twitter-free era, we must admit that no woman having worked with now-Rajya Sabha MP, MJ Akbar, would have dared to speak up against him. Now, there is a sword that hangs over him.

Other senior editors who got away by mistreating women are also being questioned.

After a former Hindustan Times employee Avantika Mehta accused senior journalist Prashant Jha of harassing her, he stepped down from the post of political editor and bureau chief on Monday.

Another journalist, Sandhya Menon, started a thread naming The Times of India resident editor KR Sreenivas for sexually harassing her. She said that after a trial print run of the Bangalore Mirror in 2008, Sreenivas offered to drop a few colleagues back home at night. “I was living the farthest so I was dropped last. I get to my house, we’re chatting. He lays his hand on my thigh and goes, “my wife and I have grown apart. She doesn’t understand me.” In response, The Times of India has set up an enquiry committee.

Menon shared another incident in which Gautam Adhikari, editor-in-chief of DNA Bombay, allegedly kissed her forcefully and then asked her not to tell anyone about it. In another alleged incident, Manoj Ramachandran, currently working with Hindustan Times, messaged Menon saying “I want to f**k you” while she was taking shelter from the floods in Bombay at a colleague’s house.

Women speaking up and the movement finally taking shape is a reflection of the anger harboured for so many years when there was no platform available for them to share their trauma.

The Bad

Alleged history sheeters – The Times of India editor Jaideep Bose aka JoJo, Indian Express journalist Abhinav Rajput, former HuffPost India employee Anurag Verma, comedian Utsav Chakraborty, Business Standard employees Mayank Jain and Siddhant Mishra, Hindustan Times staffer Dhrubo Jyoti, Calcutta Times editor Satadru Ojha, among others – all have been named on Twitter but with no formal complaints. So, what happens to them now? Although some feminists and lawyers have taken a stand and pledged to fight for the victims, as many of them choose to remain anonymous, it shall remain a difficult fight.

To understand the complexity of the scenario, let’s go back to October 2017 when a Twitter user called out Khodu Irani, High Spirits restaurant owner, for misogyny and bullying. Soon after, an ex-employee blogged about being groped and body shamed. Many Facebook posts by women followed, calling out the blatant harassment, one of them alleging a beer was emptied on her head for complaining to his wife. A few weeks later, the restaurant was running as usual. Many musicians, who swore never to play at the restaurant, are performing gigs there.

In another case in the same year, The Viral Fever (TVF) CEO and founder Arunabh Kumar faced multiple sexual harassment accusations, after a female blogger alleged “abuse and molestation” over two years. Kumar was arrested in April and released on bail. It is said that although Kumar stepped down as the CEO officially, nothing much has changed.

Also, no significant changes were visible after Raya Sarkar released her list of academicians last year. While many varsities set up an internal committee, none of the professors faced any consequences.

So, is it safe to say that all those accused above will be back on their feet soon?

The Ugly

Victim Shaming. After many women posted anonymously on their social media timelines, people questioned – Why now? Why can’t the victim reveal his/her identity? How does one trust an anonymous account? If you have the courage to name the abuser, why not reveal your own identity? The point here is that it takes a lot of courage to reveal an incident of harassment, let alone revealing the identities of the abuser or accuser. Many women choose to remain silent for years (in some cases, for life) as they fear no one will trust them. The fact that they don’t have concrete evidence to prove what they are saying doesn’t help either.

If we expect a woman to speak up when the incident happens, we need to work towards it. Firstly, trust the victims. Rather than questioning, investigate. Secondly, the laws are there, it’s just that the companies need to put their flawed processes in place. If HR mechanisms to handle harassment cases are not in place, how will a victim ever feel comfortable in sharing the ordeal? When a person complains to the HR, an enquiry against the accused (the post of the person should not matter) must begin immediately. Police must be involved, if needed, and with the consent of the victim.

For example, when journalist Sandhya Menon complained against TOI editor KR Sreenivas to the HR, they went and told him about it. She tweeted, “I registered a complaint with the HR after that. It was still Vijay Times employees then who were handling HR. And the HR department actually told him about my complaint. I went to the committee for sexual harassment at BCCL to figure out what I need to do and the woman who headed it (I forget her name) told me she knew Sreeni for a long time and it’s unlikely he’d do something like that.”

Also, in some cases, some people have argued that women need to draw a line between flirtation and harassment. I agree. But what needs to be understood is that when a person you look up to and have admired for the longest time ‘flirts’ with you, in most cases you feel intimidated or humiliated rather than ‘wanting to flirt back’. Rather than looking at the naming and shaming as ‘virtual lynch mobs’, it’s time men, women and companies accept the truth and act upon it instead of finding ways to shame the victims.

Even after six days of such a momentous #MeToo movement in the industry, no concrete step has been taken by any company. In such a scenario, what option does one have but to name their perpetrators on social media?