Tanushree Dutta recently came forward as a sexual harassment survivor. According to her, Nana Patekar allegedly touched her inappropriately on the set of Horn Ok Please back in 2008. And when she fought his advances, he called his goons on set and threatened to harm her. A journalist, who was present on the scene when this happened, has corroborated Tanushree’s story.
Irrespective of whether or not we believe her, it is important to create an atmosphere of acceptance and a safe space for survivors who come forward. But Bollywood has never been the one to do that. When Amitabh Bachchan was asked to comment on this, he said and I quote., “I am neither Tanushree Dutta nor Nana Patekar, so how can I comment on this?” And this is not the first time that Mr. Bachchan has refused to take a stand. When Priyanka Chopra was harassed by trolls for wearing a dress in the presence of PM Narendra Modi, he said the exact same thing. So far, there has been no support for Tanushree from the industry. I would be surprised, but I am really not. Bollywood hasn’t had it’s #MeToo moment yet, and I don’t have much hope from them either.
On January 1, 2018, about 300 women from the entertainment industry (mostly USA and UK) signed a letter. The letter was addressed to all the women across the world who were or are being sexually harassed, assaulted or discriminated against in their workplace. The signatories vowed to stand in solidarity with these brave women, and that is how the Time’s Up movement was born. As of February 2018, a total of 21 million dollars has been raised in legal defense fund as part of the movement. The conversation around sexual harassment in Hollywood started with several women coming forward to support sexual harassment and assault claims against American film producer Harvey Weinstein. Popularly known as the Weinstein effect, this encouraged several other women to come forward with sexual harassment claims against other powerful men in the industry. The aim of the Time’s Up movement is to empower women to stand up for themselves without any fear and promote accountability among the perpetrators without passing blame.
Even though this movement is for women everywhere in the world and has gained traction primarily in the West, India has been a reluctant, silent onlooker throughout and after. Bollywood celebs have been awfully quiet and have had almost no comments in this regard. Sexual harassment has always been a taboo in the Indian entertainment industry, and there haven’t been any prominent cases in the industry that have come into the limelight. One can claim that this is because there aren’t many such cases in India, but they will be wrong. According to a 2016 survey by National Crime Records Bureau, 36% women face sexual harassment in their workplace in India, and 70% women do not report this crime. One reason why survivors do not come forward with their stories could be that India has a long history of shaming and blaming the victim. Questions like ‘what were you wearing’ or ‘were you drunk at the time’ are not uncommon for these survivors. Movies like Pink and Anarkali of Arrah ignite a very important conversation surrounding this issue. But unfortunately, it has failed to address the issue. There is a culture of silence surrounding this issue in Bollywood, and the country in general. In an industry where image is everything, it is going to be a while before any sort of movement gains momentum.
There are several laws that protect women from sexual harassment in their workplaces. Section 354 of the Indian Penal code legally protects women from any sort of sexual advances and favours at work. The punishment for these offences range from a hefty fine to upto 7 years in prison. The Vishakha guidelines also exist to protect women for the same purpose. The Supreme court passed the historical judgement in 1997 that every establishment in India follow the Vishakha guidelines to deal with sexual harassment in workplaces. Sadly, there are still quite a few organizations that do not follow these guidelines and try to suppress the matter internally.
It’s a long way for us Indians to go before we start taking sexual harassment claims seriously, and not dismiss them as something that happens to every woman once in her lifetime. But at least we are on that path, and not completely oblivious. Time’s Up in India too, and it’s high time we address the elephant in the room.