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India

In India, female journalists lead outpouring of fresh #MeToo allegations

Indian women are naming and shaming male entertainers, newspaper editors and authors on social media, spurring resignations and apologies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 11:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 10:10pm

A cascade of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct involving prominent Indian men flooded social media over the weekend, spurring resignations, the closing of a movie production company and public apologies.

More than a year after allegations of rape and sexual assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein first shook the world, female journalists and writers in India are naming and shaming Indian entertainers, newspaper editors and authors on social media.

Some say India’s #MeToo moment is here – at last.

“We’ve faced violence, including verbal violence, all our lives,” said Rituparna Chatterjee, a journalist who is documenting and compiling accusations against prominent men. “Somewhere, I think, we’ve snapped.”

The latest allegations began to appear on social media last week, then turned into a torrent. They began after a former actress, Tanushree Dutta, retold the story of how on a movie set a decade ago, her co-star Nana Patekar – a prolific, award-winning actor – had tried to change a dance sequence at the last minute so he could touch her inappropriately.

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A handful of Bollywood stars spoke out in support of Dutta, triggering a huge backlash on social media, with many challenging and trivialising her account of the incident.

Dutta’s allegations coincided with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing in Washington and the testimony against him by California professor Christine Blasey Ford.

“Of course, everyone was discussing that,” Chatterjee said. “The thing in my mind was, I know this guy. I’ve met this guy. I’ve met this guy over and over again.”

To Chatterjee, Ford and Dutta have become symbols of the way women’s stories are stifled or ignored. “You can have the evidence,” she said. “But she’ll never have the power to counter the hate that men have for women who speak up and threaten the status quo.”

And then, Chatterjee said, “the floodgates opened”.

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A number of Indian women started naming and shaming well-known men. Among the first accused was a comedian, Utsav Chakraborty, who allegedly sent lewd messages to women and asked a 17-year-old girl for nude photographs.

The accusation, made on Twitter on Thursday, prompted a flurry of denials from the comedian, followed by an apology Friday:

“It’s a little too late now but I am sorry. I really am. The past 24 hours were a crucible,” Chakraborty tweeted. “I faced a very scary personal truth. I can’t think of myself as a victim any more. Please tell me what to do now. How to make things right? I don’t want anyone to be hurt any more.”

A comedy group that Chakraborty worked with, All India Bakchod, issued a statement severing its ties with him. On Monday, the group said two other comedians embroiled in #MeToo allegations too would be out “until further notice”.

In Twitter, the accusations snowballed. The Huffington Post revealed that a famous movie director, Vikas Bahl, had been accused of masturbating on a woman without her consent after pretending to pass out on her bed.

Bahl’s partners issued a statement saying they had previously been made aware of the allegations against him and were “Ill-advised” by lawyers to continue working with him. Their production company was closed.

We’ve faced violence, including verbal violence, all our lives
Rituparna Chatterjee, journalist

Allegations poured out to female journalists in private messages and via online groups – many women were still too afraid to speak up.

“What you’re seeing online is only a third of what’s happening in the groups and DMs,” said Chatterjee, referring to Twitter’s “direct messages” feature in which people can talk privately.

Authors Chetan Bhagat and Kiran Nagarkar were accused of misconduct. Bhagat issued an apology on his Facebook page to the woman who accused him, saying he had “felt a strong connection” at the time. Nagarkar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The political editor of the Hindustan Times, Prashant Jha, was accused of aggressively pursuing a colleague who had turned down his advances. On Monday, Jha resigned. He did not respond to requests for comment.

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Gautam Adhikari, a former newspaper editor, was accused of forcefully kissing women without their consent. He too, did not reply immediately to a request for comment.

“There was a sense of unfinished business,” said Sandhya Menon, a journalist and author who accused Adhikari and others. “We were primed for a leap.”

India has been hyper-aware of rape and sexual abuse since a student was gang-raped and murdered in New Delhi in 2012. The incident triggered nationwide protests and calls to make the country safer for women.

The Weinstein allegations led to a trickle of allegations from India. In 2017, a student, Raya Sarkar, compiled and circulated a list of South Asian-origin academics working in universities around the world who had been accused of misconduct by women.

Sarkar’s list caused an uproar, and divided feminist groups in India. Some argued that because the allegations were anonymous and unverifiable, they jeopardised the #MeToo movement because they could not be scrutinised.

Over the past weekend, a new list of more than 70 powerful men accused of misconduct was making the rounds on social media.

Menon referred to a string of highly publicised cases of rape and sexual assault that have dragged on in India’s courts, pointing out how difficult it is for women here to get justice through the courts, despite the existence of fast track courts for sexual violence.

“Due process is completely broken,” she said.