New Delhi, India – Accusations of sexual assault have spread across India‘s social media as the #MeToo movement took aim at prominent journalists, writers, editors and a comedian.
Scores of women, many journalists, came out this week with accounts of sexual harassment from colleagues and editors, accusing them of indecent remarks, unwanted touches, demands for sex, and the dissemination of pornography.
Many personal stories of anger and guilt, buried under years of silence, emerged after journalist Sandhya Menon recounted the sexual harassment she allegedly faced from two senior editors, KR Sreenivas and Gautam Adhikari.
Since I’m calling them out.
We were about to launch Bangalore mirror back in 2008 and I had just moved to this city.
— Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil) 5 October 2018
And finally, one more calling out and I’m done.
Gautam Adhikari who was the editor in chief of DNA Bombay. His exec assistant and I were think friends and we’d go out a lot. Once he told her you girls are always going out, I’m new to the city show me some sights
— Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil) 5 October 2018
Sonora Jha, who now teaches journalism at Seattle University in the United States, said she was also assaulted by Adhikari in 1995.
“Two months after I had my baby, Adhikari, then the Executive Editor of the Times of India, visited our Bangalore office. He said I should come to his hotel room to discuss flexible work hours if I would like that,” Jha told Al Jazeera.
“After I got there, he told me to relax, put my feet up, and lie down. I refused. He grabbed my face and forced a kiss on me, pushing his tongue into my mouth, trying to push me on his bed. I pushed him away and rushed out of the door,” she said.
Jha said as a 27-year-old then, she felt “shaken and uncertain of future”, but didn’t want to be known as “that woman who accused the TOI boss”. With a baby to look after, she decided not to pursue the case legally.
Last month, Bollywood actress and former Miss India Tanushree Dutta alleged renowned actor Nana Patekar harassed her on the sets of a film in 2008.
The new wave of accounts started to surface on Thursday with a writer accusing well-known comic and YouTube star, Utsav Chakraborty, of sexual misconduct.
I want everyone to know @Wootsaw is a piece of shit. He sent me a dick pic, was creepy, then cried saying I’ll ruin his career if I tell others. I told two of the most influential men in comedy in India. Nothing happened. Let me tell you what else he has done with others.
— Mahima Kukreja 🌱🌈✊🏽 (@AGirlOfHerWords) 4 October 2018
Mumbai police asked the woman to file a complaint.
Hello, Ms Mahima, We have been waiting to hear from you since last two days. Please understand that till the time you lodge a complaint, we cannot initiate legal action. Request you to do the same or reply to us on DM to let us know if you need any assistance @AGirlOfHerWords https://t.co/1Cud8Wa0Zq
— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) 6 October 2018
AIB, a prominent stand-up comedy group, apologised in an online statement for not taking action against Utsav, their former employee.
Utsav has since apologised.
It’s a little too late now but I am sorry. I really am. The past 24 hours were a crucible. I faced a very scary personal truth. I can’t think of myself as a victim anymore. Please tell me what to do now. How to make things right? I don’t want anyone to be hurt anymore.
— Utsav (@Wootsaw) 5 October 2018
Many other senior journalists and writers, including KR Sreenivas, Kiran Nagarkar, and CP Surendran, were embroiled in separate accusations of sexual misconduct.
An unnamed woman said famous photographer Pablo Bartholomew harassed her when she met him for an interview as a young reporter. When she resisted his sexual advances, Bartholomew allegedly called her editor to say he did not have faith in her “ability to write an article about his work”.
You know what happens when one person speaks up and is heard? More people find the strength to speak up. This one was sent to me by someone I trust, to share, about photographer Pablo Bartholomew. pic.twitter.com/QfNqQunE6t
— Deepanjana (@dpanjana) 5 October 2018
Mayank Jain, principal correspondent at the Business Standard, was called out by reporter Anoo Bhuyan as a “sexual predator”. Another journalist recounted a similar experience with Jain where he repeatedly suggested “taking a room”.
— Anoo Bhuyan (@AnooBhu) 4 October 2018
Business Standard has since announced an internal inquiry against Jain. Al Jazeera’s emails to him went unanswered.
Several women also posted details of Anurag Verma, a former editor at Huffington Post, asking women for nude pictures.
I have also used the “send nudes” term very loosely. For me, it was a meme back then but I didn’t realise the damage I was doing by sending it to people.
— Anurag Verma (@kitAnurag) 4 October 2018
On Saturday, Huffington Post published a statement saying they “do not condone such acts in any way”.
The allegations against powerful editors like Adhikari and Sreenivas prompted other women to accuse both of sexual harassment and forcible sexual advances.
While Sreenivas told Al Jazeera an internal committee of the Times Group will investigate the charges and he “will submit to the investigation”, he refused to answer further questions.
Adhikari told Al Jazeera he “cannot recall the incidents from a long time ago that have been alleged”.
“If I have ever made a colleague uncomfortable in any manner, I would readily apologise but I did not sexually harass anyone,” said Adhikari.
Tip of the iceberg
In 1997, India’s Supreme Court came out with the landmark Vishakha Guidelines, laying down norms to protect women from sexual harassment in workplaces.
But there is no data to probe the efficacy of Internal Complaints Committee, or the number of complaints that have been lodged in Indian media outlets.
Most women said they never reported their harassment, fearful of the impact on their careers. This suggests that the true scale of the problem is far greater than what is being reported.
“There are female journalists out there in rural or semi-urban areas who might not have been able to leverage social media to tell their horror stories,” said Shuma Raha, senior journalist formerly with the Times of India.
In 2004-05, the Press Institute of India was commissioned by the National Commission for Women to do a study on the “Status of Women Journalists”.
Almost 100 women journalists, who joined the study, said they were sexually harassed by a male colleague, most holding a senior position.
The aftermath of the outpouring of stories this week has been a cheering of female solidarity.
Hello women on Indian Twitter. It’s been a DAY. Just to let you know that I hear you and believe you and I’m here if you want to go all the way and out your abusers with evidence you’ve been saving up. DMs are open. Let’s do this.
— Nishita Jha (@NishSwish) 5 October 2018
Dear women out there
I don’t know if I can do much but I want to help.
If any woman in the jurisdiction of Bombay High Court has faced sexual harassment at the workplace and wants to sue please contact me. I will not charge my fees and appear for you in your case.
— Shinde (@HavaldarShinde) 5 October 2018
“There’s definitely a boys club in operation. This culture of silence and of male entitlement needs to end,” said Raha.
Some, like Neha Dixit, point to cultures of masculinity in Indian newsrooms that leaves the door open for sexual harassment of women.
“This has firm roots in patriarchal and sexist structures. Here, for decades, there has been an understanding that using sexually explicit language or a certain kind of touch is ok,” said Dixit, an independent journalist in New Delhi.
“Why are press bodies largely silent, why are they not calling for investigations? That’s because top male editors are in charge at these bodies as well,” she adds.
Most Indian newsrooms are headed by men, although there are many women in top positions at corporate-owned TV news channels now.
The global #MeToo movement was triggered by sexual misconduct and rape accusations by dozens of women against Hollywood power magnate Harvey Weinstein.
The catalyst for an Indian #MeToo movement came in November last year when a US-based law student, Raya Sarkar, published a list on Facebook accusing more than 50 Indian professors of sexual harassment.
Many like Jha are now hopeful that sexual abusers will not go unpunished.
“The next generation of girls and women will have the language, the lenses and the love to push back, stand strong, and be believed,” she said.