A forum for hearing #MeToo cases

The Kannada movie industry is finally geared up to tackle cases of sexual harassment, says actor Chetan, who pushed for a redressal panel
Last Updated 17 October 2018, 01:55 IST

With the recent plethora of women from films, politics, comedy, and journalism naming and shaming their sexual harassment perpetrators, India’s own #Metoo movement is in full swing. This is a welcome step in the midst of a society still riddled with misogyny where the onus of ‘avoiding’ harassment falls on the woman rather than men taking responsibility and facing punishment for their transgressions.

Back in 2014 after composing my initial article on ways of ridding sexual harassment and the ‘casting couch’ scourge in our film industry, I approached prominent members of Kannada Film Industry to discuss the matter. Their response was a flat-out denial of sexual harassment’s existence. I remember pondering, how can we get purge this social evil if we refuse to acknowledge its very presence?

It was then that I realised that along with outing men for their illegal/immoral actions via the media, each workplace including film industries requires a legal, structural, systematic manner of ridding the ignominy that is sexual harassment.

The 2013 ‘Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act’—based off the 1997 Vishaka Guidelines—has a remedy for sexual harassment: a mandatory (Gender Sensitive) Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).

My 2014 dream became a 2017 reality when I registered our government-certified, not-for-profit Film Industry for Rights and Equality (FIRE) to work for the upliftment of women, writers, & workers (3w’s) in KFI.

Since then, FIRE has not only facilitated 175 plus homes for Kannada industry workers but also founded India’s first-ever, legally-bound, film industry ICC to investigate and address sexual harassment cases by maintaining the confidentiality of the victims. FIRE’s ICC has nine members (a majority of whom are women), a female chairperson (a reputed KFI member), and two lawyers for legal counsel.

Currently, we are working to provide justice to a woman cinema worker who has accused a male worker of sexual harassment during an out-of-city shoot last month.

What continues to disturb and boggle my mind is the overwhelming silence by our entire industry—men and women -- regarding this burgeoning #MeToo movement even when a decade-old actor like Sangeetha Bhat narrates in detail the gross indignities she has dealt with. If one woman can face so many horrors at the hands of industry men and members, it is unimaginable the layers of sedimented misogyny and sexual harassment women in KFI are subject to on a consistent if not daily basis.

And the inability of our industry to speak out in favour of victims and the #MeToo movement further shields these sexual predators and perpetrators, revealing that most industry personnel are either apathetic towards a potentially safe and healthy workspace or even worse, complicit in retaining its depravity through actions that dehumanise women.

We in FIRE hold that any constructive, sustainable change must come from within; and hence, an ICC is a much-needed agency to create a dignified, equitable work environment for every film industry in this critical hour.

Along with that, FIRE intends to provide workshops and awareness programs on what constitutes sexual harassment both so unwanted advances/ uncomfortable treatment of women can be avoided all the while artistic abilities/creative passions can be prioritised.

Sexual harassment has plagued our film industries for generations now, and it is imperative that those who care about the well-being of our industry in particular and humanity as a whole come together as a concerted, conscientious voice for gender equality and women’s protections; remember, sexual harassment is not just a woman’s issue—but a pan-industry one.

(Published 16 October 2018, 11:25 IST)

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