#MeToo storm rages

Utsav Chakraborty is out of comedy collective AIB.

Heads start rolling

India is witnessing an explosion of sexual harassment charges against men in media and entertainment.

The #0 social media campaign was a rage in the US in October 2017. Many celebrities spoke out about their experiences, with Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein being named and shamed. He was eventually arrested. A similar movement is now raging in India.

Writer Mahima Kukreja spoke out against stand-up comedian Utsav Chakraborty, with many other women joining her and sharing their experiences. He sent unsolicited pictures of his genitals to women colleagues. When the news broke, he initially defended himself saying he had done it in a ‘context.’ He later apologised (see box). Comedy collective All India Backchod has taken off all his videos.

The Wire reporter Anoo Bhuyan called out Business Standard reporter Mayank Jain for making sexual advances, and two other women said they had faced similar experiences.

Following that, journalist Sandhya Menon accused Times of India’s Hyderabad resident editor K R Sreenivas of sexually harassing her. The newspaper said its committee against sexual harassment would investigate and told him to go on leave.

Many women have messaged Sandhya with complaints, and she has shared them on her Twitter handle.

Many big names in the Indian media have been called out. One such allegation was against Hindustan Time’s Prashant Jha by his former colleague, which made him step down from his post of political editor and bureau chief.

Journalist Raksha Kumar’s essay, ‘When no isn’t yes’ surfaced four years after it was published in The Hindu. She shared her essay when she got to know her abuser had misbehaved with other female journalists too.

The MeToo storm has hit PM Modi’s government as well. Union minister M J Akbar was accused by journalist Priya Ramani of behaving inappropriately with her two decades ago.

A journalist shared a WhatsApp chat calling out author Chetan Bhagat. The screenshot shows Bhagat’s text: ‘So I have decided to woo you; Please get wooed.’ Later that day, the author apologised for his behaviour, on Facebook, saying, “We do feel certain things sometimes, and I did too. I found this person special, and different from all others I had met. I shouldn’t have, and maybe I shouldn’t have shared it with that person in a private conversation either.”

Social media offers mixed reactions to so many women speaking up. Some see it as left-liberals being finally called out. Shehla Rashid, student leader at JNU, tweeted it was about looking within. Others are asking why the experiences are surfacing years after they took place.

Some tweets are questioning why everything from flirting to sexual assault is being clubbed as a single offence.

Jokes and sexist comments are also being shared by a few.

Legal advice for victims

The ‘#MeToo’ movement has opened the floodgates on allegations and counter allegations in India, with many men and organisations named threatening to hit back with defamation cases.

So what must victims keep in mind when they speak out?

Metrolife asked Deepti Ayathan, founder, Ayathan Associates, to explain the legal implications.

Can you be arrested for defamation?

Yes, if it is criminal. Defamation cases are mostly civil in nature. They take their own course. Any mail or media you can produce can be evidence in your favour.

How does a case end?

If defamation is proved, the court orders relief or compensation. But victims can sue for defamation too. Suppose you are asked for sex by a superior and you refuse. You can’t establish the interaction but you can file for defamation if the superior shows you in a poor light as professionally incapable. If you are sacked, you can be taken back or granted monetary compensation. But courts can be slow. Most people settle out of court as they don’t have six to seven years to spend on litigation.

What can be produced as evidence if a sexual assault took place long ago?

Assault per se is criminal in nature. There are various categories of sexual assault. Suppose physical harm was caused to you at that time and you went to the hospital for treatment, you can produce those invoices or a doctor’s report as proof.

Suppose a person came to your house and assaulted you. You can produce a picture of the injury caused to you. That by itself is not enough to prove that it was caused by the accused so maybe you can show an entry in the visitor’s book, CCTV footage and so on.

What must a woman do if sexually assaulted?

Go to the nearest police station or a magistrate. Unless there is some conclusive evidence, the police will not take cognisance of your complaint. They may not believe your word easily, especially if the event happened some time ago (there is no time bar to file a criminal case). If the parties are agreeable to negotiation, the case will be filed as a simple miscellaneous petition and not an FIR where the cops say the parties were called in and the dispute resolved. Every station will want to show minimal crime in their area, so unless there is conclusive evidence, the case is not going to be recorded as an assault and made into an FIR.

What about molestation without bodily harm?

Molestation is criminal intimidation. There is an IPC provision for that as well. There are various components to the section that need to be proved for it to be seen as molestation.

What if you lose a case?

Defamation will not be resolved until the time the molestation case remains pending. Suppose a small-time director, with a salary of Rs 1 lakh per serial/episode, is accused of molestation. His company throws him out and he remains unemployed for six months. If he is acquitted, the court looks at his earnings and decides how much to grant as damages.

What is the cost of filing a defamation suit?

The legal fees vary from lawyer to lawyer. Small-time lawyers may start with Rs 10,000-15,000 for issuing a legal notice. Post that, filing a case also depends on the lawyer. Some people start with Rs 30,000 and there are huge law firms that start with Rs 5 lakh a case.

Criminal defamation

Under IPC Section 499,500 and 501, there has to be an intent to cause an offence (a criminal charge) or harm then that can be considered as a criminal defamation. Most of the defamation cases are civil in nature. If they are just claiming damages, then only monetary compensation is awarded. In Nana Patekar's case, he can only claim damage to his reputation. There is no offence that has been caused.

Suppose someone made a sexual harassment complaint against a man, who has a wife and children. He is really embarassed and commits suicide. The wife can file a criminal defamation case against the person causing the defamation saying that she has to be charged under that offence. This will be abetment to suicide along with criminal defamation. There can be imprisonment also.

What can the woman do?

In case they say that there mass defamation through social media by the woman, the defence that the women has is to go back on social media and defend themselves there. She can ask for police protection. She will be called by the court and it will ask her why a defamation case should not be made out against her. In such circumstances, she needs to collate her evidences to show that what she spoke was the truth.

I don't think she has filed any case against Nana Patekar yet, she has only spoken to the media. Nana Patekar has issued a notice against her. If he decides to carry out a charge against her, then she will be called in as an accused. She needs to validate her point. Since there was no physical harm and only mental harassment, she needs to bring in witnesses who can say that she underwent a turmoil and she discussed these things with me.

The law protects women from all forms of sexual violence. Here is what it says:

The law protects women from all forms of sexual violence. Here is what it says:
Staring at a woman is an offence if it makes her feel uncomfortable even for a few seconds.

Singing lewd songs at or catcalling women in public spaces is harassment. Offenders can be fined and jailed for up to three months.

Following or stalking someone is a crime. A man convicted of stalking can be fined and jailed for three to five years.

If a woman categorically indicates her disinterest but is still pestered for sex, the offender can land in jail for one to three years.

If a man tries to threaten you with physical harm, or harm to your reputation or property, he can be fined and imprisoned for up to two years.

If a senior colleague demands sex in exchange for work benefits, it is an act of sexual harassment, according to the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2013.

Every organisation with more than 10 employees must have an Internal Complaints Committee.

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#MeToo storm rages

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