#MeToo hits Union minister, 'sanskaari' actor, editors

In the wake of Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta accusing Nana Patekar of harassing her in 2008 and Kangana Ranaut accusing Vikas Bahl of harassing her, many women have come out and recounted harassment incidents that have affected them.

The #MeToo movement has hit the Union government, with Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar being accused by journalist Priya Ramani.

In a story on Vogue, Ramani recollected an interview that she was supposed to attend, but it was reportedly shady from the get-go. "It was 7 pm, but that didn’t bother me. I knew you were a busy editor. When I got to the lobby, I called you on the house phone. Come up, you said. Err really? Maybe that’s how celebrity editors interviewed newbies, I thought. Back then I didn’t have the confidence to say: 'No, I’ll wait for you in the lobby, you pervert'," she says in the story.

"Turns out you were as talented a predator as you were a writer. It was more date, less interview. You offered me a drink from the mini bar (I refused, you drank vodka), we sat on a small table for two that overlooked the Queen’s Necklace (how romantic!) and you sang me old Hindi songs after inquiring after my musical preferences. You thought you were irresistible."

 

 

Another account by Krishna Prasad on Rediff, dated December 1999, speaks of a 'Young Correspondent' and her 'Editor the Great'. The account, though keeping the identities of both parties anonymous, goes into great detail of how the correspondent was enamoured by the editor, going from the moment she met him at an airport to an uncomfortable hotel incident which disillusioned her.

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi praised the advent of #MeToo in India but advised against taking it too far.

Talking to ANI, Maneka said: "Now a #MeToo campaign has started and I'm very happy that it has started. I hope it won't go out of control in the sense that we target people who've offended us in some way. But I think women are responsible and anger at sexual molestation never goes away."

But External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has come under criticism for inaction over the M J Akbar incident. In a post on Twitter, the deputy editor of The Tribune Smita Sharma asked if Sushma will take any action.

 

 

A video of Sushma ignoring a journalist's question on whether there will be any probe into the accusation has gone viral on Twitter:

 

 

In another account, Vinta Nanda, a writer and co-founder of The Third Eye, indirectly made references to a man who is revered as the most "sanskaari" person in the Indian film industry. And while she made no mention of Alok Nath, Twitter users put 2 and 2 together by checking the TV show Nanda mentioned in her post, 'Tara', which starred Alok Nath in the lead.

In the post, Nanda says in detail how the 'sanskaari' person repeatedly harassed the lead actress of Tara, resulting in a long-winded issue in the show where the producers repeatedly made demands of her and the writing team and went on to describe how the person later violated her.

Here is the post in its entirety:

 

Transcript of the full text:

His wife was my best friend.

We were in and out of each other’s homes, we belonged to the same group of friends, most of us from theatre, slowly making our arts shine in the content renaissance, which had taken place because of the satellite television revolution of the 1990’s. 

I was producing and writing the No 1 show on TV called Tara. 

He was after my lead girl. 

She was not interested in him. 

He was an alcoholic, shameless and obnoxious but he was also the television star of that decade, so not only was he forgiven for all his bad behaviour but many of the guys would egg him on to be his worst.

My lead female actor was being harassed by him.

He would mess with her on the sets and everyone would be silent.

When she complained to us, we decided to let him go. 

We needed one last shot between them and soon after it had been taken we had planned to let him know that we didn’t want to work with him any longer. 

He had become aware of our plan and on that day, he came drunk on our sets. 

He continued to drink till the time he was called for the shot. 

When the moment came and the camera rolled, he felt up our female lead and very viciously. 

My lead actress slapped him. 

We asked him to leave the sets and told him that he was not going to be on the show any longer. 

Life went on without him on the show and common friends intervened to patch us up as friends. 

The ratings of the show kept soaring but the management at the channel changed and it started asking us to change the lead actress. 

We said we could not do it but then the management demanded a change of generation story to start and asked us to cook up a younger Tara, who was to appear out of nowhere and was to be later revealed as the original Tara’s daughter, born out of wedlock to her or some such thing. 

This also meant that our original Tara would continue with us. 

We agreed to go ahead, not that we had much choice, but a day before we were to shoot the new generation story, we were told that the lead actor who had been asked to leave the show was to be brought back. 

We did that because there was no room left for protest under so much oppression that we had by now been subjected to. 

We had four more shows running on the same channel, all big on ratings and our refusal to do as we were being told to do meant jeopardising them. 

The new generation story went on air and ran for a week. 

We were called by the newly appointed CEO of the channel on the Monday of the following week and told to shut down the show, along with all our other shows. 

I was insulted and humiliated by the CEO, asked to get out of his office and told that women like me should be thrown out of the country. 

All our shows went off air with immediate effect and my production company was made to shut down. 

Now is when the worst happened. 

I loved my life, I was a successful woman, I smoked and I drank. 

I was a liberated person. 

I was invited to a party to this mans house, his wife, my best friend was out of town. 

It was usual for our group of friends from theatre to meet regularly so there was nothing unusual about my going to the party. 

As the evening flowed, my drinks were mixed and I began to feel strange. 

Then at around 2am I left his house. 

Nobody followed me or offered to drop me home, which was what was rather unusual. 

All I knew at the time was that I had to get home. I could sense it wouldn’t be right for me to stay there any longer. 

I started to walk home on the empty streets although the distance to my own house was long. 

Midway I was accosted by this man who was driving his own car and he asked me to sit in it and said he would drop me home. 

I trusted him and sat in his car. 

I have faint memory after that. 

I can remember more liquor being poured into my mouth and I remember being violated endlessly. 

When I woke up the next afternoon, I was in pain. 

I hadn’t just been raped, I was taken to my own house and had been brutalised. 

I couldn’t get up for my bed. 

I told some of my friends but everybody advised me to forget about it and move on. 

My company was closed but I got a job to write and direct a series for Plus Channel. 

The man found his way through the casting route and became one of the lead actors on the show. 

He created an environment in which I was made to feel threatened so I asked the producers to release me from directing the series because I didn’t want to be around where he was. 

I continued to write the show. 

Here’s the most difficult part, the main reason why I have taken so long to come out with the truth. 

While I was working on this new series, he asked me to come to his house again and I went to allow him to violate me. 

I needed the job and didn’t want to leave it as I needed the money. 

It was after this that I quit. 

I was completely shattered by then. It was a nervous breakdown I was going through, but I was trying to be brave. 

I tried to pick up the threads of my life but channels and networks and sets and rehearsals started to freak me out. 

I continued to write, but the couple of times that I pushed myself and found the courage to pitch for shows, I would break down during meetings.

Finally I gave up. 

Almost 20 years later, I’m totally fine now, healed and reunited with my own self again. 

I’m afraid of speaking to an audience. 

For someone like me who was fearless and could talk to large audiences for hours, it is something that bothers me so I’m working on it. 

The only reason I’m telling this story now is because I don’t want that any girl should ever fear holding the truth back. 

What followed because of my silence was even worse. 

I became easy prey because the message had been put out that I was afraid and so I would not open my mouth. 

The couple of times that I wrote about what I had gone through created more complications because I stopped getting work. 

To deal with all the fear and shame I drank myself silly almost every evening and even flirted with drugs. 

I had friends who rallied around me and helped me clean up and restart my life in 2009, which meant that I had lived my trauma for 10 long years. 

Social Media also saved me. 

I had been done, dusted and buried as a professional but I was back in the face of the world on Facebook and soon on Twitter as well. 

I had tremendous support from some friends including their trust, so I became emboldened and bounced back. 

I have waited for this moment to come for 19 years. 

I shout out to each one of you who have suffered at the hands of predators to come out and say it aloud. 

Don’t hold yourselves back. 

This is a moment for change so your silence will only hold barriers to its evolution. 

Speak out. 

Shout out from the top of the roof. 

My friend Nutan who is no more took me to the back road of #LokhandwalaComplex in #Andheri where she made me break a 100 empty bottles and I threw them into the mangroves and shouted out all my anger and frustration. 

I never looked back after that day. 

Irony is that the man, the predator in question here is the actor par excellence who is known as the most #Sanskaari (Cultured) person in the film and television industry.

 

Mukesh Kumar, a CPI(M) MLA has also found himself being accused by a Tess Joseph, a casting director. In a twitter post, she said that Mukesh had called her room repeatedly when she was quiz directing a show and then changed his room to next to her.

Tess says that Derek O'Brien, another CPI(M) figure and who was her boss at the time, talked to her and helped her by getting her out on the next flight.

 

 

Women journalists speak out

Not only this, but a senior editor at the Times of India has also been accused of sexual harassment by a journalist.

In an extensive Twitter thread, Sandhya Menon went on to say that K R Sreenivas, resident editor at the Hyderabad branch of the Times of India, on the pretext of offering to drop her. The thread goes into the details with screenshots of chats with Sreenivas from several of her friends.

Besides Sandhya, several women have reportedly approached Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd. with an appeal to terminate Sreenivas's contract with immediate effect.

 

 

K R Sreenivas responded to the allegation in a since-deleted tweet. In the tweet, he said that he is ready to submit himself to the investigation by a high-power committee which is headed by a woman.

Prashant Jha steps down

Prashant Jha, political editor at the Hindustan Times has stepped down following sexual harassment claims from a former legal correspondent there.

According to a Firstpost report, Avantika Mehta, who joined the company in 2014, was exposed to harassment from Jha, who used to "hit" on her, and despite her rejecting his advances, did not stop, leading her to quit the company in 2016.

A Facebook post, showing a WhatsApp chat of Prashant Jha attempting to make advances on Avantika, with the latter repeatedly rejecting his advances:

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#MeToo hits Union minister, 'sanskaari' actor, editors

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