EDITORIAL | #MeToo: Sandalwood stinks of injustice

EDITORIAL | #MeToo: Sandalwood stinks of injustice

While the MeToo movement has singed many men across the world, the effect has been quite the opposite in the Kannada film industry, where complaints of sexual misconduct are quickly swept under the carpet and the victims intimidated into silence. Instead of ordering an impartial in-house probe that would unravel the truth, industry bodies like the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce and Industry have been shamelessly trying to hush up matters by attempting a compromise between the accused and the victims. Sandalwood is currently grappling with two major complaints of sexual harassment by actors Sruthi Hariharan and Sanjjanaa Galrani. While Sruthi has accused actor Arjun Sarja of groping and touching her inappropriately during the rehearsal for a film in 2016, Sanjjanaa has faulted director Ravi Srivatsa for allegedly forcing her to enact intimate and embarrassing scenes beyond the scope of the script of the movie 13 years ago.

Far from taking a dispassionate view of the complaints and acting decisively, the film industry has been more concerned about redeeming its own honour from controversy by setting up a panel under senior actor Ambareesh to broker peace between both parties and give the episode a decent burial. However, things came to a naught with Sruthi flatly refusing to apologise and preferring to take legal recourse. Sanjjanaa, on the other hand, was coerced into issuing an unconditional apology to the director for “hurting his sentiments”. A video recording of the apology shows an utterly humiliated actress being literally rebuked and intimidated by directors’ association president Nagendra Prasad. However well-intentioned his intervention, Ambareesh being a public figure, having been an elected representative and a minister, should have known better than to preside over a kangaroo court that browbeats complainants into submission rather than ensuring justice. An impartial inquiry would have exposed the complainants in case their accusations were false and would have restored the honour of the accused.

Also read: KFCC meet fails to resolve #MeToo allegation row

In the instant case, the actions of the film chamber and various associations have been far from honourable. While they failed to act maturely and constructively on the one hand, on the other they turned a deaf ear when the victims, who are also a part of the industry, were publicly slammed, with their character, private lives and source of income being questioned. Unlike other professions, cinema is an industry where the body of work involves intimate physical contact which can often be misused and as such it is imperative for the chamber to immediately set up a permanent committee comprising independent members to address all issues of sexual misbehaviour.  The sooner the industry acts, the better. 

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