In fact, the phrase ‘MeToo’ was coined many years ago in 2006 by an American social activist and community organizer Tarana Burke. Later post Harvey’s case, the phrase was popularized by Hollywood actor Alyssa Milano on her social media in 2017. She also encouraged victims of sexual harassment to tweet about it and give others a sense of the magnitude of the problem. The movement was further fuelled by other high-profile posts from several Hollywood actresses and celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Uma Thurman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd. The wide global media coverage gave the movement a thousand wings to spread across the world, though India had to wait for one full year to awaken.
Now MeToo hashtag is the top trending topic on social media which provides a single virtual platform for victims to share their plights. MeToo reassures all women that sexual predators must be shamed and it is not the victim who should be ashamed. It is quite brave of all these women to come out and share their horror stories which they had to keep to themselves for one or two decades. All these years, they had to suffer the psychological trauma without any fault on their part, while the culprits roamed as free and dignified men.
Tanushree Dutta has the privilege to go down into history as the first woman to speak up against powerful people in India. Then there was a lull period and many thought MeToo will not be a success in India. But with sexual allegation against actor Alok Nath opened up a whole MeToo Pandora Box.
Many prominent persons got targeted:
Many women accused Alok Nath for sexual harassment and rape. Like Nana Patekar, Nath too has dismissed allegations, and has filed a defamation case against the main accuser Vinta Nanda. The list also includes Chetan Bhagat (author), MJ Akbar (Union Minister & former chief editor, Asian Age), Utsav Chakraborty (writer-actor), Variamuthu (Lyricist), Kailash Kher (musician), Rajat Kapoor (Actor), Vikas Bahl (Filmmaker), Abhijeet (Singer), Sajid Khan (Filmmaker), Bhushan Kumar (T Series owner), Piyush Mishra (writer-actor), Vinod Dua (journalist), Jatin Das (artist), Suhel Seth (Ad man), Anu Malik (Music Director), and many more from print, media and entertainment sector.
The Union Minister MJ Akbar had to resign on 17 October while Sajid Khan lost his ongoing film ‘Houseful 4’ due to the allegations, as he as well as film’s actor Nana Patekar were replaced to save the film. Vikas Bahl saw his company being dissolved by his other partners including Anurag Kahsyap.
MJ Akbar said: "Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity."
Prominent MeToo Cases in India:
Tanushree Dutta has accused Nana Patekar of sexual misconduct during the shooting of ‘Horn ‘OK’ Pleassss’ in 2008. Nana has denied the allegations and called it a ‘lie’. Dutta has filed an FIR with the Oshiwara police station in Mumbai against Nana Patekar, choreographer Ganesh Acharya, director Rakesh Sarang and producer Samee Siddiqui, while Patekar sent a legal notice and demanded a written apology from her.
Many actresses have levelled allegations of sexual harassment against Alok Nath, and most prominent of them is writer-producer Vinta Nanda who claimed that she was sexually violated by the actor around 19 years ago. Well-known actors such as Sandhya Mridul and Amyra Dastur, singer Sona Mohapatra and Nath's co-star Navneet Nishan came out about their unsavoury harassment experiences.
Many female journalists of 1990s, including Priya Ramani, Ghazala Wahab and Shutapa Paul and Tushita Patel came out with detailed accounts of alleged sexual misconduct by famous editor and currently junior external affairs minister MJ Akbar when he was the chief editor of the Asian age and other newspapers.
Like everyone else, he too has called all the allegations against him false and fabricated. He has further accused Priya Ramani of "wilfully, deliberately, intentionally and maliciously" defaming him. Upon returning from his Africa trip, he instantly filed a case against Ramani. But 17 other journalists readied to act as witnesses against him. "Accusations without evidence have become a viral fever," he had said.
Actress and now director Nandita Das too pledged her support to the movement despite sexual harassment allegations against her father, noted painter Jatin Das.
As women working in different sectors are now openly speaking about their horror stories and are uncovering the masks of those who allegedly abused their positions of power, the impact of MeToo movement in India is all too visible. Many entertainment houses like YashRaj Films and BalajiALT have now displayed notices prominently of their respective rules and information about committees to look at these matters. Yash Raj Films even fired its senior executive Ashish Patil after he was accused of alleged harassment. Patil held the designations of Vice-President - Brand Partnerships and Talent Management, and Business and Creative Head, Y Films. An aspiring actress and model has claimed he kissed her forcibly and made other unwelcome advances.
On 17 October 2018, the Cine and TV Artists Association (CINTAA) said it will be setting up committees to tackle sexual harassment in the industry, which will have actors Swara Bhasker and Raveena Tandon, Renuka Shahane, filmmaker Amol Gupte, journalist Bharti Dubey, PoSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) lawyers and psychologists as members. Sushant Singh, general secretary of CINTAA, said that the step is necessary to address the issues pertaining to sexual harassment at workplace and otherwise.
On 23 October, the government has constituted a Group of Ministers, headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The government hopes this will strengthen the legal and institutional frameworks to deal with and prevent sexual harassment at workplaces. Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi have been appointed as member of the GoM.
The GoM will also recommend actions which it may feel can help in the effective implementation of the existing provisions.
Laws & Rules:
If we look at current laws, we have the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, or the POSH Act, which was implemented several years after the Supreme Court issued guidelines regarding sexual harassment against women at the workplace.
As per this Act, every Indian company is required to set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to exclusively hear such cases and conduct inquiries where a prima facie case is established. Recently, the Companies (Accounts) Amendment Rules, 2018, was introduced, requiring the board of every company to include a statement in its Annual Director’s Report confirming that it has complied with the provisions relating to the Complaints Committee under the POSH Act.
Experts suggest that firms and companies should have their strong internal mechanism in place to pre-empt such incidences and abuse of power and punish the perpetrators. The POSH policy can be disseminated to all employees of the company, as awareness about the repercussions will warn potential mischief makers. The firms should also display a notice with all the rules written on it. Once the staff knows that there is zero tolerance policy, they will be forewarned. Awareness workshops will also play important role in sensitizing the staff about respecting women. Through this, they can be familiarised with policy and laws.
The main danger of this great movement is the possibility of misuse of the platform. The former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court Sujata Manohar, who in August 1997, wrote the Vishakha guidelines to ensure no working woman is subjected to sexual harassment, said that she is not too impressed with the present MeToo movement as it is getting misused.
She underscored the need to bring in a law to deal with cases, as revealed by women in their MeToo posts on social media. “I do support the movement which I believe was started for women to come out and name the culprits public. But the result is not what I had expected back then, while issuing the guidelines,” she said.
She added: “The guidelines which I had penned down dealt only with contemporary cases where a woman is being harassed at her work field. The guidelines were not at all meant to look into cases wherein women come out after decades.”
Cautioning all, Manohar said: “The evidence of what took place some 20 to 25 years ago is obviously not going to remain as it is. There should be something reliable in place for the police to prosecute the named accused as there are always chances of some women merely naming others to settle personal scores. The police will, thus, find it difficult to verify the authenticity of the allegations levelled by these women.”