While we critically look at the Harvey Weinstein sexual exploitation scandal that has unveiled the shameful and ugly side of Hollywood, can we seriously ask whether Bollywood and Indian society is any less engaged with this infliction? The case triggered a series of revelations as dozens of A-list Hollywood actresses including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lupita Nyong’o and more, charged the movie mogul of assault, of being groped, sexually harassed, and subjected to several unpleasant activities at various occasions. But let us be honest, there is plenty of this at home which needs equal if not more attention.
In India, where most of the adversaries are meted with knee-jerk, and armchair reactions, most women enthusiastically participated in the #MeToo campaign to unburden themselves of their very own molestation experience inside the house, at a workplace and at public places. The west needed a Weinstein episode to spark a social media trend #MeToo, but for most Indian women it was just another online crusade, which will probably have no benefit to their lives. They were showing solidarity yet expected little to change in their workplace.
It turns out that almost most women in India at some point of time have faced sexual abuse and had chosen not to retaliate.
Thousands of messages flooded the social media platform, with women revealing their childhood or recent experience of how they were sexually harassed and how they handled it- most of them admitted that they chose to remain quiet.
The #MeToo campaign in India painfully revealed how women are tuned to pass something as grave as sexual harassment and maintain silence. Most women spoke of the heinous crime committed upon them when they were little and that the accused was either a close relative or a family friend. The campaign helped in reinstating the fact that Indian women are culturally expected to suffer in silence, and that society as a whole, including the family and the legal system, does not support them in any way.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal shocked the world and also broke the notion that sexual harassment was an issue restricted only to patriarchal countries in South-Asia and the middle-east. The west for long boasted of a gender-neutral society and took pride in the fact that its society was unbiased and secure for women. In fact, westerners like giving lectures to others on gender equality and respect. This was the society which claims to have kicked patriarchy out of its system long ago. Women had won the war of equal opportunities, voting rights, anti-domestic violence laws and more, long ago. At least that is what everyone was made to believe.
But, Harvey episode has exposed the real underbelly of western society. It showed that pests have not been wiped out. In fact they are widespread and western women have also suffered in silence.
This showed that power play is not restricted only to the third world and that creeps such as Weinstein exist everywhere. While sexual harassment stories about the disgraced movie mogul continue to grow, LA Times also exposed similar allegedly predatory behaviour by director James Toback. House of Cards star Kevin Spacey has been sacked from the popular series in which he plays the President after sexual harassment charges were levelled against him.
All these scandals were condemned by top actors and filmmakers. The board of governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science revoked Harvey’s membership sending a strong message that ‘sexual predatory behaviour in our industry is over’. Actor George Clooney echoed similar sentiments, as he said, “If anything, what we hope is that this is a watershed moment for us as a society where women feel safe enough to talk about the issue, feel believed.”
Back in India, women come across several Harvey Weinstein moments on daily basis, which sadly is dealt with a deafening silence. Indian workplaces are full of horrifying stories of sexual harassment, casual sexism, casting couch, and regular gender bias. More often than not women in India chose to ignore such harassment, and more than 70 percent of them prefer not to report it to the management or the HR. A big number of women choose to quit the job quietly when faced with such a situation.
The ironical part is, unlike Weinstein who has been facing condemnation from all corners, the power honcho in India, infamous for being a creep, usually goes scot free. Largely because most harassment cases vanish in the air as higher authorities advise them to keep mum, and move on. Secondly, because Indian workplaces do not have proper regulations to deal with such situations, there is little opportunity for redress. Thirdly, women hesitate to complain fearing repercussions as no powerful honcho in a corporate setup has faced punishment in the real sense.
Movie moguls in India have always had an upper hand, what with most aspiring actresses come prepared with a ‘strategy’ to ‘please’ the producers and filmmakers. Embarrassing stories of casting couch, exploitation, and even rape circulate freely in the gossip circuits and movie glossies, but not many cases are registered by the police. Filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar, Subhash Kapoor, Mahmood Farooqui, Vikas Bahl, Malayalam actor Dileep, singer Ankit Tiwari have faced allegations of sexual harassment. Actor Shiney Ahuja was the only actor who was jailed on charges of raping his domestic help, but he too was later acquitted.
Peepli Live maker Mahmood Farooqui was acquitted recently of a rape charge because the court was convinced that the victim said ‘No in a frail voice’! So, the filmmaker, as well as the court, felt it was okay for a man to go ahead and make unwanted advances if the victim’s ‘NO’ was not audible like the bleating car and truck horns in our streets!
Since sexual harassment and abuse has emerged as a global phenomenon, women all across the globe need to send a strong message that there is no place for men who behave as caveman predators. It is the time that this global menace is dealt with a universal rule set to deal with abusers. And it is also important for India to follow it more strictly since we have topped the list for a long time.