In the past one week, #MeToo has taken over everyone's feed in India. The hashtag may have many local and global alternatives such as #TimesUp and #YouOkSis but the agenda of the movement remains the same across the world - to speak up against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Women and men who have been sexually abused or harassed, whether in public or in private or at workplaces, are fearlessly sharing their stories on social media and news platforms.
While the campaign started much earlier, the #MeToo movement gained momentum in October 2017. The hashtag helped to bring together all the stories under one thread and it built awareness of how alarming the situation is. Initially, the movement was limited to social media sites but it switched gears after Harvey Weinstein, an American film producer, was accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women from the industry.
View this post on Instagram
Thank you all for the calls, texts, posts, messages and general good vibes during Black Girls Rock. I am so humbled and grateful and *full*. This year has been unimaginable and we have only just begun. Thank you all for rocking with me! #metooMVMT #blackgirlsrock2018
American social activist and community organiser Tarana Burke started using the phrase #MeToo in 2006. She deserves the first mention in every article that has been written about #MeToo. However, after the Harvey Weinstein incident, it was made popular by Alyssa Milano, an American actress who shared her story on Twitter in 2017.
Alyssa Milano encouraged victims to tweet their sexual harassment stories with #MeToo, so people can realise the magnitude of the problem. After that, women from all walks of life, across age groups, from regular college girls to well-known Hollywood actresses like Uma Thurman and Jennifer Lawrence, started supporting the movement on global platforms.
Before #MeToo and #TimesUp became a global hashtag, other hashtags were being used including #YouOkSis, #SurvivorPrivilege, #WhatWereYouWearing, #ChurchToo, #SilenceIsNotSpiritual and #MyHarveyWeinstein. It has different names in different countries. The hashtag is called #BalanceTonPorc in France, #QuellaVoltaChe in Italy, #YoTambien in Spanish-speaking countries, and #TystnadTagning in Sweden.
We saw a large number of sexual harassment stories that included the power play at work. Women at their workplaces were being harassed, tortured and touched inappropriately, but the pressure from seniors and the fear of losing jobs forced them to keep quiet.
Tarana Burke started her campaign to promote 'empowerment through empathy' amongst women of colour who have suffered sexual abuse in 2006. She started the initiative on Myspace, a social network that was popular before Facebook. Now, Tarana Burke is also working on a documentary titled Me Too. She shared with the media that she was inspired to use the phrase after she couldn't respond to a 13-year-old girl who told her she had been sexually assaulted. The phrase originated from her wish tell the girl "me too". Before #MeToo, women were dependant on specific organisations for justice, hence, the maximum number of women avoided reporting the incidents or any sort of confrontation. However, Tarana's initiative has opened a platform for millions of women who have felt and suffered abuse for years. Once the movement got momentum, people started fact-checking. In the US, more than 90% of accusations turned out to be true.
View this post on Instagram
On 15th October 2017, Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to spread the word about #MeToo so that sexual crimes against women could get more attention globally. She tweeted, "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem."
Hollywood came together to make an organisation Time's Up, which helps deal with sexual abuse in the entertainment industry. The organisation raised millions in funds and is helping many other organisations. To promote Time's Up, the actors wore black at Golden Globes and BAFTA last year and brought activists as their dates to the red carpet. With this campaign, Hollywood saw a plethora of sexual harassment cases come to fore. From Oprah Winfrey to Frances McDormand, all influential women began to use award shows as global platforms to speak up about their experiences and to let women know that they stand by them. Many big names including Sylvester Stallone, Ryan Seacrest, Aziz Ansari, Mario Testino and Morgan Freeman have made it to the list of Hollywood's sexual abusers.
Once the movement got a huge push by Hollywood celebrities, it gained traction in other countries, including France, Italy, Japan and India, too. Last year, everyone in India was talking about the Time's Up organisation and how great the initiative was, however, no one believed #MeToo could have any traction in our country, considering how deep-rooted the problem was and how extremely challenging it would be for women to speak up. #MeToo India wasn't even an option as most of the victims believed that assaulters are in such influential positions in our country that outing these faces would be an impossible task. In a documentary, Radhika Apte said, "Some people are regarded as gods. They are so powerful that people just don’t think that my voice is going to matter, or people think that if I speak, probably my career is going to get ruined. The way the women, and the men, of course, came together and decided that as a team we are not going to let this happen, I wish that could happen here."
Kalki Koechlin shared in a BBC video, "No one is reporting and no one is researching because there is no famous person to headline it."
While the point made by the actresses is valid, the essence of #MeToo was so powerful that it found its spot in Bollywood and other industries in India. When thousands of Indian girls were sharing their experiences via social media, the initial step of support was taken by actress Richa Chadda when she wrote a blog on #MeToo to explain how widespread sexual assault and harassment is in our country. She wrote, "For a country where violence against the girl child starts in the womb, I am surprised at the number of people surprised at the enormity of the #MeToo campaign. Unless you have been in hibernation in the Himalayan caves for the past millennium, there’s no way you would not know that sexual assault- verbal or visual, and gender violence are the rites of passage for the average Indian girl."
View this post on Instagram
I dont just hope for a me too movement in India I hope for Mahabharata...HeyKrishnaa!! Take their heads o Lord of lords...and their souls....Aho Shiva!! Holy Father, your kingdom come ;your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. #yahweh #shalom 🙏🙏🙏
India's rage flared recently when Tanushree Dutta outed Nana Patekar and the news gained momentum on 26th September 2018. The evidence to support her story was released immediately after the question of the authenticity of her story arose. Expectedly, Nana's supporters spoke in his favour stating that Tanushree's agenda is to gain publicity; but none of their claims stopped the country, including Bollywood, from believing Tanushree's statement. Despite some criticism, Tanushree has received support from fellow actors across all platforms including CINTAA.
For Bollywood, it was like the opening of a can of worms. Shocking names, one after the other kept popping up.
Kangana Ranaut extended her support to the crew member of Phantom Films who accused Vikas Bahl of sexually assaulting her in 2015 by masturbating on her on 6th October 2018. Kangana backed the allegations by saying that Vikas had behaved inappropriately with her too. And soon after, many industry names jumped in to support her.
Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhatt also faced the rage of the country for ignoring Utsav Chakraborty's act of sexual abuse and as a result, they have been removed all his gigs from AIB. Later, Khamba was also accused of assault by a friend of his who claimed that Khamba didn't back off despite her making it clear that she wasn't interested. post this, Tanmay stepped down as the Founder of AIB and Khamba has been given a leave of absence. Also, AIB film has also been dropped by MAMI festival. AIB isn't a part of Hotstar anymore. The known names from AIB were accused of sexual misconduct in the October beginning and a statement against Utsav Chakraborty was issued by the HR team on 4th October 2018.
One of the most shocking names in the list of abusers was India's sanskari babuji, Alok Nath. Tara director Vinta Nanda and actress Sandhya Mridul have shared their assault stories and the country couldn't handle it. Twitterati couldn't hide its disgust and disappointment. Vinita said that he took advantage of her while she left a party at his place. He took her to her own house and violated her. Sandhya took to Twitter to share a long post describing the incident and how he once got drunk and forced himself on her. Babuji's case saw the rage of the country ones his name was out on 8th October 2018.
It all started with one woman opening up and sharing her story about how the singing sensation Kailash Kher kept his hand on her thighs when he had gone to interview him. He kept finding reasons to place his hand on her legs. After this, Twitter was flooded with many young women coming out sharing similar stories about how he's always sitting to close to the journalist interviewing him and finding reasons to touch them. Kailash Kher's alleged deeds came into light ones the story was shared on Twitter on 6th October 2018.
A woman shared an incident from 2008 that spread like wildfire on the internet. Keeping her identity hidden, a friend of hers took to Twitter to share her story. She spoke about how he asked for her picture during a telephonic interview and refused to answer her questions when she didn't comply. She was forced to share a picture of her. She sent him a blurred picture which he checked instantly and passed a comment on her saying, "Tu toh badi cute hai." A month later, the two crossed paths when Bhagat came to Delhi for a press conference. He recognised her and said, "Oh isko toh hum pehle se jaante hain." In response to her post, Chetan Bhagat retweeted a statement on 15th October 2018 with his so-called maturity.
So who wanted to kiss whom? @iratrivedi’s self-explanatory email from 2013 to me, esp last line, easily shows her claims from 2010 are false, and she knows this too. This mental harassment of me and my family has to stop. Please don’t harm a movement with #fakecharges #harassed pic.twitter.com/SWeaSCfHLd
— Chetan Bhagat (@chetan_bhagat) October 15, 2018
Three women - actor Rachel White, assistant director Saloni Chopra and journalist Karishma Upadhyay - shared their encounters with director Sajid Khan who sexually assaulted and mentally tortured them. Saloni published a long piece on her blog on 11th October 2018 talking about how Sajid his personal assistant touch his penis. He called her unattractive and yelled at her when she refused to comply.
Karishma Upadhyay took to Twitter to narrate her tale of harassment by Sajid, who flashed his penis at her during an interview. She wrote, “The first time I interviewed Sajid Khan in the early 2000s, he called me to the house he shared w/ his sister. Thru the interview he talked about how large his penis is & how he knew how to satisfy a woman.”
Actress Rachel White recalled the time Sajid had asked her to come over to his place and stared at her lecherously. He talked to her about her boobs and asked her to strip for him because he wanted to see how confident would she be sporting a bikini in his film.
Once the hit playback voice of Shah Rukh Khan, singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya has also been accused. His shocking response to these accusations was that the women were "fat and ugly". We're not sure if he is in his right senses to even think such a statement will be acceptable to anyone.
Abhijeet Bhattacharya's case came into light around 9th October 2018 when a former flight attendant, who goes by the name Bodhisattva YaMyoho, accused the singer of using abusive words after she avoided dancing with him.
A senior journalist Vinod Dua (also known to people as Mallika Dua's father) has been accused of sexual harassment and stalking by filmmaker Nishtha Jain. In a Facebook post written by Nishtha on 13th October 2018, she revealed that the incident happened 30 years ago when she went for a job interview which was being taken by Vinod Dua.
She said, "He was starting a new gig. It was supposed to be a political satire and I was interested. I was greeted with his typical sardonic smile. Before I could settle down he began telling a lewd sexual joke in that soft voice, barely opening his mouth. I don't remember the joke but it wasn't worth a laugh, just dirty. I felt hot in my face and I sat there most probably with an angry look. He explained the job and asked me what my expectations were and I quoted an amount that most graduates were getting at the time - 5,000 rupees. He looked at me and said, 'Tumhari aukat kya hai?'"
Even when Nishtha got a job at another organisation as a video editor, Vinod Dua continued to harass her. As Nishtha wrote, in one particular incident, Vinod Dua accosted her in the parking lot while she was leaving for work. He invited her in his car and she agreed thinking he's here for an apology. However, Vinod Dua allegedly harassed her by slobbering all over her face.
After media and social media provoked Mallika Dua to give a statement or to speak up on the situation, she tweeted on saying this is her father's battle, not hers but she will stand by him.
— Mallika Dua (@MallikaDua) October 14, 2018
Former journalist Union Minister of States for External Affairs of India has been accused of sexual misconduct, not by one, but 14 women including journalists Suparna Sharma and Priya Ramani. In turn, MJ Akbar has filed a defamation case against Priya Ramani on 15th October 2018 and called all the statements 'fabricated and spiced up'. However, women journalists stand firm on their charges and intend to fight.
After MJ Akbar pressed defamation charges, Suparna Sharma told a leading newspaper, "I stand by my testimony of the two incidents - one in which he plucked my bra strap, and the other when he stared at my breasts. I also stand by the fact that he did the same with other women in the office. I am disappointed with Akbar's response but I am not surprised. This is going to be a longish battle, and the next step in many cases is a legal step."
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan spoke against abuse 11 years ago even when the abuser was Salman Khan (whom people prefer to not mess with) and Priyanka Chopra lost 10 films because she said 'no' to sexual favours much before the movement started.
On Tuesday, the co-founder of a leading newspaper accused famous painter Jatin Das, who is also the father of director Nandita Das, of sexually harassing her 14 years ago. However, Das has denied the allegations and dismissed them as "vulgar."
But that's not the only woman. Nisha Bora the lead resource at Elrhino Foundation has backed the statement against Das and shared her incident too. She took to Twitter to describe the incident. She spoke about how he asked her to assist him for a few days to organise his work material. The next day when she went to his studio, he attempted to grab her. She wriggled out of his embrace and pushed him away when he tried to get close to her again. Flustered, she moved away from him.
"At that moment he said, 'Come on, it would be nice'. Or something like that. What I recall was his disbelief that I was pushing back. I picked my bag... and ran home. Never to speak about it. Until now," she wrote.
Later, his daughter Nandita, gave Nisha a call to know if "she could help her find a young female assistant (like myself)".
To this, Das told PTI, "I am shocked. All kinds of things are happening these days... Some people do things and some people make allegations. I don't know her, I have never met her, and even if I did met somebody somewhere one doesn't behave like this... It is vulgar. There is a game going on, some people are real have done some things while some people are making allegations for the fun of it."
#MeToo One of India's most feted artists alive. Padma Bhushan recipient. My molestor. Long post alert. @IndiaMeToo and so MANY other women, starting with @Rxyxsx Thank you for so much. pic.twitter.com/a6VFC6iHys
— Nisha Bora (@NishaBora) October 16, 2018
To read all the #MeTooIndia stories, click here.
1. Don't be afraid to speak up about your experience.
2. Understand and read up about the rights you have. For example, if you are facing harassment in the workplace, inform your HR about the incident. Increasingly today, companies have a trained Vishaka committee that addresses cases of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Read about the laws every Indian woman should know about here.
Here are some important helpline numbers that you should make a note of:
1091 - Women's Helpline
112 - All India Emergency Helpline
There are also several NGOs that rescue women suffering from any kind of harassment and help them heal.
Azad Foundation: The Azad Foundation focuses on women who are dealing with abusive relationships. The organisation trains women to become more independent by teaching them self-defence techniques, women’s rights, reproductive rights, and driving.
International Center for Research on Women: ICRW identifies barriers to the economic and social stability of women and designs plans for program designers, donors and policymakers that empower women.
Helplinelaw.com: Helplinelaw.com offers online legal services. They help women who are in need of legal help for dowry, harassment or divorce-related matters.
4. Learn the skills to protect yourself. It's always good to know self-defence techniques. These can make you stronger and can be life-savers when you're stuck in a sticky situation. You can explore places such as Krav Maga India, Crosstrain Fight Club and Fitcomb.
7. Never hesitate to ask for help. Even though it's easier said than done, you must talk it out with someone. Speak up and don't let it bottle up inside you. Talk to a friend or a close family member.
Featured Image Source: Instagram
AWESOME NEWS! POPxo SHOP is now Open! Get 25% off on all the super fun mugs, phone covers, cushions, laptop sleeves, and more! Use coupon code POPXOFIRST. Online shopping for women never looked better!