By Vartika Rrastogi
A year since the beginning of the #MeToo movement on social media which sought to expose incidents of sexual harassment and assault committed by those in positions of power, women in the Indian media and entertainment industries have come out with their own stories of violation and harassment.
Former actress and Miss India winner Tanushree Datta set the ball rolling with allegations that she was harassed on set by veteran actor Nana Patekar, with the complicity of director Vivek Agnihotri and choreographer Ganesh Acharya.
Then, on October 6, a former employee of Phantom Films – a production house set up by directors Vikas Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and producer Madhu Mantena – accused Vikas Bahl of sexual misconduct against her back in 2015 in an article on HuffPost India. The survivor claimed that Bahl misbehaved with her in her hotel room when the team was on tour for promoting a movie, and kept gaslighting her afterwards. She also said she had informed Anurag Kashyap about this that very year, but that no action was taken by either Kashyap or Phantom Films.
Kashyap later took to twitter to announce the dissolution of the production house, and issued a two-page statement about the incident.
Actress Kangana Renaut, who worked with Bahl on the movie Queen – which was about women’s empowerment – recently came to the support of the Phantom Films employee, and accused Bahl of misconduct against herself in 2014. “He’d bury his face in my neck, hold me really tight and breathe in the smell of my hair,” she said in an interview with India Today.
The #MeToo movement raised a furore on the Indian social media on October 4, when Twitter user Mahima Kukreja tweeted against YouTuber and comedian Utsav Chakraborty, accusing him of sending her unsolicited pictures of his genitalia. A number of other women, including minors, responded to Kukreja’s tweet, claiming that he had harassed them with messages and asked for nude images. Comedy group All India Bakchod, whose sketches often featured Chakraborty, took to Twitter and issued a statement saying that “the accusations describe a pattern of behaviour that is unacceptable”, and delisting all videos featuring Chakraborty from their YouTube channel.
Chakraborty initially denied the allegations in a long Twitter thread, citing mental health issues, but later posted an apology, saying he couldn’t think of himself as a victim any more and asking “how to make things right”.
East India Comedy’s Sapan Verma was also accused of catcalling and harassing a woman when she was auditioning for a TV Show, but denied the allegations saying that he could “very confidently verify” that the incident never took place at all.
Women also came out on Twitter against HuffPost India’s former trends editor and comedian Anurag Verma for sending them inappropriate videos on Snapchat. Verma later apologised for his behaviour, saying that he recognised that he sent the content wrongly believing it to be funny, and recognising that his actions “have been problematic”.
Bestselling author and columnist Chetan Bhagat, too, issued what seems to be an apology on Facebook, after a woman journalist’s WhatsApp screenshots of him insistently trying to ‘woo’ her made the rounds on social media platforms. Confirming the screenshots to be authentic, he said that he had “felt a strong connection” with the woman in question and “misread the friendliness”. He clarified that no lewd exchanges or physical exchanges took place between him and the woman, and also stated his apology to wife Anusha Bhagat.
Many women in journalism and news media also took to social media to expose sexual offenders in the industry. The #MeToo fire against offenders in news media began on October 5, when journalist Anoo Bhuyan of The Wire accused Mayank Jain, a reporter at the Business Standard and an ex-employee of Scroll, of making unwanted sexual advances towards her. Many other women, including Feminism in India editor Japleen Pasricha, shared their accounts of similar experiences with Jain, enclosing screenshots of their conversations with him. Jain has yet to respond to the allegations. He has, however, left all media-related groups on WhatsApp and Twitter.
Author and journalist Sandhya Menon then shared three accounts on Twitter of harassment against herself by prominent media editors, sparking debate about the way employers deal with reports on such actions of sexual misconduct.
Menon first shared an instance of being harassed by K.R. Sreenivas, who is currently the resident editor of The Times of India in Hyderabad. Her account dates back to 2008 when she and Sreenivas both worked for the Bangalore Mirror, and accuses the latter of having put his hand on her thigh and saying that he and his wife had grown apart, while dropping her home one night. Menon later reported the incident to HR, but says her complaints were dismissed.
Sreenivas responded to the allegations on Twitter by submitting himself to investigation and citing TOI’s decision to carry it out under a “highly empowered committee” against sexual harassment “headed by a senior woman”. However, Menon believes that the investigations may not yield much result considering that the woman heading the committee had said in 2008 that she knew the man, and found it unlikely that he had committed any such behaviour towards her.
Later, journalist Pavitra Jayaraman responded to Menon’s tweet with her own account of harassment at Sreenivas’s hands while she was interning with Femina Bangalore as a 20 year old.
Menon then tweeted about an account relating to Gautam Adhikari, former editor-in-chief of DNA in Mumbai, alleging that Adhikari forcibly kissed her on a night out and then told her not to disclose the incident to anyone. Menon’s tweet was met with a response from former TOI journalist Sonora Jha, who accused Adhikari of calling her to his hotel room to discuss flexible hours and then forcibly kissing her, back in 1995 when he was the executive editor for the paper. Adhikari, however, in an email to Scroll said that he “did not recall any of this”.
Lastly, Menon talked about harassment over text message from Hindustan Times associate editor in New Delhi Manoj Ramachandran back in 2005. According to Menon, she was 25 years old and taking shelter from the floods in Mumbai when Ramachandran took her number from a mutual friend and proceeded to text her an “I want to fuck you”.
Menon also shared anonymous stories of sexual harassment sent to her by other women. One such account accuses novelist Kiran Nagarkar of molestation during an interview. The survivor, who later identified herself as Poorva Joshi, said that “the environment was one of the most uncomfortable ones” she had been in, and accused Nagarkar of sitting too close to her on the sofa, insisting on a hug after, and lingering his hand on her arms, making her uncomfortable.
Another anonymous account shared by Sandhya Menon accused poet Sudeep Sen of inappropriately touching a woman, and advertising professional Mihir Chitre for unwarranted sexting. While Sen is yet to respond to the allegations against him, Chitre tweeted an apology on Friday, saying that his “idea of asking someone out or flirting has clearly been wrong enough for it to hurt some women” and that he does not want to defend the hurt he has caused.
Ex-lawyer and former Hindustan Times correspondent Avantika Mehta accused the newspaper’s national political editor Prashant Jha of making her uncomfortable with his sexual advances sent through text messages. Mehta first spoke out against Jha in an anonymous account on FirstPost, but later identified herself as the victim on a Twitter thread, saying that she did “everything and beyond not to piss him off” when he said he wanted to hit on her, and enclosing screenshots of their conversations. She clarified that she was no longer employed with Hindustan Times at the time this harassment took place and hence could not report it.
Two female journalists, who studied with The Quint’s senior journalist Meghnad Bose at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, in 2015, also accused him of sexual misconduct, after journalist Divya Karthikeyan shared an anonymous tweet accusing Bose of inappropriately touching a woman. One of the victims alleged that Bose “bullied and harassed” women, and inappropriately asked her to “sit on his lap” many times back in college.
Another journalist, Theja Ram of The News Minute, accused Bose of making sexist comments. Bose later took to twitter and issued an “unconditional apology” to all his victims.
The Millenium Post’s executive editor Arya Rudra was also accused of sexual misconduct and harassment. Reporter Anindya Tripathi in a facebook post accused Rudra of making sexual innuendos, bombarding her with phonecalls, gaslighting her, and stopping her from going home. Rudra has yet to respond to the allegations.
Many other women in the media shared their #MeToo stories on Twitter without naming the harasser. Journalist Rashmi Sinha accused a present-day deputy executive editor of a news channel of approaching her to sleep with him.
Journalist Dilpreet Taggar accused a former head of guest team at Times Now, who is currently employed at Republic TV, of “unprofessional behaviour and crass remarks” in a tweet.
NDTV subeditor Niharika Banerjee tweeted about facing harassment by a senior copy editor at The Economic Times during an office party.
Meanwhile, some journalists also took to Twitter to share incidents of harassment from people outside the news industry. The Caravan’s Nikita Saxena accused an advertising executive she was once interviewing of having inappropriately kissed her on the cheek without her consent.
Saxena’s tweet started debate on the lack of power journalists have over their sources, and how they often have to undergo harassment for the sake of a byline. Journalist Neha Dixit said in a tweet that a senior woman editor once told her to “put up with it” when a source puts his hand on her thighs and gives her information, highlighting the connivance of senior professionals in cases of sexual misconduct.
The scores of allegations against media professionals have sparked discussion on due process with regard to sexual harassment in the workplace. Employees at The Times of India issued an internal petition to editors, emphasising “the importance of carrying out a thorough and swift investigation”, and further stating that “as a newspaper that has proactively covered the #MeToo movement and written editorials thundering against sexual harassment at the workplace, the least we can do is practise what we preach”. Meanwhile, Hindustan Times officials have also stated that they will begin investigations against the accused employees very soon. Similar notes have emerged from officials at HuffPost India, Business Standard and The Quint, all of whom have employees who have been accused of misconduct under this latest phase of the #MeToo campaign.
In a press release issued on Monday, the Delhi Union of Journalists’ Gender Council welcomed the movement, saying that it “expects that the managements of all the various publications that the accused journalists work for will take cognisance of the complaints, refer them to the Internal Complaints Committees mandated by law, examine the charges and take due action if the accused are found guilty”. The statement further called “for solidarity and a re-examination of existing practices and attitudes at this difficult time, so that the workplace becomes safer and provides all journalists, irrespective of gender, with equal opportunities in these challenging times”.
This is a crucial juncture for the Indian media and entertainment industry, where employers need to review their mechanisms for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment and take action against such instances at the workplace. Only then will the #MeToo movement achieve fruition.
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.
Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest
By Asheesh Mamgain
If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.
“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”
“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.
Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.
Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.
“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”
So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.
The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.
“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.
“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”
There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.
“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”
Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.
Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”
More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”
A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.
Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.
Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.
But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”