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.
War or peace?
By Dr Akmal Hussain
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi on Sunday, April 7, in a press briefing in Multan, announced that the government had “reliable” information that India was planning another attack on Pakistan. He revealed that during a meeting of the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security, the three service chiefs had indicated that they were ready with plans of multiple strikes against Pakistan across a wide front and were awaiting a “political nod”, which was duly given by PM Modi during the meeting.
After the political boomerang of the failed Balakot strike, simple statistical theory would suggest to the military mind that the larger the number of strikes next time the higher the probability of at least one succeeding. The chances of partial success would increase if the air attack is across a wide front: the defending air force would have to spread itself thin and so the number of intercepting aircraft that could be fielded against any one group of attackers would be reduced.
Such a military adventure by India would not simply be a repeat strike after Balakot. It would be a precipitous escalation, fraught with the risk of full-scale conventional war that could quickly lead to a catastrophic nuclear exchange. When India suffered a setback in the Balakot engagement, they reportedly readied themselves for a missile strike against three Pakistani cities on the night of February 27.
There is no technology in existence that can determine whether or not incoming missiles have a nuclear payload. So Pakistan’s declaration that they would launch triple the number of missiles in retaliation, as soon as Indian missiles left their launch pads, carried the grim possibility of a nuclear war in the Subcontinent. If we had come so close to Armageddon soon after even a single abortive strike, imagine how much greater would be the risk of escalation to the nuclear level during a full-scale conventional war.
At present, and in the foreseeable future, two aspects of the structure of the India-Pakistan relationship create a hair trigger that can quickly and repeatedly bring the two countries to flashpoint. First, a popular freedom movement in Kashmir that, despite their protracted coercion, Indian security forces have been unable to suppress. It has instead produced a pantheon of martyrs and a new generation of militant youths willing to sacrifice themselves for freedom. Under these circumstances the internal dynamics of the Kashmiri movement can generate acts of violent rebellion against Indian troops at any time.
Second, on the other side of the border for many years non-state groups of militant extremists who have off and on received patronage continue to exist. The toxic mix of these two elements creates an environment in which spectacular acts of violence by Kashmiri youth could be blamed on “Pakistan-based terrorists” by India. This could intensify tensions, precipitating another military conflict. The past cannot be taken as a guide to say how it will end, whether in peace or nuclear war.
Given the firepower of modern conventional weaponry, significant loss of territory can occur during the initial onslaught that could escalate to the use of battlefield nuclear weapons. Once nuclear weapons are used on enemy troops, all-out nuclear war would follow. The recent history of India-Pakistan military conflict however has shown that even before a full-scale conventional war, a limited, localised battle can bring the two sides to the nuclear precipice.
For example, during the Kargil conflict in 1999 when the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Washington to ask the then US president Clinton to help end the conflict, he was shown satellite pictures of nuclear weapons being loaded onto F16s as evidence for a shocked PM of how close the two countries were to a nuclear war. Then again during the first two days of the February 2019 conflict involving limited Air Force engagements, nuclear missiles were reportedly readied on the night of February 27 for use by both sides.
So far these confrontations have induced timely intercession by the international community and peoples of the Subcontinent have survived by the skin of their teeth. But what a future confrontation will bring, whether we live or die in a nuclear war is inherently uncertain. Its probability cannot be estimated.
Some take comfort in the fact that seven confrontations in the past did not result in full-scale war as international pressure to defuse tensions worked. However, this 100 percent success in preventing war in the past cannot be used as a basis for saying it will not occur the next time around. This is because in society as much as in the relationship between states the averages of the past do not necessarily hold into the future. This is unlike natural phenomena where averages of the past as expressed in natural laws do hold into the future.
For example, take the law of gravity: if you had dropped an object and it fell to the ground yesterday, there is a high probability that it would fall again if you dropped it tomorrow. But in society, probability estimates which are essentially based on projecting the past into the future are not possible in principle. The pattern of social phenomena and human behaviour observed in the past can in the future be shattered by unique events or a combination of unique events.
As the preceding discussion argues, even a limited conventional conflict following a terrorist incident can quickly escalate to the nuclear threshold. It is vital, therefore, for the two countries supported by the world community to address the explosive structure of a situation that leads to repeated military confrontation.
Millions of citizens in both countries are mired in poverty, illiteracy and disease. Thousands of children are dying at birth every day; of those who survive birth, thousands die before they are five years old. Of the children who live beyond five years, millions are suffering from malnutrition, their bodies stunted, their brains dulled. Millions of children roam the streets and alleys, deprived of quality education, abandoned by society and state and living without hope. Instead of halting this massacre of innocents together, the two states are marching in lockstep to a nuclear catastrophe.
It is time for the leaderships of both India and Pakistan to reflect on the irrationality and inhumanity of using proxy wars or ‘surgical strikes’ as a means of achieving national security. The power of a nation lies not in following the course of mutual annihilation but pursuing the path of peace for the welfare of its citizens. The leaderships of the two countries should dip their cupped hands into their shared civilisational well-springs. Imbibe the sense of compassion and human solidarity to care for our children rather than killing them.
Rubbing salt on the wounds:
By Aleem Faizee
Another assault on the people of Malegaon – this is how a shopkeeper in Malegaon reacted to the news of the BJP fielding Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur from Bhopal against Congress’ Digvijaya Singh in this Lok Sabha election.
It’s like rubbing salt on our wounds, another Malegaon resident said.
For the people in Malegaon, the announcement of Pragya Thakur’s candidature has brought back the ghastly memories of 29 September 2008, when the city was rocked by a bomb blast. Thakur is facing trial in the case.
On the night of the blast, it was about 9.40 pm and people were about to finish Salaat-ut-Taraweeh – special night prayers offered during the month of Ramadan – when they heard a loud sound of explosion. At first, they thought it could be a cylinder blast accident. But it soon emerged that it was a bomb blast.
The blast spot was just metres away from the Ladies Fashion Market at Anjuman Chowk where a huge crowd of women and children were busy shopping for Eid al Fitr. There was chaos near Bhikku Chowk – the site of the blast. People carried the bleeding victims, more than a hundred, to hospitals using whatever means they could find.
The blast claimed six lives. One of them was 5-year-old Farheen Shaikh who was out to buy some snacks and was on her way back home to have Ramadan dinner with her grandmother.
Among the injured was Abdullah Jamaluddin Ansari of Shakeel Transport. The 75-year-old man, during initial investigation, had said he had noticed the LML Freedom motorcycle, which was later traced to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and led to her arrest, parked in front of his office since afternoon that day. He had also informed the police chowki, a stone’s throw away from the blast site, but claimed that no action was taken.
Javed Ansari, owner of a photocopier shop, was also injured in the Malegaon blast. It took him over three years to recover and resume work.
But for these blast victims, life has never been the same since that September night.
While Javed Ansari and the family of Farheen Shaikh left the locality after the blast, Shakeel Transport’s Abdullah Ansari died last year. Following the blast, Ansari often looked at the wall clock in his shop, which had stopped working at 9.37 pm – the time of the blast – and waited for justice.
One doesn’t know how he would have reacted to the news of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and contesting the Lok Sabha election.
By fielding Sadhvi Pragya, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants people to believe that she and other accused arrested in various blast cases were ‘framed in fabricated cases’ and that ‘saffron terror’ is a myth.
But while doing so the, BJP has undermined the fact that Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur still remains a key accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. As per court papers, the first evidence that led to her arrest was the LML Freedom motorcycle that was registered in her name and was used to plant the bomb. There are also some audio tapes and visuals too. Based on these evidences, the Bombay trial court judge had observed that there was enough ground to establish Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s role in the blast.
Ironically, while nominating Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as the party candidate, the BJP did not think about the kind of message this would send to all the world leaders with whom Narendra Modi has often taken up the issue of terrorism.
The people of Malegaon, who had been hearing about the pressure on some officers and public prosecutor Rohini Salian ‘to go soft’ in the case, have almost lost all hope of getting justice. Wife of Mumbai ATS chief Hemant Karkare – the officer who initially investigated the case – had turned down then-Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s monetary compensation after 26/11 attacks.
Therefore, the BJP’s decision to field Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in this election is neither shocking nor surprising for most people in Malegaon. But it is painful, especially for the blast victims and their families.
Majboot Sarkars Overrated?
Prior to the 1990s, coalition governments in Indian politics were considered to be an aberration and not particularly desirable. The lack of coalitions in India was clearly tied to the one-party preponderance of the Congress. So, when the party sensed defeat in the 1989 Lok Sabha election, it tried to remind voters of how shambolic the 1977 Janata government had been.
The VP Singh-led National Front government formed in 1989 was perhaps the strangest political entity that people had witnessed in Indian politics. Propped up by the Left parties on one side, and the right-wing BJP that provided support with its 86 seats on the other – the government proved to be short lived.
The grand old party then supported the Chandrashekhar Singh government for four months, after which it decided to withdraw support and elections in 1991 brought back a Congress-led coalition government in the country. With that, the era of coalition politics was well and truly upon us.
Coalition governments were the new normal in Indian politics and would continue to be so until 2014, when the Narendra Modi-led government became the first in three decades since 1984, to win a clear majority.
In 1996, there was a short-lived Vajpayee-led BJP government for 13 days, followed by the rather soporific one led by HD Deve Gowda that lasted until 1997. After that, IK Gujral led the United Front coalition government that lasted from April 1997 to March 1998.
By then, the political scenario of the country was beginning to look a bit like a game of musical chairs. However, things stabilised with Atal Bihari Vajpayee returning in 1998, hanging on for a year and then getting re-elected in 1999 to finally last a whole term.
After that, with a full decade of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance leading the way, Indian politics developed a version of the two party system, rather, a two coalition system. Numerous political parties have coalesced around BJP and the Congress in the form of the National Democratic Alliance and the United Progressive Alliance, respectively.
Congress governments in coalition have brought about some of the most momentous and far-reaching changes. It was the Narasimha Rao-led government that introduced the economic reforms, which for better or worse, changed the country tremendously.
One simple indicator of the worth of coalitions is the fact that many thought that the UPA-I government was too hobbled by the presence of the Left, as it was a hindrance to the economic reforms associated with Congress governments since 1991.
The withdrawal of Left support, followed by the more emphatic victory that led to UPA-II in 2009, was supposed to bring in a more decisive and unfettered government. Yet, it is the UPA-I government that is remembered for the succession of rights-based legislation it introduced, while UPA II has come to be associated with crony capitalism.
Similarly, the NDA-I government of Vajpayee, with all of its coalition pulls and pressures ensured two things. First, the core and often contentious BJP issues, which are Article 370, Babri Masjid and Uniform Civil Code, were relegated to the back-burner.
Second, the Vajpayee-led BJP government could well and truly be said to have a fringe and a centre, with the fringe remaining where any fringe should belong.
However, the ruling BJP government of the day has once again brought the core contentious issues to the forefront. It has also ensured that the fringe encompasses the party uniformly, leaving no hint of nuance or differentiation.
What this suggests is that weaker coalitions may actually perform better. More importantly, coalitions are able to more naturally weave in the vital regional parties that act as breakwaters in the path of potentially elective despotism.
Are majority governments over-rated?
What have supposedly strong and stable majority governments been able to do? Have they taken decisive measures or brought about ‘big-ticket economic reforms’, untroubled by the petty pulls of coalition partners?
Take the 1984 Rajiv Gandhi government with its mammoth majority of above 400 hundred seats. In less than two years, it started playing communally divisive politics around the Babri Masjid and Shah Bano issues.
The Congress thought it was being cleverly even handed by dealing out both majority and minority communal cards. The drift in the Rajiv Gandhi government could be sensed right in the middle of its term when it lost badly in the Haryana assembly elections of 1987. It lost the hugely symbolic Allahabad by-election in 1988 to V.P. Singh, and the rest we are prone to saying, is history.
The question then is this: Could the supposed strength and stability provided by majority governments be overrated? What has the Modi government achieved on the back of its huge mandate? Has it squandered that majority much like the Rajiv Gandhi led government of 1984-89? Can Modi return to power? This has been a bit of a see-saw question.
When Modi’s government came to power with a huge landslide, or ‘tsunami’ if you will, conventional wisdom was that he was here to stay for at least two terms. The UP assembly elections in 2017 seemed to confirm this. After that, it has been more of a will he/won’t he guessing game. The jury is well and truly out on this one.