In one of my erstwhile favourite TVF sketches, one of the characters in it try to make a point about the silent legitimization of marital rape in Indian families by referring to it as “intense lovemaking”. It’s an alarmingly political sketch from a YouTube channel which usually steers clear of such topics, but one that seems oddly and uncomfortably relevant in the wake of the recent allegations against TVF founder and CEO Arunabh Kumar. Of course, marital rape in no way figures into the allegations that multiple accusers have come out to level at him, triggered by an anonymous blog post, but the general attitude to something like this – the careless dismissal and the almost defensive denial to these accusations, both from Kumar and other TVF employees, seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. As if their sketch is turning into real life.
Needless to say, as a regular consumer of TVF’s content, the allegations as they emerged yesterday (and are still emerging) shook me to the bone. The blog post was disturbing enough, but what was even more so, were the other non-anonymous accounts of women having faced eerily non-consensual touching, groping and other forms of harassment from Kumar. TVF was quick to dismiss the charges of course but chose to retaliate by issuing a thinly veiled threat against the original anonymous accuser rather than launch an investigation. What’s worse, almost every other employee stood by the statement and stood by Kumar himself, some citing the existence of TVF’s woman-oriented channel (‘Girliyapa’) as reason enough for sexual harassment never to take place in their workplace, while others talking about the hard work they put in and personally vouching for Kumar’s superior moral character.
When I saw all of this unfold in real time on Twitter yesterday, it seemed like too much of a cruel awakening. Of course, none of the allegations sounded like something new – they were too similar to experiences either I, or women I intimately know face day in and day out – and it was perhaps the familiarity that was so jarring.
But on re-evaluating my relationship with TVF’s content, I realized another important reason for my thorough sense of revulsion. From its very inception, TVF (and other YouTube channels like it) promised to break the monotony of broadcast TV, and bring us content that was not only novel but also innately progressive. In the past, they’ve brought us videos and shows with complex female characters that have, to a certain degree explored female sexuality, marital pressures, and even menstrual hygiene. These weren’t entirely unproblematic or free from internalized misogyny, but they were still significant steps. Even apart from Girliyapa’s videos on marital rape and periods, their web shows have had characters like Tania (in “Permanent Roommates”) and Chanchal (in “Tripling”) who have had to overcome multiple patriarchal pressures. In fact, TVF’s next show – titled “Bisht, Please” – was poised to be their first show which was entirely female-oriented, with a female, eponymous protagonist, touching upon various feminist issues.
In the face of this all, when you have damning allegations like this – even if they are yet to be legally corroborated or investigated – and a deeply problematic, and unsettlingly confrontational response from the team, it feels like a betrayal. It annuls the very progressive ideals they were trying to espouse through their content, and it shows that their feminism was only confined to the fiction they create, not something that translates to real life. The pragmatics of whether or not TVF has a sexual harassment committee or HR mechanism has already been hotly debated on Twitter, but when even the smallest courtesy – a formal, unbiased investigation into the claims – is not made, then something is incredibly wrong indeed. The rape culture that they were trying to so thoroughly question through that marital rape video seems to thrive and flourish within their own offices and goes unchecked, judging from their reactions to these allegations. Kumar himself has issued another response which sounds more creepy and self-centered rather than mature, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of effort from their side to address this issue in any way that isn’t a “severe action” against the anonymous accuser.
I still don’t know how to come to terms with these allegations, except maybe learn to live with the knowledge that despite how much the world is changing, despite the fact it’s 2017 now, powerful men might continue to get away with abuse allegations.