This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Rai Sengupta. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Ogilvy’s Managing Partner Says ‘Abuse Is A Life Lesson’. Sorry, What?

More from Rai Sengupta

Over the last few days, my Facebook timeline has been flooded with gut-wrenching reminders of the pain and trauma that many of us have faced, of appalling instances of sexual assault and harassment that my friends and family chose to reveal, after years of remaining silent-some of them even decades.

With the #MeToo campaign gathering storm, suddenly the issue of sexual abuse was no longer one relegated to the newspaper headline on a Monday morning. It came closer home –  in the form of a junior at school posting about her experience. It reared its ugly head again and again across the day – an older relative unsure about hashtags but not unknown to sexual abuse writing about the trauma she faced, a close friend speaking of her ordeal at the age of six – half confused at what was happening, her cries muffled under layers of shame and shock.

Every ‘Me Too’ had a story to tell. Every ‘Me Too’ was an expression of breaking the silence maintained over the years. Behind each of these hashtags was a story of utter sadness, of sheer helplessness – the little girls and boys in us all giving vent to the wrong done to them, after years of putting things under the carpet.

In the midst of this, a post on Facebook left me completely pained and shocked. Posted by Chandana Agarwal, Managing Partner of Ogilvy and Mather Delhi, it is a supremely insensitive take on the #MeToo campaign and the experiences of the survivors of abuse and assault.

Agarwal, very casually, lumps ‘things like someone grabbing at you or pinching you as part of part of growing up in India. In her explicit description of these painful experiences that many have faced in crowded buses, in lonely lanes, in half-lit rooms on the roof – she categorically says that all of these ‘things’ are not abuse. It seems that in her world, getting groped or pinched is simply a rite of passage, one of the hurdles that one must cross as one transitions to adulthood. Like passing a trigonometry test, like tripping and getting your knees scraped, like getting vaccinations for measles, getting grabbed at and pinched seems to be a part of growing up.

Not only that, she has highly problematic views on the ‘growing up experience’ across the world as well, which she elucidates with great elan. Apparently, a teacher trying to ‘get fresh’ with a student is not abuse in her books. Neither is a boss or a colleague inappropriately displaying sexual interest in you. Again, she asserts that these experiences do not constitute abuse.

In an age, when corporate offices across the world have moved from wood-panels to glass cabins for the senior management to fuel greater transparency, in an age when the sexual  harassment policy of a company under the Vishakha Guidelines is mentioned at inductions and company orientations, such views being spouted by the head of office of India’s largest advertising agency are nothing short of draconian, derogatory and disrespectful. I wonder what her outlook will be if an employee reports an office harassment issue to her.

Actually, after this, I wonder if people will actually report anything.

Adding insult to injury, Agarwal takes it upon herself to dictate a narrow definition of what abuse is. Nothing really seems to make it to her obscure and vague benchmark of what abuse is. You’re a college girl who got groped on a bus? Nope, that’s not abuse according to Agarwal – it’s just toughening you up for life, sweetie. You’re a 7-year-old boy who was flashed by your middle aged, pot bellied art teacher? No, that’s not abuse either – it’s just going to leave you in good stead later in life. Did your experience not leave you in a life-threatening position? Then why are you complaining?

According to her, anything short of being life threatening is not abuse. Yes, she categorically said that.

Moreover, she advises everyone to not be ‘in that vulnerable position again’- the subtext: putting the entire blame squarely on the victim’s shoulders. In no way, is she showing solidarity with the stories of hurt and pain. Instead, she prescribes ways to avoid these experiences by not being vulnerable – subtext: not stepping out at night, not stepping out unaccompanied, not dressing skimpily, not seeming ‘available’. How to avoid a stomach upset? Avoid the roadside pani puri. How to avoid abuse? Don’t be vulnerable. Apparently, it is that simple.

By making it about avoiding abuse on part of the victims rather than not committing abuse on part of the perpetrators, she puts the onus of the entire issue on the victims only.

Such comments, coming from a senior professional of an advertising agency, that has time and again created ads that speak of sensitivity, of acceptance of difference, of compassion for fellow human beings- is painful. Her comments are a stark contrast to the work of Ogilvy and Mather – the agency that has given us ads that have made us laugh and cry- ‘Miley Sur Mera Tumhaara’, the Dove ads – you name it, work that has made us proud and inspired generations.

At a time, when we are trying to lift each other up, these views are deeply disappointing.

You must be to comment.
  1. Vivek Nayak

    I think you are missing the point … when you paint different kinds of harassment situations that an individual faces with the same paintbrush of a simple “#metoo” generalization, you are doing disservice to the ones who face the more severe kind. As you are aware, harassment which can cause varying degrees of damage to the psyche depending on the circumstance and on who the perpetrator is. As a part of growing up there are countless cases of Aunties pinching my cheeks and slapping by backside. Though it was irritating it hardly was abuse in my book. But after reading your objection to the lady’s comment, I now think maybe I was abused. I can now also safely claim my place in the ‘#metoo’ gang.

More from Rai Sengupta

Similar Posts

By Aman Kumar Verma

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By Namita Bhura

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below