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Tanushree Dutta’s Harassment Allegations: Where Does Bollywood’s #MeToo Movement Stand?

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“It is only a matter of time before someone from the Indian film industry speaks out against sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement,” I told myself when the movement spread far and wide and took down big names in Hollywood. However, disappointment soon followed because no strong voice followed suit in India. That is until I chanced upon former actor and Miss India Tanushree Datta’s brave statement, calling out famous actor Nana Patekar for sexual harassment. The dirt that followed in the name of journalism and the deafening silence by most in Bollywood (save for some vocal female actors and maybe two male actors), however, showed a shameful mirror depicting the biting reality.

Here’s what happened: Tanushree Dutta decided to come down boldly and heavily on Nana Patekar for an incident that occurred ten years ago on a film set. Patekar had made Dutta uncomfortable all along and at one point wanted a change in choreography for the dance sequence being shot (which he wasn’t originally meant to be a part of) to get a sensual, intimate scene with Dutta. He made this request to his partner-in-crime, choreographer Ganesh Acharya. Dutta stormed out of the set and locked herself in her vanity van, which is when MNS party workers barged in and started banging on her door and smashing the windows of her car. She had to be escorted out with police protection. In a Twitter thread, journalist Janice Sequeira corroborated Dutta’s allegations. Patekar, on the other hand, laughed it off by saying there were around a 100 people present (because that automatically means entitled men will immediately fall back in line?) and threatened legal action.

I watched a couple of TV debates and read a few articles until I tired (and frustrated) myself into giving up. The toxic masculinity that predominates discourses of sexual harassment has already spread its wings, with people questioning Dutta’s motive behind her speaking about the incident ten years later. “She is doing it for publicity.” “She wants to appear in Big Boss and needs to generate buzz.” “She wants to make a comeback.” Anything you haven’t heard before?

While the #MeToo outrage in Hollywood led to beloved global star Kevin Spacey getting fired from the TV show House of Cards, of which he was the main lead, Bollywood continues to crumble and bumble when asked for an opinion. The responses range from “Neither is my name Tanushree nor Nana Patekar” (Amitabh Bachchan) to “I can’t comment until I know the veracity or facts of the incident” (Aamir Khan, Salman Khan). Seemingly woke celebrities suddenly lose their ability to speak up when the context is desi and related to someone they know.

Here are some points to ponder: why would a woman speak about the humiliation and traumatising incident she faced in public, whether it happened ten years ago, ten decades ago, or ten minutes ago? Publicity? Publicity for what, though? What are the social and ethical responsibilities of a celebrity when speaking about a current issue? Why does their support not stretch to a horrible pattern rampant in their industry (sexual harassment is an open secret)?

Coming back to the timing of Dutta’s accusations, she did speak up about it when the incident happened, but as you can unfortunately guess, nothing came out of it. To me, her only reason for speaking about it now is to set the record straight and hopefully provide courage to other women who have faced/are facing similar ordeals. She is expressing her truth, and that should be celebrated and applauded, not questioned all over again. Investigations and due diligence would and should take their course. Until that happens, I present to you two scenarios:

  • We side with the accused and support him, and top stars continue to work with him because innocent until proven guilty, right?
  • We open our eyes and ears to the survivor because she has lesser incentive to lie and speaking about sexual harassment itself is a hard, courageous thing to do (this even if we don’t take into account the fact that two eyewitnesses have corroborated Datta’s version)

Do we wait for the survivor to prove she faced sexual harassment or do we expect the accused to prove himself not guilty? How we answer these questions is what defines the direction we’re taking as a society. Whether a woman speaks up about sexual harassment right after it happened or 20 years later, that trauma cannot be belittled.

 

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

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