My timeline today was flooded with posts and news items about the Vikas Bahl controversy. I empathise with the woman who went through all the trauma and harassment while Vikas Bahl went on making films and carried on with his life without an ounce of guilt. I also read a statement issued by Anurag Kashyap on this matter in Pune Mirror. The partners of Phantom movies have decided to dissolve the company, and Anurag Kashyap has publicly apologised to the victim. While his apology can’t undo the damage caused, I appreciate the decision taken by Anurag Kashyap and other partners of Phantom Films, even if it’s a little late. According to his statement, the company did not have any provision of sacking an equal partner, which is, unfortunately, the truth. And considering the amount of money involved, reputations and careers/jobs of many people at stake, it was a very difficult decision. The company has displayed a strong moral stance by debarring and suspending Bahl and removing his signing authority.
No one can compensate even a small part of what the victim lost in the process including economic, mental and social stability. I hope that she goes public and files a case against Bahl. People like Bahl must be shown their rightful place in the society. However, I also want to emphasise on how blaming Anurag Kashyap, and Phantom films for the episode might not be the solution to the problem. I am writing this – not because of my liking for Anurag Kashyap and his movies, but because of my own experience.
I have worked in the IT industry for the last ten years, and I must say that it’s one of the most female-friendly, transparent and considerate sectors. However, there are always some sour apples everywhere, and I had to deal with one such in my career.
It was 2013, and I was about to join this person’s team. He had a reputation of being rude, harsh and extremely insulting towards his female colleagues. I was joining the team in spite of that because the work entailed something I loved. But within a week, I understood his behaviour. I had to be in touch with him all the time as I was directly reporting to him. However, most of the times it was him shouting and I listening. Every single phone call was a nightmare as he would keep on scolding and screaming for every single thing that went wrong in the team. He was vicious while using his words and his constant criticism was eventually draining my confidence. It was constant mental abuse, and I had no choice but to ride it out. And it was the same with most of the female employees from the team, except his favourites and close friends. The shouting and abusing happened in full display in front of all other men, but no one dared to stand up against him. This went on for a year.
I decided to raise my voice, finally, when I couldn’t take it anymore. After he left, I called my super boss and explained the situation. Coincidentally, the same day, the super boss got a call from one of my colleagues, and she had the same things to say about our boss – shouting, mental abuse, deliberate criticism meant to break the confidence etc. Later, I came to know that there were some official complaints made against him by some of the top bosses within the business unit as well.
The super boss was incredibly supportive, and he asked me to write an official email which I did. The matter was taken up to the human resource team. One-to-one meetings, calls, official emails followed including some sessions with him, his super boss and the human resource team. We were sent emails providing support and assurance that everything will be ‘taken care of’. But in spite of promising confidentiality, the fact that I made an official complaint was leaked. On one side, I received a lot of feedback from my colleagues and some employees I didn’t even know thanking me for taking it up while on the other hand, I became a face of dissent – the one who raised her voice, the “problematic” woman. I did not realise it back then. And when I realised it, it came as a hard blow.
Even after so many meetings/emails and calls, he was not sacked from his job. He was just given another job for a couple of months where he did not have to ‘deal’ with us. And after that, he was moved to a better, glamorous job where he only got more visibility, power and control.
As for me – my appraisal was ruined; I received the least rating that year. Some of my important tasks were snatched and assigned to others. No one ever said anything to my face – I got this message indirectly.
Why did this happen? Why couldn’t they just sack him after so many incidences recounted by many people and that too publicly? I knew the reason – money and position. He is an extremely ambitious person who can go to any lengths to achieve his target. He had good relations with the top bosses and most importantly – “he delivered”. He had all the data and statistics which showed how much money he had saved for the company and how much he had earned in profits – even if that money was a result of his team’s hard work.
That was the only reason he survived. That was the only reason he was not sacked. That was the only reason the company retained him. That was the only reason he continued with the same attitude in a different team with other female employees.
Why let go of a manager who brings in money for the sake of a moral stance that too for an average “female employee”?
Unfortunately, this is the way it has always been. Money is the most important thing for companies. Reputation is what matters the most. Companies are willing to do anything to save their reputation, including covering up such incidents. They will keep mum, compromise and ignore the women. Ruin their careers and shut them up.
It’s a really bold move by Phantom Films to come out and name Vikas Bahl. They have done so, knowing they will have to deal with legal issues. They have opened themselves up for public criticism and shaming. They have given a public apology and accepted their failings.
Looking at some of the comments and criticism hurled at Phantom films and Anurag Kashyap, I feel this is uncalled for. What they have done is sensible and morally correct – even if they are late in doing so. We are witnessing a rare situation. As the #MeTooIndia movement gains momentum, let us not get swayed in the rage, but appreciate the small, little positive things that are coming our way. Let us not dismiss Anurag’s apology. This should be taken as an example for other companies to follow. If we keep on criticising such bold steps, it will only discourage other companies in coming out to support the victims.