By Krishna Kumar Mishra
In United States of America: After a gap of several years a psychologist Dr Christine Blasey Ford accused US President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager. Her televised testimony to the US Senate triggered not only a nationwide outpouring of emotion but also prompted Republican Senator Jeff Flake to set in motion an FBI investigation into the alleged conduct.
Back to India: When in a casual chat former Miss India and actor Tanushree Dutta, who left the much-hyped Mumbai film industry long back, to settle in US, renewed a decade-old accusation of harassment against another actor, all hell have broken lose. Only a few have come out in support in a country where only the two Cs matter – Cinema and Cricket.
However, the big titans of Bollywood have chosen to respond to Dutta’s allegations with a defeaning silence. Even the angry heroes, the superfighters, whom a big chunk of crazy and ‘millions of simple-minded’ Indians worship like demi-Gods, right from millennium star Amitabh Bachchan, the self appointed intellectual superstar Aamir Khan, a benevolent Salman Khan to the big lot of actors and directors, no one could muster enough courage to at least acknowledge that these things are a part of the industry, leave aside supporting the hapless actor. Most of them by their utterances have brushed aside it as an act of an attention seeking, tantrum throwing overgrown child. It’s high time people should understand that these superstars don’t have anything in them to be considered as role models. News channels are showing many so-called ‘brainy, and incredibly talented people from industry’ mocking Tanushree and making sexist comments and remarks amounting to victim shaming.
And it is, of course, foolish to expect any kind of support from the political arena. An Indian politician (sadly one of its synonym is leader, the one who leads) has his or her own interest foremost before making a comment, not many open their mouth if it doesn’t propel their career in anyway. So it was not surprising when one minister and Shiv Sena MLA questioned even the veracity of allegations. He has gone on record to say that the “veteran actor is an illustrious personality, a social activist who has done tremendous work for the state.” and, “why was an FIR not registered all these years.” Politicians everywhere are all the same. Even Donald Trump has questioned on Twitter why the 15-year-old Ford had not reported the assault to police. He even mocked her and her testimony at a campaign rally in front of a baying and cheering audience, alleging to the extent that she was part of a conspiracy of “evil people”. Just imagine, the president of the United States calling victim of a violent sexual assault “evil”. The two democracies have really many things in common.
And the verification has come from where it should be – the Cine & TV Artists’ Association (CINTAA), which has accepted that Dutta had complained to the Association immediately after the incident that Nana Patekar behaved inappropriately while filming a song sequence and later sent goons after her when she rejected his advances. CINTAA general secretary Sushant Singh has acknowledged that “CINTAA went back to old records and realised that while it got the producers to settle the monetary damages Tanushree suffered, her chief complaint of sexual harassment had been overlooked and the case had been closed.” It issued a statement: “After going through Tanushree Dutta’s complaint, which was filed in March 2008, we feel that the decision taken in the meeting of Joint Dispute Settlement Committee and Indian Film and TV Producers Council in July 2008 was not appropriate, as the chief grievance of sexual harassment wasn’t even addressed.”
Even without its acceptance, the allegation that has taken the US by storm proves that time does not erase the crime and even after 10 years later, it doesn’t dilute or nullify a factual, verified truth.
Before searching for answers to more questions it is pertinent to understand that Mumbai Film industry may have associations like CINTAA with some legal sanctity but what drives the industry is the two powerful paty’s Cine Wing – Shiv Sena and MNS. So in last three years CINTAA received no more than five cases, and “we don’t receive any complaints against powerful names” says CINTAA. The goons belonged to which party was not clear but her car was vandalized and chased is a fact. It is not a secret in Mumbai that many casting directors openly flaunt the Party and threaten the actresses.
Secondly, Bollywood is dominated by family and personal connections unlike in Hollywood, where actors can come up through the ranks via a more formal process involving film schools, auditions and theatre. In Mumbai film roles are more often given to those with the right connections, family friend’s son or daughter and that leaves plenty of room for the abuse of power. All newcomers will occasionally be asked: “Are you willing to compromise?” For newcomers with no surefire connections, the route to stardom has long involved submitting to expectations of sex. Even for male actors such incidents are common. With many established names openly flaunting their sexual preferences, at times one wonders, whether Bollywood community consists of more straight or more gay/lesbians in its fold.
Tanushree’s sharing her story is going to have a lasting impact, only if more people who are in some kind of authority, come forward. Thousands of girls of this country who wish to be a part of the film industry owe Tanushree a debt of gratitude. Besides, she has opened up space for hundreds of thousands of others to tell stories that need to be told because sexual assault thrives on the silence of its victims. People belonging to the film fraternity have a collective responsibility to listen and seek justice.
However, the end result is this: People who are in power to control have started commenting – women who come forward have a hidden agenda, they are not to be trusted, they are hungry for publicity, they have an insatiable thirst for revenge, their confused little brains are unreliable. Those who have never faced such situations, coming from a film family, are justifying: “What she speaks about is definitely the reality but I wouldn’t say it’s restricted to our industry. I think it’s pretty much a concern all over. Rape and sexual misconduct are rampant in India.” The common three words “such things happen”.
I was amused and felt ashamed of all those news editors who decided to publish a picture where members of MNS are ‘submitting’ a threatening letter – of violence if Dutta enters the Bigg Boss house. If a political outfit is successful in such arm twisting then the harm will come only to the person it is supposedly supporting. Nana Patekar must have his own version and justifiably his version should be heard. Not this way, certainly. Everytime something like this happens we tend to think ‘whether we really live in a democractic country where law rules supreme for all the citizens’. Let this episode has its own logical conclusion. But the big picture is this has presented a chance for the industry to introspect.
The actress has also received legal notices so the whole issue will be subjudice within a day or two and media will also close its eyes. But the statement issued by the actress must go on record, and here I quote: “This is the price you pay for speaking out against harassment, humiliation and injustice in India.….I’m being threatened to be dragged into the court and legal system of India which we all know can keep a woman and her supporters as well as media silent on the pretext of “matter sub-judice” but can also further be used to harass her and drain her out financially. ‘Tareek pe tareek’ and the dawn of justice never arrives and her whole life goes waste awaiting justice while witnesses are intimidated, discredited or simply drained of their will to stand up… Court cases can run for decades without a hope for a conclusion. At the end an empty shell remains, broken hopes, A life wasted, defeated. This is the age-old saga of survivors in our nation. I walked away once from the same environment that was created for me 10 years ago… Found God, found my healing, found my peace and a new life in the United States of America. And now I stand to lose this new life too if I allow myself to get embroiled in the court system of India. And you wanted to know why the #MeToo movement hasn’t happened in India…This is why…”
Tanushree Dutta must be congratulated since she has taken the courage to shake the very core of this cine-crazy nation.
RIP #MeToo movement in India