#MeToo: Women journalists, writers in India name sexual harassers

Scores of personal accounts of anger and guilt, buried under years of silence, emerged this week.

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    India's #MeToo movement started last year with a US-based student publishing a list of harassers on Facebook [Issei Kato/Reuters]
    India's #MeToo movement started last year with a US-based student publishing a list of harassers on Facebook [Issei Kato/Reuters]

    New Delhi, India - Accusations of sexual assault have spread across India's social media as the #MeToo movement took aim at prominent journalists, writers, editors and a comedian.

    Scores of women, many journalists, came out this week with accounts of sexual harassment from colleagues and editors, accusing them of indecent remarks, unwanted touches, demands for sex, and the dissemination of pornography.

    Many personal stories of anger and guilt, buried under years of silence, emerged after journalist Sandhya Menon recounted the sexual harassment she allegedly faced from two senior editors, KR Sreenivas and Gautam Adhikari.

    Sonora Jha, who now teaches journalism at Seattle University in the United States, said she was also assaulted by Adhikari in 1995.

    "Two months after I had my baby, Adhikari, then the executive editor of the Times of India, visited our Bangalore office. He said I should come to his hotel room to discuss flexible work hours if I would like that," Jha told Al Jazeera.

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    "After I got there, he told me to relax, put my feet up, and lie down. I refused. He grabbed my face and forced a kiss on me, pushing his tongue into my mouth, trying to push me on his bed. I pushed him away and rushed out of the door," she said.

    Jha said as a 27-year-old then, she felt "shaken and uncertain of future", but didn't want to be known as "that woman who accused the TOI boss". With a baby to look after, she decided not to pursue the case legally.

    Multiple accounts

    Last month, Bollywood actress and former Miss India Tanushree Dutta alleged renowned actor Nana Patekar harassed her on the sets of a film in 2008.

    The new wave of accounts started to surface on Thursday with a writer accusing well-known comic and YouTube star, Utsav Chakraborty, of sexual misconduct.

    Mumbai police asked the woman to file a complaint.

    AIB, a prominent stand-up comedy group, apologised in an online statement for not taking action against Utsav, their former employee.

    Utsav has since apologised.

    Many other senior journalists and writers, including KR Sreenivas, Kiran Nagarkar, and CP Surendran, were embroiled in separate accusations of sexual misconduct.

    An unnamed woman said famous photographer Pablo Bartholomew harassed her when she met him for an interview as a young reporter. When she resisted his sexual advances, Bartholomew allegedly called her editor to say he did not have faith in her "ability to write an article about his work".

    Mayank Jain, principal correspondent at the Business Standard, was called out by reporter Anoo Bhuyan as a "sexual predator". Another journalist recounted a similar experience with Jain where he repeatedly suggested "taking a room".

    Business Standard has since announced an internal inquiry against Jain. Al Jazeera's emails to him went unanswered.

    Several women also posted details of Anurag Verma, a former editor at Huffington Post, asking women for nude pictures.

    On Saturday, Huffington Post published a statement saying they "do not condone such acts in any way".

    The allegations against powerful editors like Adhikari and Sreenivas prompted other women to accuse both of sexual harassment and forcible sexual advances.

    While Sreenivas told Al Jazeera an internal committee of the Times Group will investigate the charges and he "will submit to the investigation", he refused to answer further questions.

    Adhikari told Al Jazeera he "cannot recall the incidents from a long time ago that have been alleged".

    "If I have ever made a colleague uncomfortable in any manner, I would readily apologise but I did not sexually harass anyone," said Adhikari.

    Tip of the iceberg

    In 1997, the Supreme Court of India came out with the landmark Vishakha Guidelines, laying down norms to protect women from sexual harassment in workplaces.

    But there is neither data to test the efficacy of the Internal Complaints Committee nor is it known the number of complaints that have been lodged in Indian media outlets.

    Most women said they never reported their harassment, fearful of the impact on their careers. This suggests that the true scale of the problem is far greater than what is being reported.

    "There are female journalists out there in rural or semi-urban areas who might not have been able to leverage social media to tell their horror stories," said Shuma Raha, formerly senior journalist with the Times of India.

    In 2004-05, the Press Institute of India was commissioned by the National Commission for Women to do a study on the "Status of Women Journalists".

    Almost 100 women journalists, who joined the study, said they were sexually harassed by a male colleague, most holding a senior position.

    The aftermath of the outpouring of stories this week has been a cheering of female solidarity.

    "There's definitely a boys club in operation. This culture of silence and of male entitlement needs to end," said Raha.

    Some, like Neha Dixit, point to cultures of masculinity in Indian newsrooms that leaves the door open for sexual harassment of women.

    "This has firm roots in patriarchal and sexist structures. Here, for decades, there has been an understanding that using sexually explicit language or a certain kind of touch is OK," said Dixit, an independent journalist in New Delhi.

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    "Why are press bodies largely silent, why are they not calling for investigations? That's because top male editors are in charge at these bodies, as well," she adds.

    Most Indian newsrooms are headed by men, although there are many women in top positions at corporate-owned TV news channels now.

    India's #MeToo

    The global #MeToo movement was triggered by sexual misconduct and rape accusations by dozens of women against Hollywood power magnate Harvey Weinstein.

    The catalyst for an Indian #MeToo movement came in November last year when a US-based law student, Raya Sarkar, published a list on Facebook accusing more than 50 Indian professors of sexual harassment.

    Many like Jha are now hopeful that sexual abusers will not go unpunished.

    "The next generation of girls and women will have the language, the lenses and the love to push back, stand strong, and be believed," she said.

    Is #MeToo a West-only movement?

    UpFront

    Is #MeToo a West-only movement?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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