By: Rachel Hess Wachman (International News Correspondent)
In the past month, the #MeToo movement has sparked a series of allegations against Indian journalists, actors, and even a government minister, toppling men high up in the hierarchy.
#MeToo, a movement coined last year, has spread to India, where it has upheaved to the lives of men in every profession as women speak out against sexual harassment and assault. M. J. Akbar, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and a former newspaper editor, faces accusations by Priya Ramani, a columnist who worked under him. Ramani claims Akbar interviewed her for a job in his hotel room, rather than the lobby, and proceeded to make unwanted advances.
“There are more brave women now who are not scared to point out the monster in the suit. We’ll get you all one day,” Ramani wrote in a 2017 Vogue India article. She recently named him on Twitter, leading a slew of woman journalist to speak out about their own experiences regarding Akbar.
“He grabbed me right under my shoulders, on my arms, and pulled me in and kissed me on my mouth and forced his tongue into my mouth, and I just stood there,” said Majlie de Puy Kamp during an interview with the Huffington Post. She was an eighteen-year-old intern at the time, working at The Asian Age, a newspaper where Akbar was the editor.
“While I was half-squatting over the dictionary, he sneaked up behind me and held me by my waist. I stumbled in sheer fright while struggling to get to my feet. He ran his hands from my breast to my hips. I tried pushing his hands away, but they were plastered on my waist, his thumbs rubbing the sides of my breasts,” wrote Ghazala Wahab, a journalist who says Akbar repeatedly sexually harassed her while she, too, worked at The Asian Age.
Wahab recently published an article in The Wire detailing several incidents of molestation by Akbar. She says Akbar employed both physical and emotional harassment tactics for a six-month-long period, but Wahab didn’t want to quit her job because she’d worked so hard to build her career.
“I was determined not to be a victim and not let one monster’s debauchery ruin my career, even though occasionally I had nightmares,” wrote Wahab. “Maybe now the nightmares will stop.”
J. Akbar resigned as Indian Minister of State for External Affairs on October 17th. Akbar, denying all allegations of sexual assault, has filed a defamation suit against Priya Ramani, hiring ninety-seven lawyers to represent him. Yet women continue to stand up to Akbar.
“You still think it’s your right to take your pick of the bright professional young women who enter YOUR workspace,” wrote Ramani in her 2017 Vogue India article. She has received an outpouring of support from other female journalists and on social media.
Bollywood, too, is afire with sexual assault allegations as #MeToo takes the stage. Actress Tanushree Dutta, a former Miss India, accused actor Nana Patekar on Twitter of sexually harassing her during a 2008 movie filming. Dutta received backlash for not speaking up when the incident happened, yet the actress had filed a claim after the incident occurred, but the claim was not taken seriously, and no action ensued.
“My fight is not against Nana Patekar — of course, I would be happy if this exercise brings me justice — but my primary goal is to point out the hypocrisy and misogyny in the industry,” said Dutta in an interview with Indian Express. She says the incident made her fearful of film sets and resulted in her moving away from acting.
Patekar, who left the filming of “Housefull 4” in light of Dutta’s allegations, has hurled a legal notice at Dutta and demanded a written apology.
Four women have alleged sexual assault against Vikas Bahl, leading to the closing of Phantom Films, an Indian film production house. One victim, who worked at the company, alleges that Bahl, one of the four co-founders, shoved his hand inside her dress and proceeded to masturbate on her. In 2015, she spoke to Anurag Kashyap, another co-founder, about the incident, but Kashyap let the issue drop because the company was on the verge of a huge film release.
“Whatever happened was wrong. We didn’t handle it well, we failed. I cannot blame anyone but myself,” said Kashyap in an interview with Huffpost India. Vikas Bahl is entrenched in legal suits surrounding the dissolution of Phantom Films and the sexual assault allegations he faces.
“Speaking up against you still carries a heavy price that many young women cannot afford to pay,” wrote Priya Ramani about Akbar. Scores of women have come forward with stories similar to hers, yet for every woman who raises her voice, there is another woman who feels unable to. But despite the risks, women are taking a stand, changing the world with their words. These women, raising their voices despite the risks, will no longer allow themselves to be staunched by the men who hold the power.