#MeToo shakes entertainment, political, media world in India
12:00 AM, October 15, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:09 PM, October 15, 2018

#MeToo shakes entertainment, political, media world in India

A year after the fall of US movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a flurry of allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior has shaken the Indian media and entertainment industries as the #MeToo movement finally beginning to take shape in the world's largest democracy.

The ongoing public naming and shaming have revolved around incidents ranging from lewd behavior, suggestive text messages and, in some cases, clear instances of sexual abuse.

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In one high profile case, a Bollywood production house has been dissolved following sexual harassment allegations against one of its co-founders.

A leading comedy outfit popular with Indian millennials was also shaken when a comedian it worked with faced harassment allegations, while in the media industry, allegations of inappropriate behavior saw a prominent Delhi-based political journalist lose his position pending an internal investigation, according to reports.

Allegations have also been leveled against a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

Even Rahul Johri, CEO of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), was named in an account shared by Indian author Harnidh Kaur on Twitter. The unidentified woman accused Johri of assaulting her at his home, while he was working with a different organization, reported AFP yesterday.

The movement appears to have been prompted by allegations late last month by former Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta, who spoke publicly about being a victim of assault allegedly at the hands of a former co-star in 2008.

"He was grabbing me by the arms, pushing me around, then he would ask the choreographers to move and teach me how to dance and the next thing I know he wanted to do an intimate sequence with me. It was ridiculous," Dutta told CNN affiliate News18 about her experience when she worked with veteran actor Nana Patekar.

Speaking to reporters at a hastily arranged news conference on Monday in Mumbai, Patekar dismissed questions, saying, "My lawyers have told me not to speak to the media so I can't say anything. Otherwise, I would have said something in the past four days. This case is ten years old, what was true then is true today."

Dutta's allegations prompted support from numerous leading industry figures, including "Quantico" star Priyanka Chopra, who tweeted agreeing with another actor, Farhan Akhtar, that "the world needs to #BelieveSurvivors."

In the days since, numerous women from all walks of life have taken to social media to narrate their experiences of assault or inappropriate behavior at the hands of prominent Indian men.

"The stories are there so people can be safe," said Sheena Dabholkar, a writer and journalist who has been curating a feed of incidents on Twitter and naming those involved through messages that women have sent her directly.

"People worldwide have issues with boundaries and consent. Even recognising discomfort in people and unwelcome behavior. I want to create an understanding of what people find acceptable and to create a conversation," Dabholkar told CNN.

Many of the allegations have resulted in immediate consequences.

On October 6, news broke that Phantom Films, the Bollywood studio responsible for Netflix's first original series from India, was to fold.

The announcement, made on Twitter by one of the studio's co-founders and prominent Bollywood director Anurag Kashyap, came after HuffPost India published a story in which a former female employee accused Vikas Bahl, another co-founder and director, of harassment.

In the HuffPost piece, the former female employee accused Bahl of masturbating on her without consent after pretending to pass out on her bed.

The alleged incident took place in May 2015. In October that year, she said she shared her experience with Kashyap but nothing was done and she resigned.

Away from Bollywood, the country's political and media industries have also come under scrutiny, with female journalists sharing incidents of sexual harassment.

The most prominent person to be named so far is MJ Akbar, a former prominent journalist and currently a junior foreign minister in Modi's government.

In an article written for Vogue India in 2017, journalist Priya Ramani described an experience of workplace harassment that happened while during a job interview in a Mumbai hotel room.

Ramani did not name the individual in the original account. However, on October 1, taking to Twitter, she identified the man as Akbar.

"Turns out you were as talented a predator as you were a writer. It was more date, less interview," Ramani said of the encounter in her piece, which she claims took place when "I was 23, you were 43."

On Tuesday, the Indian newspaper, The Telegraph, ran a story on the allegations against Akbar, its founding editor, under the headline "#MeToo finger at Union minister."

Breaking his silence, M J Akbar yesterday (October 14) termed as “false and fabricated” the charges of sexual harassment against him and threatened to take legal action in the matter, reported our New Delhi correspondent.

"Allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated. These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation," he said in a statement soon after returning home from a foreign tour.

Nearly a dozen women came out with detailed accounts of Akbar' alleged sexual misconduct as part of the snowballing #MeToo movement in India.

67-year-old Akbar said his lawyers will look into these "wild and baseless" allegations and take appropriate action. He asked why this storm has risen a few months before general election.

The women who accused Akbar of sexual harassment are mostly journalists who had worked with him or appeared before him for job interviews.

Meanwhile, on October 8, Prashant Jha, political editor of the leading Hindustan Times daily, stepped down from his post after accusations of sexual harassment surfaced on Twitter, CNN affiliate News18 reported. Avantika Mehta, a former co-worker, said Jha had pursued her even though she turned down his advances.

The weeks ahead will indicate whether India's Me Too movement can maintain its momentum and what kind of action will be taken, especially against those in significant positions of power.

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