A few weeks ago, social media was abuzz with the tiff between Karan Johar and Kangana Ranaut after the latter's appearance on the former’s weekly talk show, Koffee with Karan. Kangana blatantly accused Karan of nepotism after which he came back with replies such as Kangana playing a ‘woman’ card and a ‘victim’ card.
Last Sunday, there was a blog on Medium by an anonymous blogger by the name of Indian Fowler that went online. This blog was about the purported ‘abuse and molestation’ by Arunabh Kumar, founder of Indian production house The Viral Fever, popularly abbreviated as TVF.
The similarity between these two incidents is the constant assault faced by women in entertainment business. On one hand, we have a woman (Kangana) from the outgroup, making it to the top and is being subjected to sexism, and on the other, we have a man (Arunabh) who is also from the outgroup, making it big and then subjecting other women to sexist oppression and harassment. Either way, we observe that the woman is at the receiving end of harassment.
On Koffee with Karan, in an episode where Bollywood actresses Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma made an appearance, Anushka accused Karan of touching her inappropriately while shooting for a film together. Similarly, the blogger by the name of India Fowler did the same after which a lot of other women came forward and complained about the TVF Founder. There seems to be new wave of raised consciousness among the urban janta that lives digitally-mediated lives. People are now also concerned about the complaints committee at workplaces mandated under The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013. .
While the noise around Karan Johar has died down by the news of the birth of his twins, TVF seems to be doing a shoddy job at damage control. TVF has come back with its own public statement, denying any allegation of any impropriety and questioning the intentions of the purported whistleblower; they have however failed to answer if their organisation has any internal complaints committee as is envisioned in Section 4 of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013.
This brings us to yet another question, which is how many organisations in India actually have an Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) in place, including film studios. Even though the act mandates that all organisations with more than 10 members have an ICC, the Hon’ble Minister of Women and Child Development Ms. Maneka Gandhi made the shocking revelation that private organisations are refusing to disclose to the Ministry the status of their ICCs. This prompted the Hon’ble Minister to ask for immediate disclosure of such information. This was condemned as being harassment to companies by the Minister of Corporate Affairs, Mr. Arun Jaitley. This stand was immediately questioned by Ms. Gandhi. But these sequence of events disclose a deep seated bias against the very idea of recognising sexual harassment at the modern day sanitised workspace. While the desire of companies to shy away from providing sexual harassment complaint mechanisms may have received an impetus by the statement of Mr. Jaitley, it is because of the counter offensive nature of the retort that comes from such companies that we must ensure that they are strictly following the Act.
These modern day workplaces are categorised by a highly competitive and result-driven work environment. Employees are at the mercy of the management and the very idea of making unions or asking for collective bargaining are unheard of. In such a scenario one can only imagine the plight of a young woman, who is possibly starting her career and has to face sexual harassment at her workplace by a colleague or senior employee and who cannot raise her voice without the fear of being tagged a trouble maker. There being no ICC or union to protect her causes the employee to be forced to face the harassment till she is compelled to leave. And that is what this blog post is all about: a woman who was possibly harassed and had nowhere else to go venting her ordeal on the internet. And before the TVF team and the likes of Karan Johar come after her (and her like) and others supporting her, let them show the presence of an ICC in their offices.
What comes as a greater shock is the number of women who have since this post opened up about their own stories of harassment at the TVF office, and these women have chosen to not be anonymous. This shows a disturbing trend not only in the offices of TVF where female employees had to leave because of sexual harassment, but also that they had either no knowledge or no faith to approach appropriate authorities (either within or outside the organization) to seek redressal of their grievance and have only chosen to speak up after someone else blew the whistle.
But while we talk about these women like Kangana and Indian Fowler who had an access to platforms where they could talk about their horrible experiences, what about women who are lesser privileged than the ones who live digitally-mediated lives? This is particularly the case with women working in the informal sector who have little to no recourse when it comes to sexual harassment (Raychaudhuri, 2015). How many of us are talking about those women who are in the informal sector, like women working on construction sites or sanitation workers? How many of us are aware whether the Local Complaints Committee is in place in your constituency to safeguard not just your rights but to safeguard the rights of the ones who are working for you. And while it is easy to externalise the issue of harassment of women to the offices of TVF, we need to answer similar questions closer home.
Sumati Thusoo & Kartikeya Bahadur