He Said. She Said. She Said. She Said. She Said.
We as a society do not listen to women or believe the statements of survivors. This needs to change. NOW.
There was a huge ad in the New York Times paid for by 1,600 men. The ad said “We believe Anita Hill. We also believe Christine Blasey Ford.”
The latter has accused American judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault and the former had accused another American judge way back in 1991. In both cases, the survivors were treated more as the accused should have, a terrifying habit in societies across the world.
Here at home, Tanushree Dutta has come out and alleged that Bollywood actor Nana Patekar sexually harassed her and called goons to threaten her when she resisted. One journalist has come forward and verified Tanushree’s account. Bollywood has been predictably silent. Twitter is raging a bit, there is very little on the news, and by tomorrow we’ll all find something else to get angry about.
In the case of both Kavanaugh and Nana Patekar, the survivors spoke out years after the alleged incident took place.
And in both cases, the survivors’ allegations are not in the least diluted because of the years gone by. Because as Padma Lakshmi put it, “the victim lives with it always”.
The preliminary results from a Global Sexual Violence Victimization Survey found that an overwhelming 60 percent of women don’t tell anyone including cops about the assault. 60 percent don’t tell. Why do women often not report or speak up after sexual harassment or rape? It is so simple. Playing on power, the perpetrator has already established himself as superior, capable of intimidation and threat. In most cases, those who rape or sexually harass are men who are more powerful than their victims.
And then there is society. Rules made by men, for men.
Dr Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the US Senate Judiciary Committee and said, “I am here today not because I want to be — I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me. It is terrifying and we as a society don’t listen to women.”
Sexual harassment and intimidation is not exclusive to Bollywood, it is all pervasive, in every industry, at every level. But Bollywood, like Hollywood has the power to influence and change perceptions. Also, it is important to acknowledge that challenging the status quo is not easy. It is not impossible either. Hollywood took a long time to start the Me Too movement. And it first and foremost took the courage of a lot of women speaking up and supporting each other. It would be great if Bollywood takes the lead, but we should not be waiting for them anymore than waiting for our male-dominated society to have a change of heart. Women need to start supporting women now, especially those who don’t have the means and the voice to wage a fight against their perpetrators. Find organisations that help women who’ve faced violence and sexual aggression and be vocal in your support. Start mobilising on social media, talk about it every single day. Don’t wait for a high profile case to pop up in the media, talk about it everyday. Call out when you see something is wrong, whether it is on your way to work, at work, or at home. Don’t be shy, find the courage to stand up for what’s wrong.
It took an army of women to bring down Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Why wait for Bollywood to speak up? If you believe Tanushree Dutta or any other woman who has alleged sexual misconduct, stand up and support her, till she gets justice.
And our equal halves, men, we need your support and belief too. Don’t be so quick to laugh at or dismiss the smallest misconduct. Don’t try to settle a “misunderstanding”, like the producer, choreographer labelled Tanushree Dutta’s reaction to Nana Patekar.
Every little gesture, attempt to empathise and understand counts and the battle is only half won without your support. The time has come to stop playing the sidelines and faking outrage when convenient. Stand with women proudly and be the generation that ushers in change.
And if you don’t believe you need to act now, a woman in India is raped every 20 minutes. There are actors, domestic servants, factory workers, women farmers, journalists, lawyers, professors, teachers, engineers, businesswomen, women who stay at home, girls who go to school, girls who don’t go to school, girls as young as 4 years old and infants - all at the risk of and several facing sexual violence. That is trampling on our fundamental right to live with dignity. There are no more excuses and no bigger stories to tell. Speak up and stand with her, because she said.
Helplines for Sexual Abuse
(Padmini Vaidyanathan is a strategic communications professional. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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