Why I’m Making India’s First Docu on Workplace Sexual Harassment

The content often wears me down, but I have a responsibility bigger than the price I’m paying for my mental health.

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Vaishnavi is making India’s first feature length documentary on workplace sexual harassment.
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The thing is, it’s PATRIARCHY that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted to certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. FEMINISM holds that men are capable of more –and are more than that.
Susan Brownmiller

As I reel myself out of a “never again” relapse for the millionth time since December 2016, I sit in front of my computer listening to logs of women as they recall the abuse they faced at the hands of men.

I am an independent filmmaker and an activist.
I am an independent filmmaker and an activist.
(Photo Courtesy: Vaishnavi Sundar)

Not a very reassuring way to snap out of a relapse, I know – but if you have a few minutes to spare, hear me out as I tell you why.

I am an independent filmmaker and an activist, and unbeknownst to me, I seem to have taken up a gargantuan project as my fifth film – India’s first feature length documentary on workplace sexual harassment, a project I have been working on for more than a year.

You can watch the trailer of my film here:

The Cost of Empowerment & the Women Who Pay the Price

In the process of making this film, I find myself travelling between polar emotions of anger, joy, rage – and at times, get sickeningly sad, on a daily basis. No, this isn’t just because we live in a pathetic world where the notion of equality is so far removed from mainstream conversation. This is also not because the first attempt a woman makes to demand her rights, men crawl out of their hibernation to cry fowl – but because for the first time, universally, women have decided to stop dancing to the tunes played by patriarchy, and much to the society’s disapproval, have decided to break free.

Does workplace sexual harassment operate in isolation? Do misogynistic men who abuse women at home and in the streets suddenly become perfectly respectable men at workplaces? Obviously they don’t – in fact, the indictment of hierarchy makes it far easier for men to be predators at workplaces.

Does workplace sexual harassment operate in isolation?
Does workplace sexual harassment operate in isolation?
(Photo Courtesy: Vaishnavi Sundar)

So, how can workplace abuse and violence be looked at as a problem removed from the overarching patriarchy in our society? That’s why the problem of tackling this ginormous issue needs all the care and intelligence – something I can’t do by myself.

We are a team that comprises an all-woman crew, and we have interviewed over 30 people from all over the country, and across (types of) industries. I think I can safely say that in the history of women voicing out against discrimination, this is probably the first time such stories are surfacing with an unabashed vigour.
The Act came after nearly 20 years of struggle since Vishakha.
The Act came after nearly 20 years of struggle since Vishakha.
(Photo Courtesy: Vaishnavi Sundar)

I am not dwelling on the precarious lives these women live and the urgency of retribution, because the obviousness of it is an understatement. What I do intend to dwell on, is calling out an amendment that claims to protect these women against sexual abuse and violence.

Hours of Footage of Misery, Camaraderie and Grit

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 came after nearly 20 years of struggle since Vishakha – and a century of fight for women’s rights – something that claims to provide a solution for the spectrum of workplaces in the country, and herein lies the issue.

Have you ever wondered how the women selling fruits in street corners deal with sexual harassment? It surely is her workplace – whether she likes it or not? The educated, highly powerful men in multinational companies aren’t able to keep in their pants and leave the women alone; history is proof that they can’t!
A photo of the author/filmmaker.
A photo of the author/filmmaker.
(Photo Courtesy: Vaishnavi Sundar)

So can one Act tackle issues faced by a street vendor and a corporate CEO alike? You’d think not – but then, how many of us are actually concerned enough to do anything about it? My previous organisations certainly did not – and now that I am a freelancer, it makes matters worse.

I have completed filming the interviews; some of them have spoken for four hours straight, and I am left with hours of footage of misery, camaraderie and grit – a strange concoction, right?

And despite my best efforts, the content wears me down. I want to just curl up in my bed at the hostility and futility of the situation – but I have a responsibility far bigger than the price I am paying right now for my mental health. Though I know my efforts today are not going to bring about immediate changes, with your help, the next generation or the one after that won’t have to live in a world of rapes, misogyny and rampant sexism, but in a world where equality and empowerment needn’t be fought for.
With your help, the next generation won’t have to live in a world of rapes, misogyny and sexism.
With your help, the next generation won’t have to live in a world of rapes, misogyny and sexism.
(Photo Courtesy: Vaishnavi Sundar)

To help me crowdfund this film, follow this link: bit.ly/bwwswfilm

To follow updates about the project, please visit: www.facebook.com/limesodafilms

(Vaishnavi is an odd mix of interests involving cinema, arts, writing & all things feminist.)

(Hey lady, what makes you laugh? Do you laugh at sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, or other 'sanskari' stereotypes? This Women's Day, join The Quint's Ab Laugh Naari campaign. Pick up that beer, say cheers, and send us  photographs or videos of you laughing out loud at buriladki@thequint.com.)

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