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Being Neutral Is Choosing a Side: Politics of Silence in Bollywood

‘The question is beyond right and wrong. Why can’t we at least say, let’s investigate?’ asks Kanika Dhillion.

Updated
Entertainment
4 min read
Screenwriter Kanika Dhillon speaks about Bollywood’s silence over Tanushree Dutta’s sexual harassment claims. 
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At the outset I want to go beyond the Tanushree Dutta – Nana Patekar controversy and talk about the power that ‘WE’ the bystanders hold in these situations. Be it as colleagues in a workplace or as members of a society at large.

POWER. The act of abstaining from doing something when you can is power. Be it aiding, abetting, or condemning an act or a thought process.

In our country, sexual assault allegations are met with silence. Not created in a vacuum but created by misusing our power, by remaining silent. And unfortunately, it becomes the biggest weapon for a sexual predator - protecting them from detection and prosecution.

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Bollywood as a work place is so cocooned in this wall of silence, and is so tolerant towards sexual harassment that it never talks about it. Like it does not exist. The latest case in point is Tanushree Dutta. She has accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment and intimidation. As per her account, once she reported the act, her producer and director harassed her further. Barring a few voices in Tanushree Dutta’s support - she has been met with ridicule, with people questioning her intent, and a deafening silence. Active measures to promote silence continue today, including, attempts to undermine victims and those who report their abuse.

Why should we jump into this? ‘Let the investigation take its due course.’ ‘I want to stay away from it.’ ‘Who wants to get into this mess?’ ‘What if she is doing it for publicity?’ ‘He is such a senior veteran actor’… all relevant thoughts.

And all good enough to make you keep quiet.

The question is beyond right and wrong. The question is – why can’t we at least talk about it? Why can’t we say, let’s investigate – but put a message out there that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

And then if you were to ask me, ‘What difference does one statement make anyway?’ I’d say, it just tells the world where you stand.

Do you stand for tolerance of such acts – complicit in the culture of silence? Or will you protest? Will you make it absolutely clear that you don't stand for a workplace that does not offer dignity and safety to its women?

It is not just about accusing Nana Patekar, or stating he is guilty or innocent. The point here is – LET’S TALK. Create a noise that carries a message loud and clear; that we have zero tolerance towards these acts. And when we make that noise, we put the onus on the offender to defend himself and not the victim.

And each one of us, in Bollywood, or outside of Bollywood, has the power to do so.

Another important question I ask myself – what about the women in Bollywood? Where are these strong independent voices? Instead of looking for validation from men in our work places, to condemn or speak out, we need to find OUR voices first.

If we stay silent, we are enablers of these crimes, and we fail past and future victims all at once. That’s the kind of power our silence has.

There are always two sides to a story. One is the Hunter’s side and the other, the hunted. The Hunter would say, ‘The women should remain silent. They should feel ashamed and awkward in talking about sexual offences’. And behind this wall of silence the crimes will be invisible. Let’s not follow their story.

Let’s tell the story of the hunted, where women will commit to using their voices. Whenever and wherever this happens we will TALK. Create NOISE. We will start a dialogue, we will condemn, and we will put pressure for swift investigation. And if found guilty we will not allow them to function in our work or personal spaces. Remember Suffragette did not happen in silence. Or with a few voices... the women created a noise, a storm - and fought for the right to vote. And won!

In this particular case a few strong female voices have come forward. Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut, Sonam Kapoor, Raveena Tandon, Twinkle Khanna and a few others, but these are not enough. Majority of us are guilty for building this wall of silence.

Each one of us working in this Industry or outside, whenever such crimes are reported - has the power to NOT be silent. We have the power to choose our narratives and if we chose silence, perhaps we should not be forgiven. We should acknowledge our role in this conspiracy of silence-building.

Because there is no space for ‘neutral’ in this politics of sexual harassment…by staying quiet, unfortunately, you have chosen a side. And now make peace with it.

But in that peace and ‘quiet’, remember you are guilty for narrating the story of the Hunter. For in your silence, you chose the hunter over the hunted.

(Kanika Dhillon is an author and screenwriter. This is an opinion piece. Views expressed in the article are that of the author’s own. The Quint does not advocate nor is responsible for them )

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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