In 2008, when actor Tanushree Dutta accused veteran actor Nana Patekar of harassment on the sets of a movie, few people took her seriously. Her complaint to the Cine And TV Artists’ Association, or CINTAA, fell on deaf ears.
The news made no impact, and there was little outrage. There was little support from peers and on the social media, which was not as powerful in India then as it is now.
Tanushree soon left the industry, and India. When she brought up the same charges 10 years later, however, she found people listening to her and take note. It seemed her interview to a TV channel last month, in which she reiterated her accusations against Nana with an unchanged version, gave women the voice they needed to speak up, and soon women all over the country started sharing their harassment stories on social media.
Women journalists, writers, and actors, women from diverse fields came forward with shocking tales of abuse of power and sexual misconduct at the hands of some of the most influential males of the country.
Author Chetan Bhagat, actors Alok Nath, Rajat Kapoor, director Vikas Bahl, former journalist and current Union minister MJ Akbar are among big names that have come up so far — all accused of sexual harassment.
With more and more women choosing not to remain silent anymore and keep their stories hidden, it is finally right to assume that the #MeToo movement has arrived in India.
#MeToo movement: How it started
It all started about a year ago, when Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, journalists with The New York Times, broke the now well-known story of sexual scandals involving film producer Harvey Weinstein.
They went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for 2018 for their story. On October 15, 2017, #MeToo was popularised by actor Alyssa Milano in an attempt to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.
However, the expression of “MeToo” had been coined by Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist who is the senior director of ‘Girls for Gender Equity’ in Brooklyn.
The phrase was coined on her ‘My Space’ page while she was working at “Just Be Inc”, a non-profit company that she founded. The ‘Me Too’ movement was started by Burke, in 2006, to help all sexual assault survivors, especially the women of colour.
A three-time sexual abuse survivor herself, Burke was left searching for right words when she was talking to a girl who revealed that her mother’s boyfriend was sexually abusing her. Since then, Burke has shared this message with survivors everywhere – “You are not alone, this happened to me too.”
In an interview to CNN, Tanara Burke had said, “On one side, it’s a bold declarative statement that ‘I’ am not ashamed’ and ‘I’ am not alone’. On the other side, it is a statement from a survivor to survivor that says ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I am here for you or I get it.”
In 2017, Tanara Burke, among some other female activists, was named “The Silence Breakers” by Time magazine.
#MeToo movement: Spreading out
Since then, #MeToo has become a symbol of women raising their voice against their oppressors.
Not just in English speaking countries, it is being used by women all over the world to share their stories of sexual harassment on social media.
#balancetonporc, which translates to “rat out your pig”, was used by French women to share their stories, while #quellavoltache (“that time that”) was being used by Italians and #Yotambien by Spanish women.
In India, #MeToo movement came almost a year late. However, it is gaining momentum fast, and women now know they can and should speak up.
The #MeTooIndia movement outing the predators who were till now enjoying immunity due to their power and position gives a welcoming signal. The widespread reach of social media has helped people discuss these stories.
Pressure is building up for MJ Akbar’s resignation, Nana Patekar and Sajid Khan have stepped out of a movie, comedy collective AIB has been dropped by Hotstar and has lost deals worth crores over allegations of sexual misconduct.
This conversation was long overdue. It is happening and happening in full force.
All hopes are now pinned on this movement — started by urban, “elite and privileged”, women — to give women in smaller cities and rural areas the voice they need to speak out and not suffer in silence.