A 4-tier formula for curbing #MeToo complaints

15 Oct,2018


By Indrani Sen


A lot has happened during the last couple of weeks after the #MeToo movement started in India. I was holidaying among the tranquil hills in Himachal, blessed often by connectivity problems and it took me a while to catch up with the tide of events on my return to the plains. This website www.mxmindia.com has been most vociferous in supporting the #MeToo movement since its floodgates opened in India. Ranjona Banerji has posted three articles on the issue within a week, “Stop the silence about Sexual Abuse” on October 5, “Speak up and support” on October 9 and “All sexual assault is assault. And it needs to be condemned and action taken” on October 12.  Sanjeev Kotnala wrote on October 9 “Are you too guilty of silence?” and proposed #MeTooGuilityofSilence and #NotMe after evaluating your own behaviour. Shailesh Kapoor wrote “Time for men to shut up and listen” on October 12.

I wholeheartedly support the views expressed by the three fellow-columnists. Banerji has done a great job and I am sure she will continue to fight for the cause till the industry leaders come up with a tangible solution. I doubt if Indian men will respond to the excellent suggestions made by Kotnala. There has always been a strong sense of belonging to the “Boys’ Club” among male executives across industries, so those who are not guilty of sexual harassment would hesitate to openly condemn the guilty boy and throw him out of their club. Kapoor’s call to men asking them to shut up and listen is most appropriate and we can only hope that out of the silence some sense and sensibility will emerge.

I personally do not have any #MeToo stories to relate, but during my time in the industry I did witness some incidents where I always counselled the victim and tried to either speak to the predator or his boss which ever seemed to be suitable under specific circumstances.  In the process, I often picked up fights which definitely were not my own, but never baulked or regretted my actions. Recently a friend shared with me a column by writer Geetanjali Arora  on the issue. While I do not agree with all her views, I would like to quote a line which reflects my own belief “The Shakti does not wait for a later date to speak up; she silences the evil on the spot…”

Women of the industry are lending all their support to the cause. Network of Women in Media in India (www.nwmindia.org ) is giving wide coverage to the issue and extending a helping hand to all women journalists.  A number of senior women executives of Indian Advertising issued an open letter to all ladies working in advertising on 10th October through Economic Times’ Brand equity https://brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/advertising/dear-ladies-this-open-letter-from-senior-ad-women-is-all-about-hope/66150679 which was subsequently carried by all social media networks. Brand Equity followed up with an article assessing and reporting on the effects of the #MeToo movement and the reactions of different advertising and media agencies on 12th October https://brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/advertising/metoo-times-up-for-indias-mad-men/66134945.

So, where do we go from here? Will the exposures through #MeToo campaign stop the menace of sexual harassment in workplace from now on? Can we be assured that work places would be safe for all young girls aspiring for a career in Media and Communication Industry in India? Can we promise them that they would not be haunted any more by any male predator in their workplaces? No, it is not going to be so simple. There will be a lull following this social media storm, but the roots of the problem would stay buried under the debris of the scandals and unwanted mushrooms of sexual harassments will spring up in future. What we need is a continuous solution, an internal forum to address such complains and to take actions against the guilty men in order to assure the safety of our women at work places in media and communication industry.

Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has been talking about a committee of judges to address sexual harassment issues but most victims in our industry would hesitate to get involved in such a complicated long drawn affair. I suggest a “four-tier formula” for addressing the issues of sexual harassment in workplaces in Media & Communication Industry. Firstly, our Industry bodies need to ensure that all their members adopt the “Vishakha Guidelines 1997”and the subsequent “Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013”. Secondly,  all organisations must make it mandatory to mention in their appointment letter their policy for prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace and the consequences of such behaviour. Thirdly, there should be a dictate issued by industry bodies to all member organisations for conducting  workshops for all employees on the above Act from time to time and discuss the issues openly, a move that Hindustan Times has taken already as reported in exchange4media last week https://www.exchange4media.com/media-print-news/metoo-hindustan-times-to-organise-mandatory-workshops-for-employees-92499.html.  We can hope that these workshops will encourage women to report immediately about any sexual harassment which they may be subjected to in the workplaces. Fourthly, each member organisation should have a high level internal committee for looking into such complaints of sexual harassments by their employees. All such committees should have representation of women and in case the organisation does not have a suitable senior woman to take up the responsibility, they should invite senior industry ladies as honorary members of the internal committees. The committee would review the complaints and take suitable actions against their male employees if found guilty of any misconduct.

We can hope that if such a four-tiered formula can be implemented in our media and communication industry, then we will be able to provide a safe working environment to all our women employees in future.



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