#MeToo India: A Year Later…

15 Nov,2019

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

It’s been a little over one year since the #MeToo movement erupted in India. Tanushree Dutta’s accusations against co-star Nana Patekar triggered off a chain reaction, whereby several women, including many in the media and entertainment business, came out with their accounts, some anonymous, accusing co-workers of sexual harassment.

 

Fourteen months is a long-enough time period to look back and wonder: Did the #MeToo movement really change things for the good? The answer is not very encouraging. The #MeToo movement in India has fizzled out spectacularly, with no major signs of any fundamental shifts in the thought process. Yes, it provoked many organisations into putting more robust sexual harassment policies in place, and may have sensitised many working men about how they should treat women co-workers. But a lot of these ‘changes’ were perhaps borne out of fear – the fear of being caught on the wrong foot, the fear of losing one’s career, or the fear of bad PR for a corporate.

 

The real test of the movement’s success or failure can be judged through the current career status of those accused in it. If we focus specifically on the entertainment business, the accused in the corporate sector lost their job, and many of them have since been marginalised. But if you look at actors and directors, the picture is a more mixed one. Alok Nath had a film release earlier this year and director Vikas Bahl’s Super 30 released with him getting the director’s credit (the very well-made film went on to do good business too). Sajid Khan, one of the most prolific offenders, has not managed to restart his career, and that’s something even those indifferent to the #MeToo movement will be happy about, given the quality of his last few films.

 

But the biggest and the most darning evidence that the movement is all but history is the re-establishment of Anu Malik as a judge on Indian Idol. The music composer was removed midway in the last season when accusations against him surfaced, to be replaced by Javed Ali. But in this season, he has been a part of the show right from the start, as if nothing really happened last year. Interestingly, he shares a platform there with Vishal Dadlani, a strong voice on social media on a wide range of social topics, including gender equality.

 

That Sony would actually go with Malik this season amazed me no ends. He was eminently dispensable. The show does not rely on any one judge, and Malik, in any case, has a jaded imagery by now. It’s not like he’s the Amitabh Bachchan on whose shoulders a big show like KBC firmly rests. Keeping Malik away from Indian Idol would have simply been good optics. But Sony, I think, have chosen to take a legal position than a socio-cultural and ethical one, and reinstated Malik. There has been a social media backlash, but it’s not of a proportion that cannot be managed.

 

It’s unfair to call out Malik and Sony, because the decision is symptomatic of the larger concern on how #MeToo was more of a fad than a real change. And hence, we can expect more men accused in the movement last year to slowly get ‘rehabilitated’ over the coming months.

 

Do we need #MeToo Season 2 to take forward the unfinished job in changing mindsets? Perhaps yes.

 

 

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