Sanjeev Kotnala: Sexual Harassment: We have a choice to make

07 Jul,2021

Sanjeev KotnalaBy Sanjeev Kotnala


Sexual harassment in advertising agencies. The subject raises its head again. I don’t think much has really changed in the Covid era. Like the coronavirus, the ways, the acts, the pressures, the levers most likely have mutated and morphed (would not like to say evolved) with time into new SoPs. However, I am no one to point a finger or single out advertising agencies. The truth, we all would know. It is omnipresent across corporate or public, metro or Tier-II-III, service or manufacturing, sports or entertainment.


Yes, we all get perturbed and sensitively troubled whenever we hear and read about it. Unfortunately, we have created a zone of comfort and have adapted to the realities. If I am clean and I am not the culprit, it is not happening to someone near and dear to me, then it is not my case to act.


This time for me, the thought started with @Ramkid retweeted @Tistathinks’s tweet with a quote: ‘This is a long, uncomfortable, gut-wrenching read. And that’s why it has to be read… if you are in advertising.’ led me to read the long and troubling account of sexual harassment in advertising agencies.


Tista Sen had tweeted, “I READ THIS AND THEN AGAIN AND AGAIN. If you are a woman in this industry, weep if you are our male ally, raise your voice. This is a US story. India will be a whole new book. Mad Men. Furious Women. – by Zoe.’


The article in reference is ‘Mad Men. Furious Women’, by Zoe. It says: “Far from dissipating over the last decade, misogyny in the ad industry has simply mutated into something insidious, invisible, lurking in the shadows. It’s time to fire up the floodlights.”


It made me rescan my corporate life. Made me look at various instances. I was unpleasantly reminded of situations where I have engaged in double meaning dialogues or what was termed acceptable harmless flirting in groups. I realise there is nothing harmless or acceptable in it. I realise that maybe #MeTooGuilty of at least remaining silent.


And that reminded me of the Amitabh Bachchan dialogue from the movie Hum: ‘Duniya mein do taray ka kida hota hai. Eek joh kachrey se uttha hai aur eek who joh paap ki gandagi se uttha hai. Kachrey waala kida insaan ko bimar kar deta hai, magar paap ki gandagi waala kida saarey samaj ko karaab kar deta hai. Kachrey ke kide ko marney ke liye flit baazar mein milta hai, magar paap ke kide ko marney waala flit saala bana hi nahi hai aaj tak.’


When I now scan and read about the extent of the crime, I am not really surprised. It seems that there are only two types of males in the society. Maybe an extremely polarised view.


One who indulge and are the perpetrator of the act. They at least know why and what they are doing. A combination of power, unraised voice, pressured silence and many other factors make them do it. More so, they know they can get away with it. And the reality is, they do.


And the other, who are guilty of being silent and in some way encouraging it. Again a combination of lack of power and many times – it is not my lookout approach pressure then into silence. At times, even the victim would stop someone from raising their voice because log kya kahenge. Because, unfortunately, it is, again and again, the woman who loses out and is branded the troublemaker. More often than not, the statement, ‘unless she would not have encouraged – how dare the man would have attempted the act’ is used as a defence. How wrong we all have been!


Before I am lynched for making the above statements, let me say, yes, possibilities exist that there are people characterised by the famous Gandhijee Ke Teen Bandar. They are so isolated, dedicated and passionate about the business that they neither hear, see nor say anything wrong. I will be not be surprised by claims from top management that their organisations are clean. Nothing like that happens there. Trust, what they are saying, is that they don’t have any case reported. And, not reporting does not really mean if there are such cases or not.


Till the male mindset does not come to terms and differentiate. Society does not start accepting the reality and open up to discuss it at every level. Till the time, the cases are not dragged. Till the time the management in the work environment is not supportive of the victim. Till the time victim is not victimised and branded a troublemaker. Till the time men and women in the immediate ecosystem and the stakeholders do not take on to themselves to help prevent it, nothing much will happen.


On the other side, many counter the argument by saying males are unnecessarily victimised. That a wrong inference and biased reporting or uncalled for voice can destroy the reputation and career of a person in no time. That there are women who encourage and take advantage of the situation. That people do not jump to conclusions. That things happen in a close working environment. And, unfortunately, I can’t say they are entirely wrong.


Maybe, we can’t really undo the past. However, each one of us can decide how the new chapters are written on the subject. We can choose not to remain silent and raise the issue at the first instance, supporting the victim- even if she is not our department or known to us. Is that too tough a call to make?


Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior corporate strategist and educator. He writes on MxMIndia every Wednesday. His views here are personal.


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