Last week, as Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the Senate, allegations against prominent Indian men began to appear on social media. Then, they turned into a torrent.
More than a year after allegations of rape and sexual assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein first shook the world, female journalists and writers in India are naming and shaming Indian entertainers, newspaper editors, authors and a politician on social media. Some say India’s #MeToo moment is finally here.
“We’ve faced violence, including verbal violence, all our lives,” said Rituparna Chatterjee, a journalist who is documenting and compiling accusations against prominent men.
The cascade of allegations began after a former actress, Tanushree Dutta, retold the story of how on a movie set a decade ago, her co-star Nana Patekar, a prolific, award-winning actor, had tried to change a dance sequence at the last minute so he could touch her inappropriately. A handful of Bollywood stars spoke out in support of Dutta, triggering a huge backlash on social media, as many challenged and trivialized her account of the incident.
Dutta’s allegations coincided with Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. “Of course, everyone was discussing that,” Chatterjee said. “The thing in my mind was, I know this guy. I’ve met this guy. I’ve met this guy over and over again.”
To Chatterjee, Ford and Dutta have become symbols of the way women’s stories are stifled or ignored. “You can have the evidence,” she said. “But she’ll never have the power to counter the hate that men have for women who speak up and threaten the status quo.”
After that, Chatterjee said, “The floodgates opened.”
A number of Indian women started naming well-known men. Among the first accused was a comedian, Utsav Chakraborty, who allegedly sent lewd messages to women and asked a 17-year-old girl for nude photographs. The accusation, made on Twitter on Thursday, prompted a flurry of denials from the comedian, followed by an apology Friday.
“It’s a little too late now but I am sorry. I really am. The past 24 hours were a crucible,” Chakraborty tweeted. “I faced a very scary personal truth. I can’t think of myself as a victim anymore. Please tell me what to do now. How to make things right? I don’t want anyone to be hurt anymore.”
A comedy group that Chakraborty worked with, All India Bakchod, issued a statement severing ties with him. On Monday, #MeToo allegations surfaced against two other comedians from the group. By Tuesday, the group was losing business — streaming website Hotstar canceled production of the third season of its show, and the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image dropped the movie from a film festival lineup.
On Twitter, the accusations snowballed. On Monday night, female director Vinta Nanda accused an unnamed actor of rape on her Facebook page. ” I can remember more liquor being poured into my mouth and I remember being violated endlessly. . . . I hadn’t just been raped, I was taken to my own house and had been brutalised,” she wrote.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a member of the entertainment industry trade union, Cine and TV Artistes Association, tweeted to apologize to Nanda, identifying the actor as Alok Nath, and urged her to take legal action against the actor, referring to him as “this vile creature.” Nath responded to allegations in an interview with Indian television channel ABP news on Tuesday. “Neither I am denying this nor do I would agree with it. It (rape) must have happened, but someone else would have done it.”
Other Bollywood bigwigs faced allegations too. HuffPost revealed that a famous movie director, Vikas Bahl, had been accused of masturbating on a woman without her consent after pretending to pass out on her bed. Bahl’s partners issued a statement saying they had previously been made aware of the allegations against him and were “ill-advised” by lawyers to continue working with him. Their production company was closed.
Allegations poured out to female journalists in private messages and via online groups — many women were still too afraid to speak up. “What you’re seeing online is only a third of what’s happening in the groups and DMs,” said Chatterjee, referring to Twitter’s “direct messages” feature in which people can talk privately.
Many female journalists spoke out about harassment and abuse in their own lives, and named prominent editors and journalists as serial predators. Journalist Priya Ramani reposted an article in Vogue India written in 2017 about an unnamed editor known in media circles as a serial harasser. “You’re an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer. You know how to pinch, pat, rub, grab and assault,” she had written.
On Monday, she named the man on Twitter — former newspaper editor M.J. Akbar, now a junior minister in India’s Foreign Ministry. Other female journalists followed, accusing Akbar of misconduct. Akbar, who is traveling for work, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Other influential newspaper editors and journalists also faced allegations. The political editor of the Hindustan Times, Prashant Jha, was accused of aggressively pursuing a co-worker who had turned down his advances. On Monday, Jha resigned. He did not respond to requests for comment. Gautam Adhikari, a former newspaper editor, was accused of forcefully kissing women without their consent. In an email to The Washington Post, Adhikari said, “I would sincerely apologize if I made anyone uncomfortable in my presence, but I deny sexually harassing anyone.”
“There was a sense of unfinished business,” said Sandhya Menon, a journalist and author who accused Adhikari and others. “We were primed for a leap.”
India has been hyper-aware of rape and sexual abuse since a student was gang raped and murdered in New Delhi in 2012. The incident triggered nationwide protests and calls to make the country safer for women.
The Weinstein affair had initially led to a trickle of allegations from India. In 2017, when the #MeToo movement swept the world, student Raya Sarkar compiled and circulated a list of South Asian-origin academics working in universities around the world who had been accused of misconduct by women.
Sarkar’s list caused an uproar and divided feminist groups in India. Some argued that because the allegations were anonymous and unverifiable, they jeopardized the #MeToo movement because they could not be scrutinized.
Over the past weekend, a new list of more than 70 powerful men accused of misconduct began making the rounds on social media.
Menon referred to a string of highly publicized cases of rape and sexual assault that have dragged on in India’s courts, pointing out how difficult it is for women here to get justice through the courts, despite the existence of fast-track courts for sexual violence.