FII is now on Telegram
8 mins read

Last month, Hollywood giant Harvey Weinstein, was sentenced to 23 years in prison on proved charges of sexual assault. At around the same time, in India, Nana Patekar’s NGO Naam Foundation filed a defamation suit against actress Tanushree Dutta worth INR 25 Crores. What do these two incidents have in common? Both incidents find their genesis in the #MeToo movement. The ‘#MeToo’ movement gained momentum in the entertainment industry after Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct by over 70 women, in 2017. Two incidents that occurred as long ago as in 2006 and 2013, have finally culminated in the pronouncement of the renowned producer’s guilt, only recently. In September 2018, the movement traversed its way into Bollywood after Tanushree Dutta’s accusation of sexual harassment against Nana Patekar, during the shooting of a movie in 2008. This incident triggered the #MeToo movement in Bollywood and has resulted in a number of sexual harassment allegations against renowned personalities in the Indian movie industry. However, Nana Patekar was given the ‘clean chit’ by police authorities investigating the case, in 2019.

The complaint was declared to be false and malicious and the alleged victim appealed to Prime Minister Modi for justice, an appeal that is yet to come to fruition. More recently, in January 2020, a complaint filed against choreographer Ganesh Acharya witnessed Tanushree Dutta demanding a boycott of the accused by the industry. The #MeToo movement has clearly gained traction in India but ‘Bollywood’ seems to lack the ability to effectively deal with complaints of sexual harassment, despite the existence of a legal framework that demands the redressal of such complaints.

Hindrances

The stories surfacing under the #MeToo movement are testimony to the fact that sexual harassment has been prevalent but concealed behind the silver screen’s curtain. Bollywood has always been a breeding ground for patriarchy, and gender discrimination assumes different forms in the male dominated industry. Statistics suggest that there are 6.2 males for every 1 female working behind the camera in Bollywood. The disparity is also evident in terms of monetary remuneration received by a male actor vis-a-vis a female actor. Male actors are paid as much as five times the amount paid to a female actor. While pay-parity has improved in recent times for some top actresses, the overall culture remains unequal and discriminatory against women.  

LAST MONTH, HOLLYWOOD GIANT HARVEY WEINSTEIN, WAS SENTENCED TO 23 YEARS IN PRISON ON PROVED CHARGES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT. AT AROUND THE SAME TIME, IN INDIA, NANA PATEKAR’S NGO NAAM FOUNDATION FILED A DEFAMATION SUIT AGAINST ACTRESS TANUSHREE DUTTA WORTH INR 25 CRORES.

In a rat-race to enter the 100-crore club and to achieve quick success, movie-makers have consistently indulged in the unabashed objectification of the female body. This is exemplified by Bollywood’s love for item songs wherein lyrics that objectify women and promote a culture of stalking and eve-teasing are considered as entertainment. Also, Bollywood films are guilty of portraying women as submissive and subservient to men.

This is substantiated by a report of 2017, wherein researchers analyzed 4000 Hindi films to conclude that Bollywood movies continue to be sexist and discriminatory against women. The gender-divide is so wide that even when credits were displayed at the start/end of a movie, it was the male actor whose name appeared before the female actor and only recently has this practice been changed. The situation has now improved, and more women-centric movies are being made. However, an inherent culture rooted in misogyny continues to be responsible for a hostile and unsafe working environment for women in Bollywood. 

This hostile environment coupled with a fear of retaliation in women could be a reason for them not filing formal complaints of sexual harassment. Additionally, the prospect of a movie being stalled or an adverse impact on its viewership/ box-office collection also leads to complaints not being addressed/reported. It is in such a background that the #MeToo movement, whereby victims gain a platform to voice their anguish, even though they don’t follow through with a formal complaint. Some incidents that have surfaced through the #MeToo movement occurred as many as ten years ago, proving that the Hindi film industry lacks the infrastructure for victims to come forward. 

This hostile environment coupled with a fear of retaliation in women could be a reason for them not filing formal complaints of sexual harassment. Additionally, the prospect of a movie being stalled or an adverse impact on its viewership/ box-office collection also leads to complaints not being addressed/reported.

However, an industry that was so far turning a blind eye to incidents of sexual harassment has finally been lulled out of its indifference, with many of its stalwarts being accused of harassment through the #MeToo movement. The #MeToo movement has been an eye-opener for the glamour industry that has now been compelled to respond to allegations against various personnel including actors, directors and technicians. An erstwhile apathetic profession is now engaging in and encouraging dialogue around the issue. The resulting increased awareness amongst female actors/other legal professionals on the various legal options available to them has cast an even greater obligation on the Indian film industry to ensure compliance with the legal framework in place. 

POSH Act

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) is the primary legislation on workplace-related sexual harassment in India and is applicable to both organized and unorganized industries. 

The POSH Act lays down a wide definition of ‘sexual harassment’ and includes any unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal behavior of sexual nature. The definition of ‘workplace’ is very wide too and would include within its ambit every location/ studio where a movie is shot, success parties of movies, promotional events and other social gatherings related to a film. Every organization covered by the POSH Act is required to have in place a policy for the prevention of sexual harassment.

Further, under the POSH Act, an employer having ten or more employees is required to establish an Internal Committee (“IC”) to address complaints of sexual harassment. In the event any incident needs to be reported, the aggrieved woman can approach the IC of her respective organization or in certain circumstances wherein the IC has not been constituted by the employer since it employs less than 10 employees, such complaints of sexual harassment may be filed before the Local Complaints Committee (“LCC”). An LCC was formed in Mumbai in 2015, however, reports suggest that in the past three years, only six complaints have been filed before the LCC in Mumbai.

So far, Bollywood’s adherence to the POSH Act has been inadequate at best. As per publicly available information, of the many production houses in Bollywood, only seven have complied with the requirement to formulate an IC under the POSH Act. In 2017, Maneka Gandhi wrote to prominent production houses in Bollywood to comply with the POSH Act stating that there is a legal and moral responsibility on them to ensure such compliance.

However, a majority of production companies have failed to constitute an IC, till today. Even where the IC has been constituted, most women are unaware as to its existence or members since no workshops are conducted to create awareness/ sensitize them about sexual harassment and its redressal. In this situation, Aamir Khan Productions has proved to be exemplary in this respect because it has had an IC in place for the past four years and has shown commitment to a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. 

Other Redressal Mechanisms

In addition to lack of compliance with the POSH Act, there exists a lack of industry-specific redressal mechanisms to deal with issues of sexual harassment. The absence of an effective redressal mechanism to deal with complaints of sexual harassment proves to be a huge problem and paves the way for a culture of trial by media. So far, the practice of name and shame has resulted in accused persons stepping down from their positions (such as Sajid Khan and Anu Malik). However, this hardly solves the problem and does not do justice to the aggrieved woman or the accused. 

Another major cause of the current lack of implementation of the law is the power-dynamics at play in the industry, which results in many complaints being ignored or actively suppressed. This is aggravated by the fact that very often the victim is not the empowered, leading protagonist in a film but is a technician or background artist who lacks the bargaining chip to make their voice heard. 

Another major cause of the current lack of implementation of the law is the power-dynamics at play in the industry, which results in many complaints being ignored or actively suppressed. This is aggravated by the fact that very often the victim is not the empowered, leading protagonist in a film but is a technician or background artist who lacks the bargaining chip to make their voice heard. 

At this stage, Bollywood needs a solution to the vacuum created by a lacking redressal mechanism and ensuring adequate compliance with the provisions of the POSH Act is one way of filling the void. It is also essential to understand that while the POSH Act is not gender neutral, nothing in the legislation prevents the industry from adopting gender neutral policies and practices. In fact, even though the POSH Act does not lay down a mechanism for redressal of sexual harassment complaints by other genders, it is ethically incumbent upon the movie industry to adopt gender neutral policies and practices to address issues of sexual harassment. 

Having said that, stricter compliance with the POSH Act including formulation of ICs by production houses, formulation and implementation of anti-sexual harassment policies and generation of greater awareness, would enable the industry to deal with issues of sexual harassment better. Since the POSH Act requires complaints to be filed within three months from the date of the incident (extendable up to six months only if delay can be explained), the presence of an IC is pivotal to ensure that complaints are filed soon after the incident occurs. 

However, while the time limit under the POSH Act is limited to 3 months, under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, a woman may also file a complaint within 3 years from the date of the incident, which may further be extended in the interest of justice. The POSH Act also provides for adequate remedies for frivolous complaints, instances of frivolous complaints shall also be curbed if compliance with the POSH Act is ensured. 

An important provision in the POSH Act, particularly relevant for an industry comprised of affluent individuals, is that complaints of sexual harassment cannot be settled in exchange for a monetary compensation. Compliance with the POSH Act would, therefore, also ensure that complaints of sexual harassment are not nipped in the bud by use of economic muscle. 

Also read: What Bollywood Taught Me About Workplace Harassment

Maintaining confidentiality of the IC proceedings is a strict requirement under the POSH Act. However, given the nature of the film business, intense media scrutiny has always been a concern. Given the sensitivity of such complaints, any leaks of ongoing investigations, by the ‘paparazzi’ or on social media should be avoided.  

Conclusion

Given that the industry has various associations and guilds within its system, such guilds and associations may also be made responsible for framing and implementing anti sexual harassment policies for the industry, which shall be adopted by each member of the guild or association for its organization. A specific clause in actors’ contracts, including a real time penalty implementation (such as fees being reduced) may also act as a deterrent.

Industry specific steps such as requiring declarations/disclosures from directors and producers that no incident of sexual harassment occurred during the making of a movie would also increase accountability. Some individual steps such as the refusal by personalities like Konkona Sen Sharma, Reema Kagti etc. to work with proven offenders may also help create an environment of support and solidarity. 

The step undertaken by the industry so far has been the formation of a committee by the Cine and TV Artists Association (“CINTAA”) to look into cases of sexual harassment. The CINTAA should not limit itself to dealing with complaints of harassment but should also organize regular training sessions and workshops on the prevention of sexual harassment.

Also read: #MakeMyWorkplaceSafe: Addressing Sexism In The Workplace

For now, the movement is gaining momentum in Bollywood and has helped many a victim to share their pain and agony with the world. However, the absence of a conducive atmosphere, the fear of backlash and career regression, currently prevents these victims from filing formal complaints. While better compliance with the POSH Act would better the situation by leaps and bounds, an effective redressal mechanism and a more sensitive coterie of colleagues, which would allow victims to come forward, raise complaints and seek redressal without any fear, is still the need of the hour. 


Featured Image Source: The New Indian Express

Support us