Source: The Hitavada      Date: 09 May 2018 11:44:29


If there is a choice, and a woman takes the route of providing sexual favours for getting work, who can judge her for that? It is quid pro quo if the woman is going into it with her eyes open and using her sexuality to get what she wants. Some years ago, there was a gathering of female film professionals and the issue of the casting couch came up. Several of the women directors were of the opinion that it was a terrible thing, but the female could always say no. Which is true, in theory, and could work for a certain level of women in the entertainment industry, but many do not have that choice. It’s an open secret in the industry that women lower down in the hierarchy are subjected to harassment and some of them have to submit, or they don’t get work. It is easy to say that they don’t have to be in the film industry, but if that's their chosen line of work, should they be forced to accept sexual exploitation? Casting couch is a pleasant-sounding term for the humiliation women have to routinely go through. But, if there is a choice, and a woman takes the route of providing sexual favours for getting work, who can judge her for that? It’s quid pro quo if the woman is going into it with her eyes open and using her sexuality to get what she wants. Industry men say that women are constantly throwing themselves at anyone who can help them get a toe in the door of showbiz. Sadly, the ones who take advantage of these women’s desperation do not really have the power to help. The major filmmakers are hardly likely to cast a woman or man just because they went to bed with them. There are too many other factors involved. Of course, there are the sleazy types too (one notorious filmmaker actually had a bed in his office!), but not everybody is obnoxious.

Saroj Khan used the wrong terminology when she stated (and later apologised for it) that at least the film industry provides employment; women are not raped and abandoned. Rape, molestation, sexual harassment, exploitation are all used interchangeably under the umbrella of the quaint phrase ‘outraging a woman’s modesty.’ A man groping a woman in a train is different from a man misusing his position to demand sexual favours. This is not the same as stalking a woman and attacking her when she turns down his advances or date rape and far removed from breach of trust cases when women cry rape if seduced by men with a promise of marriage, job or other benefits. And this whole outraging of modesty package cannot even be put into the same category of what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey, Asifa, or the Shakti Mills survivor. Again, women of a certain class can say #Metoo and protest against any kind of sexual exploitation, but there are numerous other women who have no choice -- labourers, domestic helpers, even women who work in offices where their appraisal and continued employment is in the hands of male sexual predators. Renuka Chowdhury pointed out that sexual exploitation takes place in politics, too. When power is in the hands of men, many will abuse it, if they are sure they won't get caught.

The good thing is that women are increasingly breaking the culture of silence that surrounds sexual harassment.
The biggest case of a long-drawn fight was that of Rupan Deol Bajaj, an IAS officer, who risked her reputation and her career when she accused senior and much-admired cop, the late KPS Gill, of touching her inappropriately. Back then, people actually made crude jokes and said she was being a bad sport for complaining about a minor incident of butt-slapping. Today, she would have got sympathy and support. It did not affect the career of Gill in any way.
Closer to present times, a top executive in an IT firm was accused by his former executive secretary of sexual harassment; he was fired from that job but simply got another lucrative one. The career of a top publishing executive was also not harmed by public accusation. Journalist Tarun Tejpal is in the midst of a court case for rape, and there are people willing to vilify the accuser and back him, before the whole truth has come out. The woman who speaks out is shamed, and very often professionally destroyed. Post Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood is suddenly scared into empathising with women, but men are always known to close ranks against a woman who dares challenge them. It continues to happen in the Indian industry -- a woman who raises her voice against harassment will never get work again. It took a Sri Reddy's stripping act outside the Movie Artistes' Association office to draw notice to the exploitation menace in the Telugu film industry. It has got her social media attention, very little support and may not get her work, but at least it has drawn attention to the problem in the Telugu film world, where stars and filmmakers actually boasted of their casting couch exploits. It took the courage of one girl and her family to put godmen like Asaram Bapu and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan behind bars. It is naïve to believe that sexual harassment will stop if women expose their tormentors, but men will think twice before harassing a woman. Our society needs to support these brave women like it has been standing by tainted men in the past. It is the only way to move towards a culture that respects a woman's right to live and work with dignity, in a safe environment.