Hollywood to Bollywood: #MeToo gains traction in India

By Alix Culbertson and Neville Lazarus, news reporters

The #MeToo movement has expanded from Hollywood to Bollywood, with top Indian film stars and politicians being accused of sexual assault.

In the patriarchal society, allegations against men in power are frequently not taken seriously by the authorities and, if they make it to court, intimidation of victims and coercion of witnesses is commonplace.

But actress Tanushree Dutta has brought the #MeToo movement to India after accusing her award-winning co-star Nana Patekar of sexual harassment on a film set 10 years ago.

At the time, she left the set of Horn Ok Pleassss and made an official complaint, but nothing happened until now in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Patekar denies the charges.

It has taken a while but the movement is gaining traction in India, with actresses and politicians giving their support to those who speak out.

Actor Rajat Kapoor is accused of sexual abuse
Image:Actor Rajat Kapoor is accused of sexual abuse

In a tweet on Friday, Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress party, said: “It’s about time everyone learns to treat women with respect and dignity.

“I’m glad the space for those who don’t is closing.”

Since Dutta spoke out, other actresses have subsequently come forward to open up about their experiences in the industry.

Director Sajid Khan has been accused by two women of sexual abuse, prompting him to step down from Housefull 4, a popular comedy film franchise.

Writer Vinita Nanda accused actor Alok Nath of rape and sexual misconduct in 1998, saying the incident made her depressed and mentally disturbed, causing her to leave the film industry.

But now with the #MeToo movement, she said she is emboldened and is “not afraid” anymore.

Other women have also alleged sexual misconduct and drunken behaviour by Nath.

The actor has neither denied or confirmed the incident, saying he will speak at the right moment.

The Indian Film and TV Directors Association has said it stands by the victims and has issued a notice to Nath on the allegations.

Several other famous Bollywood actors and directors have faced accusations, including Bikas Bahl, Bibek Agnihotri, Rajat Kapoor, Satadru Otha, Fahad Shah and Anurag Varma.

Junior foreign minister MJ Akbar is accused of sexual harassment by seven journalists when he was a newspaper editor
Image:Junior foreign minister MJ Akbar is accused of sexual harassment by seven journalists

Politicians are under the spotlight, with India’s junior foreign minister, MJ Akbar, accused by seven female journalists of sexual assault and harassment when he was the editor of a well-known newspaper.

The minister is in Nigeria at the moment and has yet to respond, but the growing chorus for his resignation is placing pressure on the Modi government.

Senior cabinet minister Smriti Irani said: “It is time for the gentleman in question to issue a statement.

“It would not be proper for me to comment because I wasn’t present.

“But at the same time do not judge the women speaking out because it must be extremely difficult for them to do so.”

For decades employers have failed to ensure workplaces are safe for women, as they are meant to by law.

But the #MeToo movement has given women the confidence to speak out, with more coming out every day.