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Time’s Up: Here’s How Indian Cinema Can Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment

Time’s Up: Here’s How Indian Cinema Can Take a Stand Against Sexual Harassment

In an open letter, hundreds of women in Hollywood announced their Time's Up campaign to fight sexual harassment in the industry.

Women in Hollywood are driven by outrage. The new year has brought with it an intolerance towards sexual harassment in the industry as well as blue-collar workplaces all over the world. Driven by the #MeToo movement, 2017 revealed the full enormity of the rampant issue of sexual abuse experienced by women, thanks to survivors across industries who publicised their anguish online. However, we’ve reached 2018 and the time to silently suffer is up.

A campaign started by 300 prominent actresses in Hollywood along with female agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives is out to demonstrate that the time to silently suffer harassment at the hands of powerful, entitled men is up. Naturally, they’ve called it ‘Time’s Up.’

Although a widespread movement, the #MeToo campaign was extensively criticised for only serving Hollywood’s straight while elite.

This is where the Time’s Up campaign becomes essential.

Shonda Rhimes and Jill Soloway, and actresses Kerry Washington, Ashley Judd, and Reese Witherspoon, announced their Time’s Up campaign through an open letter on Monday. Source: Jesse Baca/Flickr

In an open letter announcing the campaign, its 300 supporters wrote that they want all survivors of sexual harassment to be heard and to know that accountability is possible. They want them to be able to access justice and support for the wrongdoing they have endured. In this, they include women of colour, immigrant women, and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women.

The campaign promises to kickstart a number of initiatives. A legal defence fund will be started, and it will be backed by $13 million in donations to help less privileged women protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.

Legislation will be formalised to penalise companies that tolerate persistent harassment. The use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims will be discouraged. The campaign has already begun a drive to reach gender parity at studios and talent agencies, and women who will be walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes on Sunday, have been requested to wear black in a show of solidarity.

However, while there has been a downpour of claims against the Harvey Weinsteins of Hollywood, followed by an endless number of women recounting experiences of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry—where it’s a systemically entrenched problem—Bollywood has been strangely silent.

Every year, thousands flock to Mumbai in hopes of getting a role in films but are instead exploited by agents who falsely promise them their ‘big break’ in exchange for sexual favours.

Picture for representation only. Source: Bernard Oh/Flickr

Fearing retaliation and banishment from the industry, the victims never speak up. If they do, they are shamed for having put themselves in such a situation and for aspiring to do well in an industry infamous for its casting couch.

Ironically, when survivors of sexual harassment finally muster up the courage to speak up against their perpetrator years after the incident took place, they are criticised for not having said anything sooner. All in all, the shaming never stops.

Meanwhile, the predators get away with their misconduct, and monsters like Weinstein are born. If struggling actresses can’t be expected to speak up, the onus naturally falls on bigwigs like Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and others. However, their silence has made the culture of silence even stronger in the industry.

Some have also resorted to blaming the victims. “I’m going to be very categorical when I say that women are just as much to blame because they put themselves in those vulnerable positions. Why do these women go to hotel rooms? Do they not fear for their personal safety? Have they not heard of people’s reputations, and why do they engage with those men?” Those were Tisca Chopra’s words in an interview she gave to The Print. She goes on to say that if women said no ‘point blank’ to their sexual abuser, predators like Harvey Weinstein wouldn’t prop up.

However, the whole reason why victims never speak against sexual misconduct is because they are shamed for ‘putting themselves in vulnerable positions’, and in this case, by a well-known actress whom they aspire to be like.

After the abduction and molestation of a Malayalam actress by a popular actor, actresses in Kerala have set up Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) to make it easier for survivors to report sexual harassment.

This came up in November last year.

Source: Women in Cinema Collective

Since its formation, the collective has been working towards ‘addressing the gender disparity in salaries, providing reservations for women in technical jobs in government-owned studios, providing government welfare schemes to women in film industry, maternity pay to women who were forced to abstain from work due to pregnancy, child rearing and physical ailments, awards for films that talk about gender equality, and subsidies for production crews that have 30% women.’

Even as stars like Chopra, Kalki Koechlin, among others, acknowledged how rampant sexual abuse is in the film industry, why weren’t the Weinsteins of Bollywood named? Numerous men who were accused of exploiting women in the industry continue to enjoy their positions of power. This is when it becomes all the more urgent for the film fraternity to form a collective, name names and end this culture of silence which suppresses even those who dare to speak up against it.

Bollywood needs its own Time’s Up and needs to put in place a system where those who’ve been silenced can find a voice.

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