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Why don’t most companies take action against sexual harassers? Because, MONEY! In this context, Phantom Movies being dissolved and accepting their failings is one late but positive step.
My timeline today was inundated with posts and news items about Director Vikas Bahl being accused of sexual harassment. I can wholeheartedly empathize with the woman who went through all the trauma and harassment when at the same time Vikas Bahl went on making films and carried on with his life so defiantly.
I also read a news report in the Pune Mirror about the statement issued by Anurag Kashyap. The partners of Phantom movies have decided to dissolve the company and that Anurag Kashyap has publicly apologised to the victim. While I understand that his apology cannot undo at all the damage caused to the lady, I would like to appreciate the decision taken by Anurag Kashyap and the other partners from Phantom Movies, even though it came late.
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As per his statement, the company did not have any provision for sacking an equal partner – which though unfortunate, is the truth. And considering the enormous amount of money, reputations and careers/jobs of many other people at stake, it was definitely a very difficult decision. Yet, the company displayed a strong moral stance by debarring and suspending Bahl and removing his signing authority, though at a late stage.
No one can compensate even a part of what the victim lost in the process – economic, mental and social stability. I hope she goes public and fights a case against Bahl in the courts. People like Bahl should be shown their rightful place in society. However, what I also want to emphasise is that blaming Anurag Kashyap and Phantom films for the episode might not be the solution to the problem. And I write this not because of my personal liking for Anurag Kashyap and his kind of movies – but because of my own personal experience.
I am working in the IT industry since the last 10 years and I must say that it’s one of the most female friendly, transparent and considerate industries. However, there are always some sour apples everywhere and I had to deal with one such in my career.
It was 2013 and I was about to join this man’s team. He had a reputation of being rude, harsh and extremely insulting towards his female colleagues. I was joining the team in spite of that because the work was really what I loved. But within one week of joining, I started bearing the brunt of his behaviour. He was my direct boss and I had to be constantly in touch with him. However, most of the times it was him shouting while I would be listening. Every single phone call was a nightmare as he would just keep on scolding and yelling for every single thing that went wrong in the team.
He was vicious while using his words and his constant criticism drained out all the confidence from my work. It was constant mental abuse of the highest level and yet I continued to survive. And it was the same with most of the other female employees from the team except one of his favourites and a few close friends. The shouting and abusing happened in full public and in the presence of all the other men and as always, no one stood up against him. And this continued for a year.
One day when finally, I could take no more, I decided to raise my voice. After he left, I called my super boss and explained the situation. Coincidentally, the same day, the super boss got a call from one of my colleagues and she had the same things to say about our boss – shouting, mental abuse, deliberate criticism meant to break one’s confidence. Later, I came to know that there were also some official complaints against him from some of the top bosses within the business unit.
The super boss was extremely supportive and he asked me to write an official email. I did. The matter was taken up to the human resource team. There were one-to-one meetings, calls, official emails. There were also some sessions with him, his super boss and the human resource team. We were sent emails providing support and assurances that everything will be taken care of. But inspite of promising confidentiality, the fact that I made an official complaint leaked out. On one hand, I received a lot of feedback from my colleagues and some employees I didn’t even know thanking me for taking it up. However, on the other hand, I became this face of dissent – the one who raised her voice, the ‘problem woman’. I did not realise it then. And when I realized it, it was a hard blow.
Even after so many meetings/emails and calls, he was not sacked from the job. He was just given an alternate job for a couple of months where he did not have to deal with us. And after that he was moved to a better, glamorous job where he had more visibility, power and control.
And me – my appraisal was ruined. I received the lowest rating of that year. Some of my important tasks were snatched away and given to others. No one ever told me anything to my face. Yet indirectly, I was communicated the message.
Why did this happen? Why couldn’t they just sack him inspite of so many incidents reported from so many people and that too in public? I knew the reason – money. He was an extremely ambitious person and he could do anything to achieve his targets. He had very good relationships with the top bosses and most importantly, “He Delivered”. He had all the data and statistics which showed how much money he had saved for the company and how much he had earned in profits – even if that money was because of his team’s hard work.
Secondly – it was not ‘sexual’ abuse. So what if it was mental harassment in full public view, there was nothing physical or sexual about it. Which means it’s not-so-serious!
That was the reason he survived. That was the reason he was not sacked. That was the reason the company retained him. That was the only reason he continued with his attitude in another team with other female employees.
Why let go of a manager who brings in money for the sake of a moral stance, and that too for ‘insignificant’ mental abuse?
Unfortunately, this is the way it has always been. Money is the most important thing. Reputation is what matters the most. Companies will do everything in their control to save their reputation. They will cover up. They will keep mum. Compromise. Ignore the women. Ruin their careers. Shut them up. And it’s the same everywhere.
In this context, Phantom’s public stance of accepting their mistake, even if late, is encouraging. They know that they will have to deal with huge legal issues. They have opened themselves up for public criticism and shaming. They have also given a public apology and accepted their failings.
Looking at some of the comments and criticism hurled at Phantom films and Anurag Kashyap, I feel this is uncalled for. What they have done is a sensible and morally correct thing – even if they are late in doing so. We are dealing with a very rare situation. As the #MeTooIndia moment gains momentum, let us not get swayed in the rage but appreciate the little positive things that are coming our way. Let us not dismiss Anurag’s apology calling it as lame and late. Let us take this as an example for other companies to follow. If we keep on criticising one such bold step, it will further discourage companies to come out in support of the victims.
Of course it might not be of any help to the victim now but it will definitely mean a great deal against people like Vikas Bahl.
Image sourced from Instagram
What a well balanced and thoughtful piece! I agree with you that rage is not the answer – I think better late than never holds true. In spite of the fact that not responding promptly was wrong, and that not taking action promptly was equally wrong, but I think you make a good point – money is a powerful persuader, and it did take guts for them to dissolve the company and face the music. Not suggesting we pat them on the back for a job well done, but it’s progress right? The more we polarise on this discussion the less we move forward. It’s important to know that this is something we have to go through together – and if people who have not learned how to support the movement yet start to take baby steps, we owe it to ourselves to encourage them to come even further.
Thanks for the genuine comment Mira. I completely agree with you. On one side we are appreciating women coming up and speaking about their traumas years after it happened. Similarly, we should at least acknowledge the little apologies coming up from men – although a little late.
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