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October marks almost a year to the #MeToo movement in India. Many men, however, filed defamation cases against women who called them out. Here’s a list.
#MeToo movement was a huge success in India. It gave many women the courage to speak up against sexual harassment.
The movement began in the United States in response to accusations of sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment industry. It gained its momentum in India after Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta complained about Nana Patekar’s inappropriate behaviour on film sets.
Since then, more than a dozen men in politics, media, entertainment and the arts have been accused of a range of offences. This has led to several prominent figures either resigning or being suspended as a result.
The cases have transfixed India, published on newspaper front pages, and became a key talking point on prime-time television news shows.
While calling these men out publicly was empowering for many women, there were also many defamation cases against the survivors, filed by the powerful, arrogant men speaking against them, and using their power to suppress their voices.
Defamation essentially means making a false or derogatory statement (oral, written or by visual representation) without any lawful justification. It’s done by one person against another, by which the latter’s reputation stands to be compromised. It is covered under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860.
Anyone who feels wrongly accused of something through words or gesture — spoken or written — can file a defamation suit in a court.
It’s not new for men with the power to use their power and try to suppress women. Society’s response to most such allegations is to shame the victim while protecting the abuser. The accused men argued that allegations have caused irreparable damage to their reputation.
Here are some of the prominent defamation cases filed against the survivors, by men in power during the #MeToo movement.
The Tanushree Dutta and Nana Patekar case was the pioneer of the #MeToo movement in India.
In 2008, the actress had filed a complaint against Nana Patekar. It stated that he had behaved inappropriately with her on the sets of Horn Ok Pleassss (2008). She claimed that while shooting a special sequence she was being touched inappropriately by the actor.
In October last year, Tanushree filed an FIR against Nana. Following this, the police interrogated the witnesses and started a fresh investigation.
After that, the actor sent her legal notice for defaming his image. Even MNS chief Raj Thackeray filed a defamation case against Dutta because she claimed that “goons from MNS attacked her car and vanity van at Nana Patekar’s behest after she walked out of the project (Horn Ok Please).”
On the defamation case against her, Tanushree responded by saying “This is the price you pay for speaking out against harassment, humiliation, and injustice in India.”
The closure report submitted by the Mumbai police recently gave Nana Patekar a clean chit in the molestation case.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, MJ Akbar, Ex-Minister of State for External Affairs was accused of sexual harassment by journalist Priya Ramani when he was an editor in the field of journalism a decade ago.
The accusations first surfaced in a Twitter post by Ramani on 8 October. Ramani named Akbar as the editor she had referred to in an article in the Vogue magazine on sexual harassment at the workplace in October 2017. In the article, without identifying Akbar, she detailed alleged unwarranted advances made by him 20 years ago. During that very month after Raman’s allegations, he was accused of sexual harassment by at least 17 women journalists.
In response to this Akbar rejected the sexual harassment claims and said that they were “false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice”. He also filed a defamation case against her. A news item also reported that 97 lawyers would be working on this case to defend MJ Akbar.
Recently in September 2019, Priya Ramani appeared for her cross-examination at the court in the defamation case filed against her. There she said “I spoke the truth when I disclosed my experience of my first job interview in Vogue magazine and my tweets. It’s important for women to speak up about sexual harassment at the workplace. Many of us are brought up to believe that silence is a virtue…..In all my disclosures pertaining to Mr Akbar, I spoke the truth in public interest and the public good”. (as reported by TNM)
Vinita Nanda was the writer and producer of the TV serial Tara in the 90s. Alok Nath played a lead role in the soap. In a Facebook Post last year Nanda alleged that Alok Nath harassed her sexually. After that Bollywood actors, Sandhya Mridul and Deepika Amin also accused the actor of sexual misconduct and shared their ordeals on social media.
In less than a week after this, the actor had filed a defamation case against Vinta Nanda. In a press conference Dhruti M Kapadia, Nanda’s advocate said “However and whatever the proceedings will be, we will deal with everything following due process of law.”
On 19th October, in a Facebook post, Actor Sruthi Hariharan alleged that multilingual South Indian Actor Arjun Sarja had behaved inappropriately with her under cover of a rehearsal. She said that he had pulled her close to him and had run his hand down her back without her consent.
Reacting to the allegation, actor Arjun Sarja denied Sruthi’s account of events and filed a defamation case against her. Surprisingly, despite a few other women standing with Sruthi and backing up her statement, she was labelled the criminal. She was accused of misusing the #metoo movement.
On top of this Arjun Sarja’s media manager, Prashanth Sampargi politicized the issue and called the Me Too movement anti-Hindu. “The Me Too movement in India is an anti-Hindu campaign designed to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. Apart from that he also said that Arjun was being targeted as he was planning to construct a Hanuman temple worth Rs 25 crore and that Sruthi had connections to communists in Kerala.
Sruthi on the other hand in an interview to The News Minute in December about how the film fraternity had ganged up against her, said that “I used to get at least three offers a week, up until a few months ago, barely any now.”
Leena Manimekalai who is an independent filmmaker, poet and an actor in Kollywood in October last year accused director Susi Ganesan of sexual misconduct. In a Facebook post, She wrote of an incident from 2005. She narrated that the director offered to drop her home after an interview at a TV studio in Chennai. Then shortly after she got into the car, the director turned on the central lock and forced her to go to his house.
She even wrote that “Without MeToo and WCC, I would not have had the courage to do this.”
In June this year, the director had filed of defamation against Leena. A report in The News Minute claimed that Susi Ganeshan has alleged that the accusations made by Leena are false.
‘The director has further resorted to maligning Leena by making aspersions on her character. Claiming that Leena had “begged” him for an opportunity in his “artistic productions, Susi Ganeshan has said that he rejected her because “her contents and sexual ideology did not suit my choice for public consumption”.’ The News Minute
He also alleged that the accusations were done by Leena to ‘gain popularity’. According to the news report, he also asked why Leena had taken 13 years to speak about the alleged incident.
All these defamation cases against the victims show how powerful men use their power to threaten women and even shame them.
We need to understand that the victim shaming is cruel and immature. It takes so much strength for women to speak up. It takes courage to sacrifice the pride that she has earned till now and put herself in such a vulnerable position, perhaps for the rest of her life. This itself gives an assurance that the chances of false accusations are very slight. Hence even asking why did she take so much time to speak up is pointless!!
Also backing the defamation case by saying “She used media which shows she has no proof” is ridiculous. There are many reasons why these women called them out on social media.
In the end, fear, shame, and career progression issues were some reasons why women kept quiet for almost a decade, but the collective protest now has given them the courage to speak up. The #metoo movement is like wildfire, which has now caught on, and will continue to burn till it scorches all those who acted like predators.
No lewd comments, threats or defamation cases can anymore stop women from speaking up against any injustice. Women, together, won’t be rattled or intimidated, and now we’ll fight with a hope that justice will be done.
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