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Casting himself as a victim, Anu Malik responded to the Me Too allegations with an open letter. However, Sona Mohapatra took him apart in a crisp and hard-hitting reply
Women, whenever they make a legitimate complaint about being harassed or ill-treated, are accused by trolls and misogynists of playing the “victim card.” Well, if you really want to learn how to play the victim card, you should learn from men who have been accused of harassing others.
Recently, singer Sona Mohapatra wrote a heartfelt letter questioning Sony Entertainment Television for reinstating Anu Malik as a judge on their show Indian Idol, even though multiple women have accused him of sexual harassment. Following this, last week, news broke that Anu Malik may not be brought back as a judge after all.
Instead of apologising however, Anu Malik chose to write an open letter himself. Denying the accusations against him, he attacked the women who have accused him, asking why they are bringing up these allegations now. He also painted himself as a victim, who is in danger of losing his only source of livelihood, while painting the women as the offenders who have caused harm to the mental health of his family and himself.
Anyone who has survived abuse, or anyone aware enough, can tell you that this is the classic, gaslighting DARVO defence, which most abusers use when confronted. Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. This is not the first time that abusers have pretended to be the victim either. An obvious and memorable example is the high-profile case of Brett Kavanaugh versus Christine Blasey Ford. Kavanaugh actually sobbed through the proceedings, while claiming that his life and career had been destroyed by the allegations against him. Abusers use DARVO, because unfortunately, it works.
Men like Kavanaugh or Anu Malik, by pre-sentencing themselves as victims, are trying to cash in on the “himpathy” that most men accused of sexual harassment receive. Himpathy is the tendency for people (of all genders) to have sympathy and feel bad for the abuser. Generally, the more privileged the abuser, the more himpathy people have for them. This, even when it is actually the abused, who loses much more, as this interview with the woman who accused Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment, attests.
DARVO not only acts as a reminder of the initial abuse, but causes additional harm to the actual survivor by forcing them to have to watch their abuser get the support and respect that they themselves have not. It may also force them to doubt themselves, thus eroding their resolve and ability to protect themselves in the future.
This is why Sona Mohapatra’s eight-point response to Anu Malik’s letter is perfect and important. In the letter, she points out that Anu Malik’s assertion that the accusations are false cannot be true, because it is not a single, random woman who has made the complaint. “multiple testimonies of independent, sane women speaking coherently & they have a common thread and story,” cannot be brushed aside.
Addressing his point that the allegations have affected his mental health, she brings the conversation back to the suffering of the survivors by asking him if he cared about their mental health. Responding to his point about his livelihood being lost, she again points out that he is not the only one who has something to lose, and so he should not “jeopardise the hard work of so many people and dreams of so many contestants just for your personal glory and ambitions.”
Her takedown of Anu Malik’s self-serving letter is an absolute masterclass on how to handle gaslighting. Three cheers to her!
The only way to combat DARVO is to call it out when one sees it. The very fact that a person uses DARVO as a response is an indication that they believe themselves to be wrong, and that they are desperate to hold on to their power and privilege. Thanks to Sona Mohapatra, we now have a great example of how to recognise it and respond to it when we see it.
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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