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Rajeev Khandelwal Claims Casting Couch Is Not Rape. Consent Never Matters, Does It?

Posted: April 25, 2020

Actor Rajeev Khandelwal said the Casting Couch is not ‘rape’ as people have a choice of saying no. Do we still need to explain what consent means?

The casting couch is a reality of the world, one that has left no profession untouched. In fact, our very own Bollywood is one such industry that has been accused of succumbing to this practice ever so often.

Recently, actor Rajeev Khandelwal shared his views on the prevalence of casting couch in the glamour industry. In an interview published in Hindustan Times, the actor said that the casting couch is not rape because, “The one who gives in is equally responsible.”

Because women are never exploited, are they?

“No, I don’t think so, at all. It’s not just about that person, but the one who gives into casting couch is equally responsible. How can you say a woman is being exploited because she doesn’t mind getting exploited? Then she talks about casting couch because she thinks the other man was more powerful. No, somewhere you lacked confidence, you lacked self-belief. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have allowed. Casting couch is not rape where you are forced upon. What I understand from casting couch is that you are subjected to a situation where you get some benefit out of it. One who is exploited is probably a weaker person, one who didn’t have enough confidence that they can do without it.” said Rajeev.

However, Rajeev also said, “Those who rape and exploit the situation because the person has no other choice are to be named and shamed.”

He also recognised the good that #MeToo effect has done and said “I think it still did a lot of good and it will continue to happen I guess. Fear must have set in hearts of a lot of people. The weaker section will probably feel a little more confident of standing up for themselves.”

Still, his opinion on the casting couch is questionable and shows the mentality of many other men. Especially the ones who believe that if a woman succumbs to a man’s threat and pressure or even fear, it is consent. But it isn’t!

Though casting couch is not an act that can be compared with the heinous crime like rape, it still doesn’t justify the whole thing. In the end, it is also a form of sexual harassment and it is high time we speak up about it.

What exactly is the casting couch?

Now casting couch is often termed as the dark side of the entertainment industry.  Simply put, it is the mentality where directors and filmmakers take undue advantage and favours from aspiring actors or actresses. For this, the youngsters are provided with the option of a film offer in exchange of sexual favours. They are often threatened with career destruction if they do not given in to the sexual favours. 

Celebrities have often raised their voice against this practice. Big names like Aysuhmann Khurrana, Ranveer Singh and Kangana Ranaut have spoken up on how they faced casting couch in their initial years. They were asked for sexual favours which they rejected. 

But there are a number of cases where aspiring actresses were asked for sexual favours for their careers but weren’t offered any jobs. 

Consent due to fear and pressure is not consent 

Consenting to sexual activity for the sole purpose of obtaining or keeping employment/accessing greater employment benefits is not “consent.” 

The Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) In India Act, 2013 defines the categories of sexual harassment. According to the law ‘A demand or request for sexual favours’ is a form of sexual harassment. Under this there are certain provisions which lay down the idea of sexual favours more broadly. These are – 

  • Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment.
  • Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in her employment.
  • Implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status.

These are provisions that go on at workplaces. We need to understand that there is a big difference between voluntarily having sex and being coerced into having sex with someone. The concept of it being unwelcome is what makes the difference. This word ‘coerced’ suggests succumbing to the favour due to fear of losing an opportunity or the threat of a career being destroyed. 

Saying No comes with a price!

Now what Mr. Khandelwal said about the victim of casting couch having the choice to say no, is true. However, what needs to be pointed out here is that the ‘no’ usually comes with a heavy price- often that of one’s career.

Victims often have very little agency as a person over someone in a position of power. This makes saying no a matter of privilege. 

After the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, actress Kate Beckinsale shared on her Instagram, “I said no to him professionally many times over the years some of which ended up with him screaming at me calling me a c*&% and making threats. Some of which made him laughingly tell people oh “Kate lives to say no to me.” It speaks to the status quo in this business that I was aware that standing up for myself and saying no to things. While it did allow me to feel un-compromised in myself, it undoubtedly harmed my career and was never something I felt supported for by anyone other than my family.”

This is the very reason why nothing can justify casting couch. Women who bear the burden of this are often labelled ‘difficult,’ ‘sensitive,’ and as ‘playing the victim card’ for saying no.

Victims even face the risk of being isolated and losing out on good opportunities. So, no it’s not always up to on the victim to say no.

Salute to every victim who has bravely refused sexual overtures. But also let us not shame the other victims who have succumbed to the practice because of the fear and pressure.

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