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Actor Payal Ghosh made #MeToo allegations against Anurag Kashyap yesterday, with many feminists defending him. But what’s the right thing to do?
Many feminists are standing up in support of Anurag Kashyap, after actor Payal Ghosh accused him of sexual harassment. However, it is important to remember that #MeToo is not about any one person, and if the aim is to create a standardized system that fairly, and unbiasedly punishes criminals while protecting innocents, then we cannot have responses that are tailored on a case to case basis, depending on whether we ‘like’ the accuser or the accused.
Yesterday, Actor Payal Ghosh alleged that filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, had tried to rape her. By the time I woke up to the news, on the opposite side of the world, my Twitter timeline was filled with tweet threads in support of Anurag Kashyap.
There were counter allegations that Payal Ghosh was intentionally lying, or being manipulated into making a false statement. Anurag himself had responded to the allegations – the “thodi toh maryaada rakhiye, madam” (Please have some limits of decency, madam) tone of which I found problematic.
On the whole, I was deeply uncomfortable with this outpouring of support – because it reminded me too much of the times when other women have spoken up against their harassers, and have been shouted down by the supporters of those harassers.
I sat, and thought about this sincerely, and examined this from many perspectives, and my confidence in this initial discomfort has only grown. My views here are not a reflexive hot take, but something that I have worked out painstakingly.
For many reasons, Payal Ghosh is not our ‘ideal’ survivor. In telling her story, she chose to speak disparagingly about other female actors like Mahi Gill, Huma Qureshi and Richa Chadha – making her, in many eyes, a ‘bad’ feminist – if she even identifies as a feminist. Kangana Ranaut, who many of us on the left of the political center, often disagree with for her selective and opportunistic feminism, has come out in support of Payal.
However, none of this should matter. It should not matter if the survivor is like us, or if she has the same beliefs as us. By insisting that a survivor be a particular ‘type,’ to receive our support, we signal that only some women deserve protection and safety – and that goes against what #MeToo as a movement stands for.
#MeToo is for all women, and there should not be any gatekeeping of who deserves to tell their story and seek justice.
The support for Anurag Kashyap largely stems from the fact that he is a prominent liberal voice. He has spoken up on multiple occasions against the current government and its policies. He is widely seen as a progressive, ‘feminist’ man.
Actors such as Taapsee Pannu, Radhika Apte, and even both his ex-wives Aarti Bajaj and Kalki Koechlin, have come out in support of Anurag, testifying to his feminism.
However, even in the past, women related to, or friends with men who have been accused of harassment, have come out with statements of support. What we argued then holds true even now – a man can be perfectly respectful and good to some women – that does not mean he is the same with all women.
Character certificates are not proof of innocence, and all they do are act as weapons to discredit and silence the complainant.
Supporters of Anurag Kashyap are adamant that this is all part of a larger conspiracy to put down not only him, but also Bollywood as a whole, and that just like the hounding of Rhea Chakraborty, this is yet another attempt to distract from the real issues.
This may well be true. Those who support the current government, and those who have previously trolled feminism and #MeToo, are gleefully co-opting the movement now, because it suits their purposes.
It is extremely disgusting and infuriating to see that. However, because they are hypocrites, doesn’t mean that we should be hypocrites too.
Those of us who have demanded fair and unbiased investigations into the allegations in the past, should continue to demand the same now. This is not the time to bring up political rivalries, to publicly defend Anurag, or to state that Payal must be lying.
Nor does this incident mean that we cannot continue to demand for a focus on the real issues, or continue to speak up against divisive, unjust or ineffective policies or governance. If this really is an attempt to threaten detractors into silence, then it is all the more necessary that we don’t get distracted by this, and keep talking about the issues that really need our attention.
#MeToo as a movement has larger goals – it is not about any one person. It aims to standardize what the response should be when such accusations are made. It demands a fair and free investigation, and trial, that will both protect the innocent, while making sure that the wrong doer cannot harm anyone else.
What have we always asked for?
Believe women? Then we have to believe Payal now, even if we don’t like her.
Don’t shout down the survivor? Then we must let Payal talk now, even if it is against someone we like.
Don’t publicly support the harasser because it hurts the survivor more? Then we have to resist the urge to write testimonials about what a ‘good feminist’ Anurag Kashyap is.
Don’t allow the harasser a position where he has power over other women, until his innocence is proved? Then we must insist that Anurag sit tight, and not work, until this is settled.
Everything we have said, and done, and asked for before, when we liked the survivor, and didn’t like the alleged harasser, we must say, do and ask for again.
What is happening now is a test of our principles as feminists. It is a deeply unpleasant situation – I do understand that. However, what we do when things are convenient and easy is not as relevant as what we do when we are challenged. The true test of our feminism and of our commitment to a sisterhood is what we do when men we like are accused of sexual assault/harassment/rape.
To clarify, this does not mean that we should not support men we believe to be innocent, or publicly denounce them. If we are in the capacity to do so, we can, and certainly must reach out to support them in private. As Chitra Adkar points out, we can even help them collect the necessary proof of their innocence, as Varun Grover’s female friends did.
However, we must demand a fair, free and independent inquiry, in all such cases. And, as Noopur Tiwari says, if we are scared that that won’t happen – we should be. It only shows how urgent and necessary it is to put those systems in place.
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