The #MeToo churning
The #MeToo India movement which has already wrecked the established career of many professionals has also exposed the dark side of the otherwise glitzy and glamorous world of the media and entertainment industry. As per some insiders, the revelations so far represent only the tip of an iceberg. If this is so, we must admit that women workers are having a highly unfair and exploitative environment in the workplace. This also shows that some people who hold positions of power by dint of exceptional talent in their respective fields have not been able to maintain high standards of ethics at the workplace and this has resulted in a highly discriminatory work environment for the fairer sex. That some women have been subjected to aggravated incidents of sexual harassment including rape is a serious blot on the image of the media and entertainment industries. But one should blame the entire industry as there is still a large number of people in these domains who have maintained integrity and high standards of ethics in their professional life. The government is contemplating to form a panel of ministers to look into the nature of allegations, assess the existing institutional framework to address them and recommend legal roadmap to take the allegations to their logical end. This would ensure that legal options are available to report any misdemeanour of sexual nature against female colleagues at the workplace. Whether this would address the concerns arising out of an ever-increasing number of revelations of sexual harassment by women workers remains anybody's guess but this would certainly improve the overall work environment as far women workers are concerned. The only thing that one would want to add to the government's initiative is that the proposed panel should be set up without losing any more time and the panel should come out with its recommendations in a time-bound manner.
An important aspect of the revelations is that it shows the false power and glamour associated with the media and entertainment industry. The manner and swiftness with which veteran journalist M J Akbar had to step down as the Minister of State for External Affairs highlights that no matter how credible one's intellectual or creative achievements are, the repercussions of misdemeanours can be far-reaching and destroy one's career built with hard work over a long period of time. Besides Akbar, some leading film personalities, too, have to back out of projects because their reputation could not withstand the allegation of moral deprivation. People in the news media who have to interact with powerful people in every conceivable domain including the government, bureaucracy, business, sports, and film often have a sense of power that is not based on solid grounds. Many of these people use their connections to seek undue favours, which land them in trouble at some or the other stage of their career. The false sense of power makes them believe that they can get away with anything, which is not so in the real world. The case of film and entertainment industry, which attracts a large number of young aspirants both male and female, is even more appalling as the benchmark for required skills, talent, and qualifications are non-existent. The successful artistes have a larger than life image, rake in huge money, and enjoy the status of stardom and celebrityhood. But, not all the successful artistes are great artistes in the real sense of the term and their success comes because of their lineage, the reason why the industry is full of sons and daughters and even distant relatives of established stars. This makes the work environment highly discriminatory and exploitative for the newcomers from non-film background.
Now, who would believe that celebrated singer Kailash Kher, who set off a new trend in the music industry with his soulful rendition of Sufi songs and one who spent years sleeping on railway platform on Andheri West in Mumbai in utter penury before the success beckoned, would harass other artistes from the same industry and some lowly media persons who reached him for a story? Millions of his fans have felt disappointed and let-down by the double standards that define his meteoric success. In the case of Kher, the allegations are mild and that makes his songs still worth listening but there are others who have crossed all limits of indecent behaviour. Should this scare and intimidate the existing and future women workforce? Faced with a similar situation during the Independence movement when Mahatma Gandhi's women volunteers faced some incidents of rape and molestation, he did not ask them to stay away from active public life but exhorted them to fight the menace with courage and conviction, that is in the purity of soul and purpose.