MJ Akbar, Alok Nath named as India’s #MeToo fire rages on

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Mumbai/New Delhi, Oct 9 (PTI): The #MeToo fire raged on Tuesday, charring carefully built up reputations as more women narrated their experiences in the wide spectrum of sexual misconduct with Union minister M J Akbar and character actor Alok Nath amongst those named for their alleged actions.

While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj refused to answer a question on the allegations against her junior minister, a journalist-turned-politician, the ripples of the movement to call out those who had allegedly sexually harassed women, verbally or physically, were felt across the media and entertainment industry.

As the debate around what constitutes sexual harassment and concerns over due process intensified across newsrooms, drawing rooms and social media platforms,  several senior journalists joined the list of those “named and shamed” by women.

Expressing its gratitude and solidarity towards women journalists for their courage, the Editors Guild said in a statement that it is committed to ensuring that the legal rights the victims and the accused are not violated.

“The Guild extends its total support to all women journalists, who suffered a disadvantage in their careers, physical or mental trauma, as a result of any sexual predation,” it said.

Perhaps the most harrowing experience to be shared was by writer-producer Vinta Nanda, who accused the “most Sanskaari person”, as actor Alok Nath is known, of raping her more than once 19 years ago.

The Cine and TV Artists Association Tuesday said it would send Nath a show-cause notice. “Dear @vintananda I am so so sorry… Unfortunately we’ve to follow the due process. I urge you to file a complaint against this vile creature, we extend you full support,” CINTAA general secretary Sushant Singh wrote to Nanda.

Nanda, best known for the TV show “Tara”, gave a detailed account of the alleged assaults in a lengthy Facebook post Monday night, the latest expose in the #MeToo movement sweeping India which started last fortnight with Tanushree Dutta alleging that she was harassed by veteran actor Nana Patekar during a film shoot in 2008.

Nanda did not name Nath but referred to her attacker as “the most Sanskaari (cultured) person”, a sobriquet attached with the actor courtesy his on-screen image of playing the goody-goody father, uncle and grandfather.

She alleged that Nath sexually assaulted her on more than one occasion after he was free from the 1993 show for misbehaving with its lead actor, Navneet Nishan.

Confirming that she was indeed talking about him, Nanda told PTI later in the day, “It has been the nucleus of my every situation. I lost my confidence as a writer and as a human being. It changed me fundamentally.”

Nanda added that she would be meeting advisors to decide further course of action. Reacting to the allegations, Nath told ABP News, “Neither I am denying this nor do I agree with it. It (rape) must have happened, but someone else would have done it. Well, I do not want to talk much about it as for the matter if it has come out, it will be stretched.”

Nishan also backed Nanda’s account and said, “I dealt with the four year harassment by slapping the man in question and it is done and dusted.” #MeToo also moved out of the Hindi film industry Tuesday with Malayalam actor-turned MLA Mukesh being accused by Tess Joseph, a woman casting director, of harassing her in 1999 during the shooting of a television show.

An MLA of the ruling CPI(M) and the host of several popular TV shows, Mukesh rejected the charges and said he did not even remember the shooting of the programme.

Writer-lyricist Varun Grover was also accused in an anonymous post but issued a strong denial, saying nothing in it was true and he was ready to go through an inquiry to prove himself.

The comedy collective AIB, actor-director Rajat Kapoor and filmmaker Vikas Bahl felt the repercussions of the allegations of sexual misconduct and molestation.

The Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) announced that the festival will drop AIB’s “Chintu Ka Birthday” and Rajat Kapoor’s “Kadakh” from its showcase in the light of allegations against them.

Bahl will no longer be associated with Kabir Khan’s “83”.Though Bollywood’s biggest and most powerful have been mostly quiet on the issue, actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan Tuesday backed the movement but stopped short of commenting on individual cases.

“The #MeToo movement has gained momentum in present times, the world has become smaller with social media, one voice is becoming larger. What is nice is that the media is becoming allied and propelling voices that need to be heard and giving them platform,” she said.

Indian Film & Television Directors’ Association said they have taken note of the spurt in the number of cases and have issued Bahl a show cause notice. It said it has set up a Women’s Grievances Redressal Cell to safeguard the interest of women artistes.

The National Commission for Women said it is in the process of gathering detailed information of the various allegations that have come to light in the media.

The movement also had its naysayers. Like BJP MP Udit Raj who backed Patekar and asked, “#MeToo movement is important but what is the relevance of making sexual harassment allegations against anybody ten years later?”

As the movement gathers momentum, more skeletons are likely to come out of the cupboard with more women saying #MeToo, said activists.

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