On September 19, actor Payal Ghosh shared a Telugu news segment on Twitter that ran a story of her coming out with her #MeToo story – that Bollywood film director Anurag Kashyap had molested her in 2014. In the tweet, Ghosh said that Kashyap “forced himself” on her, and “extremely badly”. She also tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the tweet, urging him to take action against him.
In an interview with IANS, Ghosh went into detail about her experience with Kashyap. When asked why she chose to stay silent all these years, she said, “My family, my brother, manager and other people from the industry – all of them asked me to stay quiet if I wanted a career in this industry. ‘Your career will get ruined’, ‘no one will work with you’ were some of the things they said to me.”
The tweet caused an uproar on social media, with notable actors and producers as well as fans of the director coming out in his support. Kashyap himself called the allegations baseless, claiming that his constant scathing critique of the ruling government has given fodder to nationalists to tarnish his image by exploiting the #MeToo movement.
Several people, including Kangana Ranaut, came in support of Ghosh as well, demanding that the National Commission for Women take notice of the accusation. Ghosh has primarily worked in the Telugu film industry, and she made her Bollywood debut in 2017 opposite Vir Das in Patel Ki Punjabi Shaadi.
Media trials put the unfair burden of ‘choosing’ on the public
With these allegations coming at a time when Bollywood as a whole is in the public’s watchful eye, what stands out is the role of people in choosing the ‘correct’ side.
In the news segment that she shared, Payal Ghosh mentioned other actors whom Kashyap had allegedly talked to her about, namely Richa Chadha, Mahie Gill, and Huma Qureshi (all of whom have worked with Kashyap), and claimed that Kashyap bragged about how these women were always available for him to exploit sexually.
Many feminists, while supportive of Ghosh’s right to tell her story without judgement, were critical of the fact that she did so at the expense of the reputations of three other women who had carved a niche for themselves in a male-dominated industry.
By narrating the incident in a voyeuristic manner, Ghosh indirectly marked herself as the ‘good’ woman, and the others as ‘bad’ women.
Social media trials force people to take sides and jump to conclusions before any due process has taken place, and the situation gets tougher when a popular voice of dissent comes into the picture. This is the crux of the dilemma – is there a way to support one party without demonising the other?
If people choose to believe that Kashyap’s persona and his critique of the government have made him an easy target, they would be denying Ghosh her right to justice. However, if they choose to believe Ghosh’s accusations, it would mean doing away with another voice of dissent and ignoring the possibility of this accusation being another silencing tactic.
The #MeToo movement began as a way for women to speak up about sexual harassment and the patriarchal structures that forced them to keep quiet. But as we have seen with the treatment of several #MeToo stories unfolding on the internet, media trials may provide temporary relief to mob mentality, but they’re not the right solution or the only solution.
This is a reminder that movements like #MeToo were not intended to be purely social media movements. Social media only serves as a rallying point for further offline activity that incorporates due process as well as checks and balances.
This is important so that these movements are not weaponised and politicised. Journalists like Sandhya Menon have been working on a due process of reporting and handling cases of sexual harassment for precisely this reason.
As of today, Anurag Kashyap and Richa Chadha have sent legal notices to Ghosh. Chadha also updated on her social media that the hard copy of the legal notice was not accepted by Ghosh or her representatives.
Two years after the #MeToo movement took over the internet, situations like these are a grave reminder of our broken system that still hasn’t done enough to accommodate instances of violence against women in the workplace and provide them justice. What we need is a system that goes into the specificities of this violence and tackles them with sensitivity, so we don’t have to resort to media trials to get justice.
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