This is a very long post with a lot of big thoughts and some specific examples but even if you don’t read the whole post, you should read this new rule I am instituting for #MeToo related comments: IF YOU ARE COMMENTING HERE ABOUT A #METOO STORY, YOU MUST INCLUDE A LINK BACK TO THE ORIGINAL DETAILED REPORT, OR SUMMARIZE IT FOR US. YOU CANNOT SIMPLY GIVE A NAME WITH NO CONTEXT. If you forget, I will find the link and summarize it in a reply. But I’ll only do that three times before I start just not printing your comments, so please try to remember.
The “MeToo” movement is a general term for women coming forward and going public with their stories of interactions with male public figures. In many cases, these are stories that had been around for years, but no one was listening to them. Thanks to it being the right time, and technology providing the right platform, suddenly these stories are being heard, and believed, and shared.
Generally speaking, I think we can all agree that this is a good thing. The authorities who are supposed to deal with these problems, the internal HR departments of large corporations, the civil courts, and the police, have proven ineffective. The only solution left is the court of public opinion. As these stories are shared, the perpetrators everywhere are put on notice that this kind of behavior is no longer acceptable. And other victims are encouraged that they are not alone, that they will be believed.
(Remember Lajja? About women with only each other to rely on because no one else will believe them?)
Where I feel the need to be more cautious is when we go from the general to the specific. There are three things that I have noticed as being different with this go round. The first is that often there is no court you could go to, no “legitimate authority” to provide an answer. In general when these stories appear, the public reacts either with anger and excitement and immediate judgments. And that’s okay, because the public can make these immediate judgments and sweeping statements, and then wait for the court or the police or whoever else to finish their investigation and learn more details and then change their minds. Or not. It is the job of the public to be angry enough to force action on those who are empowered to act.
But in this case, there is no second step. The public is still reacting with the same anger and excitement, but there is no court to turn to in most of these stories. Often the actions described are immoral, but not illegal. There is no purpose to this anger, nothing it is driving towards, it ends up eating itself, turning into a never ending cycle of anger. Encouraged by the internet which allows for opinions to be shared over and over again with no firm authority to turn those opinions and stories into facts and judgments. To decide what is the debt to society and when it has been paid.
(Remember the Jessica Lal protests? That was a powerful anger and outrage, but it was driving towards something, towards a court case and true justice. What if there is no court case possible, what if all that is left is the anger and outrage? Does it not still need to be transfigured into something else?)
And then there is the other side of things, the way in which the original revelations are being made. It is wonderful that women are able to feel safe sharing their stories through online outlets like Facebook or Twitter or just sharing in the comments of a blog post. There are thousands, millions, of stories that could not otherwise find a public forum.
However, sharing something online is not the same as sharing it in person. Sometimes. When a famous person shares a story online about another famous person under their own name, they know it will result in questioning and cross-questioning, in those who know them in person, family and friends, reading this painful and humiliating story. And it will result in punishment from shared work acquaintances and perhaps mutual friends since the world of famous people is very small. All the reasons that there are so few false accusations of sexual assault. But when an unknown unfamous person shares a story online, they avoid much of these consequences. They may not have the same profession, they may not know anyone in common, they may not be able to be reached (post something on Facebook and de-activate your account), and it is even possible if the story is told anonymously that their family and friends will never know. Can they be trusted in the same way? Should all stories be considered equal, whether it is an anonymous online post or a police report with a famous name attached?
And finally, there is the danger of stories being seen cumulatively instead of one at a time. If there are 20 stories of a man being rude at the end of a date, and 1 story of a rape, then the rapist is still far worse than the serial rude man. But looked at cumualitively, the rapist may be ignored since there is only one story, while the serially rude man may receive undue notice. Often all we see is “another woman comes forward to talk about _____” and we start to think that “____” is a terrible person just because so many women are talking about him. While if there is only one headline, “_____ accuses _____” it doesn’t feel so bad. I don’t like looking at stories cumulatively, I want to look at each one individually and decide if that particular tale rings true and what it means, and then only after that see if the stories as a whole tell a pattern and how bad that pattern is.
(Only one woman accused Jeetendra of rape, and perhaps because of that her story has been a bit buried. There is nothing new to discuss, it was only one accusation. But surely that one accusation, complete with detailed story and police report, is more damning to him as a person than a few women on twitter saying that Kanan Gill held their waist tightly while taking a photo with him)
What I am leading up to is that, if the only court being appealed to here is the court of public opinion, then let us be a court. Let us look at the evidence carefully and individually and judge it. At least, when we are talking about individuals. Is there a major systemic issue with sexual harassment and male power? Yes absolutely, there is massive evidence of that. But is that enough to declare every man, individually, as guilty without considering all the details? No, it is not. More importantly, is that enough to declare every woman equally victimized? Should a victim of unwelcome flirtation be given the same sympathy and resources as a victim of rape? Should she be given the same power to speak for victims purely based on her experiences?
Someone has to look at the information and make a judgment for all these reasons, and if the public is being asked to make that judgment, then we should look at the information first and consider it and then judge. Thus my new rule that, at least on this site, you cannot simply post a name. You must include a summary of the accusation and/or a link back to the original source.
Now, I am going to take three cases from the recent purge of stories coming out of India: Vikas Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, and Chetan Bhagat. All of them are in the wrong, but are they all in the wrong equally? That is for us to determine. Because there is no one else but us to do it, and that is an awesome responsibility.
I’ll start with the actual story. An employee of Phantom films was with Vikas at a release party for Bombay Velvet in Goa. She was recovering from an accident and on crutches. She was really drunk and Vikas offered to help her back to her room. When she got there, she really needed to pee and rushed to the bathroom. She came out to find that Vikas had not left, he was spread out on her bed. She asked him to leave and tried to move him, but couldn’t. She was tired and in pain and finally built a wall of pillows between them and tried to sleep. She woke up to find him on top of her, she pushed him off and said no and finally he masturbated on top of her and then said “Fuck you, Bitch”. She told a friend what had happened a couple of days later and went into therapy. She was on strong anti-depressants with bad side effects and feeling suicidal for months. At work, Bahl began to abuse her, insult her when no one could here, constantly make her run menial errands for him. She put up with it for over a year and finally quit the company. The friend she originally spoke to (the “outcry witness”) confirmed her story under condition of anonymity, and Anurag Kashyap’s girlfriend who is also a fellow employee of the company confirmed that she saw Vikas misbehaving at a wedding which made her believe this story. Here is the full Huffington Post piece for your reference: https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2018/10/06/queen-director-vikas-bahl-sexually-assaulted-me-phantom-films-did-nothing-survivor-speaks-out_a_23552623/
So, in the court of public opinion, what do we think? Do we believe the witnesses, and what is our judgment?
For myself, I believe this story completely. For one thing, the woman is telling it to a reporter, someone who is questioning her and finding proof of everything she says. For another, it includes humiliating details, not just the assault itself, but that she was drunk, that she needed to pee, that she was suicidal, all of those things that you might choose to keep out if you were consciously building a narrative rather than telling the simple truth.
And there are multiple people confirming her story. Not just saying that they experienced something similar, but confirming her story in particular, outcry witnesses and friends who saw her disintegrating. This story has the ring of verifiable absolute fact.
(Vikas also looks kind of creepy in photos, which is definitely not evidence one way or the other)
So, what is my judgement? Well, Bahl is a rapist. And an experienced one. He didn’t accidentally wander into this situation, he picked out a weakened victim (injured and drunk) and tricked her into letting him into her hotel room. And he knew what he did, he spent months demeaning her so she wouldn’t feel able to tell her truth. He deserves jail time for what he did, it was in fact a crime and most likely a crime he had done before and will do again. He certainly should never be placed in a position again where he has authority over women, meaning he should never be given another directing job.
The attack by Bahl happened in May of 2015. The victim told Anurag (her direct supervisor) what happened in late October while picking him up from the airport and he said “I don’t want to hear this”. He seemingly did nothing, and even assigned her to work with Bahl on a short project after that. Kashyap does not dispute this, he says he was drunk and depressed during the original conversation and honestly has no memory of it. It wasn’t until March of 2017, after she had resigned from the company, that she received a text from Kashyap’s girlfriend promising they would look into this. Kashyap then told her that they could not simply fire Bahl because of the way the partnership contract was structured. He asked her to file a police report to give him grounds. He also said that removing Kashyap would mean killing the whole company. He went back and forth with the woman, asking her to go to the media or file a police report, telling her to make the decision while she just wanted him to decide. He now says he was wrong to set up a company without understanding contracts and contingencies, he was wrong not to do something much sooner, he was wrong all through and he is deeply deeply sorry. As of now, Kashyap is killing the company to remove Bahl.
The Huffington Post article and the quotes from the victim imply that perhaps she was used in a partnership dispute. Starting in February of 2017, Kashyap seemed to distance himself from his partners, and he kept pushing the victim to go to the media or the police, like it was her responsibility to do something, like he wanted her to do something just so he could cut Bahl loose.
However, I don’t have to agree with the Huffington Post or the victim’s perspective on the situation, I can look at the information available to me and make up my own mind. Kashyap says he was so drunk and miserable and out of it after Bombay Velvet failed that he has no memory of that original conversation. The victim says that she only told him once and it was in a car on the way back from the airport. I believe her completely, but that also means it was an odd situation and moment that would be easy for Kashyap to forget. Not a two hour debrief in his office, but in a car after getting off an airplane. And she doesn’t say she spoke to him again about it. Which, why should she? Such a painful story, you would only want to go over it once. But again, that means it would be possible for Kashyap to simply not remember the conversation. And it is a matter of public record that Kashyap was extremely depressed after the failure of Bombay Velvet, at one point he even posted a public statement threatening to move to France.
Kashyap should not have been running a company and responsible for his employees while drunk and depressed and not paying attention. He should have structured the company in the first place in such a way that there was someone else the woman could have spoken to, like an HR department. And you would hope that even drunk and possibly jetlagged, he would have snapped to attention while hearing this story and made a point of remembering it instead of letting it fall out of his brain.
The Huff post story says that it was in February that the partners started falling apart and implies that the decision to do something about the accusation in March was related to that. But Kashyap and his girlfriend Shetty both say that she witnessed Bahl’s misbehavior at a party in December and started doubting him and nagging Kashyap to do something. Which fits just as well with the timeline, that by January/February Kashyap knew Bahl was an attacker and distanced himself because of that. It also fits that the victim resigned in January, which could have helped confirm Kashyap’s doubts.
(Kind of an interesting coincidence that the movie which threads through this whole story is about a female victim of abuse looking for salvation)
Once Kashyap and Shetty believed her story and wanted to do something, they said they couldn’t because Bahl was a partner, the only way to get him out would be to dissolve the company. Again, the Huff Post story and the victim imply doubt that this was the real reason. But on the other hand, Phantom is actually dying now. Surely if they were lying, they would have found another way to get rid of Bahl than actually killing the company.
There is a lot of livelihoods at stake, yet everyone is with you and want to do the right thing. You will decide the punishment and even if you sympathize , he will still have to go… we just don’t want to be suicidal, that fuck it, let’s kill Phantom.. we want to correct it and set an example.
(Message from Kashyap to the victim. Notice he goes back and forth between wanting to save Phantom and being clear that Bahl is in the wrong and must go. Both these emotions can be true together)
They also tried to put responsibility on the victim, to go to the media, to file a police report. And that is wrong, it was their responsibility to do what they could to cleanse their company. She had done enough and waited long enough for action. But that is in the past, as of right now they are, finally, taking responsibility. Not just killing the company and speaking to the media about Bahl, but actually saying the words “it was my responsibility and I am so sorry”.
None of this takes away from the wrong that has been done and perhaps never will. I am better aware today to not allow ourselves to be in a similar place ever again. I am deeply, truly sorry to the woman in question and she has known this all this while. This will never happen again on my work premises ever again.
(The closing of his full statement in response to the Huff post article)
So, what is our final judgement? For myself, I find Kashyap guilty of being a terrible manager and businessman, so bad that he should not have tried to set up a company and in fact created an environment where such abuses could happen. I find him guilty of avoidance, trying to force the victim to do what he should have done himself. And I find him guilty of loving his company more than the people in it, trying to save the company over the people.
But I find him also an example. Because he is accepting guilt and responsibility and repenting. And his sins, for me, are things that can be repented. He may have been a terrible manager and businessman who created this environment, but now he is trying to change that by publicly modeling the right way to handle these disputes and taking responsibility for his part in this. He tried to force the victim to take responsibility, file a police report and so on. But he is now taking that responsibility back, loudly and clearly saying that he was wrong and should have acted far sooner. And finally, he has in fact killed his company, a healthy company that let him have the creative freedom he always wanted, and he is doing the right thing and killing it in order to save future victims and do right by past victims.
I’m not going to say Kashyap is “innocent”, but he is not a bad man, he does not belong in the same category as Bahl to me.
I’m picking Bhagat at random because he comes with screen shots, making it very easy for us to look at actual evidence. A female journalist posted these screen shots of a series of exchanges someone anonymous had with him giving the background only of of “For context the person in question is a journalist he had only met in a professional capacity.” (original tweet link: here)
Here are the actual screenshots:
Read the whole screenshot. And think about it carefully. Note not just the words, but the time stamps showing the rapid responses and that it is late at night. And notice that we have no confirmation that this was the entire conversation, no way of knowing what went before or after.
As I read it, she is remaining neutral, not really saying she is interested or definitively telling him to leave her alone, which is what you do when you have to be polite and get through the conversation. If this were in a situation where she couldn’t leave, if they were stuck in an elevator together or forced to work together, or if she was a waitress and he was a customer, then I would be unhappy with him for what he says. Or if he was an employer, a relative, someone with some kind of power over her. But this is over the phone. She could end the conversation at any point simply by ending the conversation. Don’t reply, block him, technology is there to help, they are not in physical proximity. And there are different social rules for technology because of this, if someone keeps the conversation going that alone tells you they are not as offended as they could be. She replies within a minute of his message with open statements, not “stop messaging me” or “I am going to sleep now”. And we only get ten minutes of the conversation, with no idea what happened before or after.
That isn’t to say that this couldn’t be some kind of abuse. Maybe there is context we don’t have where Chetan threatened to end her career if she wasn’t nice to him. Maybe their in person interaction was scary for her. We don’t know.
The only thing given to us, the public court, is two screenshots with no name attached to them and no idea who they were related to. There is no further context provided to help us make our decision as to what is happening. It becomes a Rorschach test, if you have experienced aggressive texting from people you could not be rude to, you see it as under duress. If you have not, you see it as casual flirting.
(It’s like this young lady or old woman picture. It tells you more about your own perspective and expectations than what is actually on the page)
That isn’t to say Bhagat is “right”. He is a married man, and he is sending flirtatious texts to a woman he just met. That’s wrong. But I don’t know that it is any of our business? If he wasn’t married, and if the woman was interested, this wouldn’t be wrong. He met her in a professional setting, but does that mean you aren’t allowed to follow up and try to make the professional personal? It doesn’t say he was her boss or anything like that, they just first met through work. Half the couples I know first met through work.
He is married, so he is breaking a covenant he made with his wife (probably, we don’t know their marriage) and the general social contract which says married men will keep their distance. For me, that is the only thing I see as wrong here.
(And he will probably lose his endorsement deal with Shaadi.com, which seems like a fair punishment to me)
If that is the sin, what is my judgement? Well, for me, my judgement is that it means Bhagat is not flawless. And that is hardly a surprise to me, because I don’t assume anyone is flawless. But it might be a surprise for other people, and that is his judgement, for everyone in the world to now know that he isn’t perfect.
So, what do we have here in our grab bag of #MeToo stories? We have a dangerous rapist and abuser who should be locked up where he cannot harm anyone else. We have a weak man who became a collaborator by incompetence and now regrets it and is trying to do better. And we have a celebrity who we now know is not flawless.
What good is this doing? I think all three stories serve a good purpose, but very different purposes. Bahl, he is the simplest, women need to be warned about him for their own safety and now they have been. That is a definite good.
Anurag, he is a cautionary tale, he is the man who didn’t actively do anything wrong but didn’t do anything right either and now is trying to do better. Men of the world should take note of him, learn from his mistakes and do things right in the first place.
(It’s worth it to read Anurag’s statement in full. It truly is an object lesson in how there are more than one factor in solving these problems. For instance, the victim’s boyfriend became involved late in the discussion with his own feelings about the situation)
Chetan Bhagat, he has shown himself to be flawed. And that is a good thing. Public figures, especially male public figures, are too often seen to be flawless. It leads to blind belief and blind following of them. A pop culture celebrity being blindly believed and worshiped isn’t necessarily that dangerous, but the same habit of belief easily translates to more dangerous arenas, political powers who actually guide society. If people now know Chetan Bhagat isn’t perfect, perhaps it will make them less able to believe anyone is perfect, more likely to question, and that is a good thing.
One final comment, a reminder really, India is now very excited about women posting interactions with public figures in media. But while public figures in media may be very exciting to read about, they do not hold the real power. And those who do hold the real power have been not just accused in twitter images but in actual court cases. This is not a problem of Indian media, or the upperclass people who share stories on twitter, but a problem of the whole country top to bottom. (from a report from the Association for Democratic Reforms, full updated details here as of the most recent election):
Highlights of the report
- 6 MLAs have declared that they have charges of rape against themselves in their sworn affidavits submitted with the Election Commission of India at the time of their election.
- Of these 6 MLAs with declared rape cases, 3 are from SP namely Sribhagwan Sharma, Anoop Sanda and Manoj Kumar Paras from Uttar Pradesh, 1 from BSP namely Mohd. Aleem Khan from Uttar Pradesh, 1 of BJP namely Jethabhai G.Ahir from Gujarat and 1 of TDP namely Kandikunta Venkata Prasad from Andhra Pradesh.
- 36 other MLAs have declared that they have other charges of crimes against women such as outraging the modesty of a woman, assault, insulting the modesty of a woman etc.
- Of the 36 MLAs who have declared that they have charges of crimes against women, 6 MLAs are from INC , 5 from BJP and 3 from SP.
- U.P. has the maximum number of MLAs (8) who have declared that they have charges of crimes against women, followed by Orissa and West Bengal with 7 MLAs each.
- 2 MPs, namely Semmalai S of ADMK from Salem constituency in Tamil Nadu and Adhikari Suvendu of AITC from Tamluk constituency in West Bengal, have declared that they have charges of crimes against women, such as cruelty and intent to outrage a woman’s modesty etc.
For all of these reasons, I want to maintain a sane court of public opinion and not contribute to it. I don’t want excitement over big names and weak accusations to blind us to the realities of Indian society where a rape case is a stepping stone to a political career. And I don’t want it to stop us from being able to use our brains and consider situations individually.
THEREFORE!!!! IF YOU ARE COMMENTING HERE ABOUT A #METOO STORY, YOU MUST INCLUDE A LINK BACK TO THE ORIGINAL DETAILED REPORT. YOU CANNOT SIMPLY LIST A NAME WITHOUT LETTING US JUDGE THE CIRCUMSTANCES. If you forget, I will remind you. If you still do not post the link, I will post it. If you do this more than three times, I will not allow you to post any more #MeToo related content until you add links.