Report. Scores of celebrities, academics and politicians in India have been called to account for sexual harassment.

#MeToo reaches India, but legal redress seems unlikely

The MeToo movement suddenly hit critical mass in Indian society last week, leading to an extraordinary series of accusations, resignations and demotions involving many prominent names on the subcontinent. As reported by local media, it all started last week when a girl denounced, via tweet, the behavior of Utsav Chakraborty, a well-known Indian comedian, accusing him of having sent her an unsolicited photo of his penis.

In just hours, other women came forward with similar allegations against Chakraborty, laying the foundations for a collective call for justice that saw scores of women in many different fields denouncing abusive male co-workers over the following days. Now, months after a list of professors who sexually harassed female students was published and updated by dozens of Indian university students, it appears that, thanks to the activism and denunciations posted online in the last few days, the Pandora’s box of gender issues has finally been opened in India, forcing top names from the local elite in many fields to publicly take responsibility for their actions.

Among the many well-known names accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, physical or verbal, toward co-workers or fans we find Chetan Bhagat (writer and author of numerous bestselling English-language books), Alok Nath (actor), Prashant Jha (journalist), Vikas Bahl (director and film producer) and MJ Akbar (former director of several Indian newspapers, and today a deputy from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party).

For now, the force of the Indian MeToo movement has not been able to obtain legal redress in the courtroom: despite the avalanche of accusations, none of the men named is currently under criminal investigation.

Recalling the media cover-up that followed the previous “name and shame” initiative by Indian university students, journalist Geeta Pandey explained to the BBC why, in spite of the spontaneous developments in recent days, the MeToo movement is still fighting an uphill battle in India: “It’s not going to be easy for those who choose to speak out, especially for those who have no evidence to back up their allegations. Some of the women have provided screenshots of private text messages they were sent by their alleged harassers, making the allegations hard to deny. But in cases where it boils down to ‘your word against mine,’ many of the women who spoke out are already being threatened with legal action for defamation and some of the tweets, naming names, have already been taken down.”

According to the female journalist organization “Network for Women in Media, India,” we are now living through a “watershed moment” for Indian journalism as the “rampant sexism and misogyny” in the industry is being denounced. In a statement, they call on other female Indian journalists to reveal the abuse they suffered “without fear or inhibitions.”

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