Indian Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi (r) speaks during a press conference in New Delhi, May 17. (Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images)
Union minister Maneka Gandhi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Oct. 12, strongly backed women who narrated their experiences of sexual misconduct and more as the #MeToo floodgates opened wider with high-profile directors Sajid Khan, Subhash Ghai and Luv Ranjan the latest to be ‘outed’.
While big Bollywood projects “Housefull 4” and “Mogul” faced an uncertain future with their stars saying they would not work with those accused of sexual harassment, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said she plans to set up a panel of legal experts to look into the allegations.
She also asserted that she believes in the “pain and trauma” of every complainant.
Rahul Gandhi said the truth needs to be told “loud and clear in order to bring about change”.
“It’s about time everyone learns to treat women with respect and dignity. I’m glad the space for those who don’t, is closing,” he said in his first comments on the #MeToo movement.
Neither of the two Gandhis spoke on the multiple allegations against Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar, who has been accused by several former women colleagues of sexual harassment when he served as editor at various media organizations.
More women should come out and address the issue of sexual harassment and narrate their experiences, Maneka Gandhi said.
“I believe in all of them. I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complainant… I am proposing to set up a committee with senior judicial and legal persons as members to look into all issues emanating from the #MeToo campaign,” she told PTI.
Though Rahul Gandhi did not mention Akbar, Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the charges against the minister.
“Modi ji and morals travel in opposite direction. Modi ji will not seek Akbar’s resignation on moral grounds but if he fears his vote bank is affected and he will suffer politically… then he will even sack him,” Govil told reporters.
As demands escalated for action against Akbar, Bollywood grappled with its own demons.
Farah Khan, Farhan Akhtar, Ajay Devgn and Bipasha Basu were among the big stars who backed the movement against sexual exploitation.
After Aamir Khan dropped out of “Mogul” because its director Subhash Kapoor faced sexual harassment charges in 2014, the shooting of “Housefull 4” was postponed following the allegations against its director Sajid Khan and actor Nana Patekar.
Akshay Kumar, 51, said he wouldn’t work with “proven offenders.”
“I will not work with any proven offenders and all those who have been subjugated to harassment should be heard and given the justice they deserve,” he said.
Director Farah Khan also spoke out against her brother Sajid, saying she doesn’t endorse his behaviour and stands in solidarity with any woman who has been hurt.
“If my brother has behaved in this manner, he has a lot to atone for,” she said.
The anguished response came after three women actors and a journalist shared graphic details of the sexual harassment they faced at the hands of Sajid, who announced he is stepping down as director of “Housefull 4” till he can allay the allegations.
Sajid’s cousin, actor Farhan Akhtar, said the allegations were shocking.
“I cannot adequately stress how shocked, disappointed and heartbroken I am to read the stories about Sajid’s behavior,” he tweeted.
Bipasha, who worked with Sajid in “Humshakals”, said she always found his behaviour towards women offensive.
“Pyaar Ka Panchnama” director Ranjan and Ghai are the two other big names to be accused of rape and harassment.
Recounting what had happened when was called for an audition for “Pyaar Ka Punchnama”, an anonymous actor told Mid-Day that Ranjan asked her to strip down to her inner wear because he wanted to see how she would look in a bikini scene.
She said she got the role but things did not improve as Ranjan kept asking her details about her love life. Eventually, she said she decided not to be a part of the film. Ranjan has denied all the allegations.
It is not clear whether the allegations will impact his upcoming project with Devgn and Ranbir Kapoor.
Devgn, however, said his production house will not tolerate harassment. “My company and I believe in providing women with utmost respect and safety. If anyone has wronged even a single woman, neither ADF nor I will stand for it,” he tweeted.
Writer Mahima Kukreja shared an anonymous post of a woman levelling rape charges against Ghai on Thursday, saying she was a “very credible media/lit personality, who does not want to be named”.
In the post, the woman claims Ghai, 73, harassed her while she worked with him on a film and one day during a late music session, he spiked her drink and raped in a hotel.
Ghai, who denied the allegation, issued a fresh statement Friday.
“I am deeply pained to be gripped in this movement but thank those who know me and respect I shower to women and their dignity,” he tweeted.
Clearly, the storm, which started with Tanushree Dutta’s allegations against Patekar last fortnight and has felled big names such as Alok Nath, Vikas Bahl and his production house Phantom Films and comic collective AIB, shows no signs of abating.
Police is investigating Dutta’s complaint while Patekar has denied the allegations.
There were also allegations of harassment against an executive of Tata, which released a statement saying the matter has been taken up by an internal panel. “Appropriate action will be taken as soon the enquiry is completed.”