The MeToo Movement In India Picks Up Steam
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's been about a year since the publication of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. This inspired thousands of women to report their own experiences of sexual harassment. But in India, a country with high rates of sexual violence against women, there was no such #MeToo movement - that is, until now. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from India.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Ten years ago, when a famous Indian film star, Tanushree Dutta, complained of sexual harassment by a prominent male actor, this is what she faced trying to leave the set of the film they'd been shooting together.
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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting in foreign language).
FRAYER: An angry mob surrounded her car, smashing the windshield. Paparazzi filmed it. She was replaced by another actress. She felt like no one believed her, she says.
TANUSHREE DUTTA: There was no #MeToo movement. I don't even think we discussed things like sexual harassment, workplace harassment, in India. They made it a scandal. Like, I felt like I was knocking my head against a wall.
FRAYER: Dutta decided to take a break from the Indian film industry, Bollywood. She moved to the U.S. and watched Hollywood actresses speak out about abuse by the U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein.
DUTTA: What I saw was a stark difference from what I would see in India. The women didn't have a sense of shame and stigma attached to them. Like in India, if somebody has to stand up and speak about harassment, abuse, assault, you can almost feel the awkwardness.
FRAYER: Last month, Dutta returned to India on vacation and spoke to local media about that contrast, of being ignored when she tried to report her harassment here 10 years ago and then watching women in the U.S. who were believed. Suddenly, people in India paid attention. In recent weeks, hundreds more Indian women have posted their own sexual harassment allegations on social media.
Top figures in news and entertainment have been accused. A government minister was forced to resign. Varun Grover is a screenwriter and standup comedian famous for poking fun at the establishment.
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VARUN GROVER: (Speaking Hindi).
FRAYER: He has also been accused.
GROVER: So yeah, I was at work. Then I saw messages from four or five friends just sharing a tweet.
FRAYER: It was a tweet with an anonymous allegation that he had inappropriately touched a college classmate 17 years ago. Grover denies it. He says he supports India's #MeToo movement but is upset that while investigative journalists vetted complaints against Harvey Weinstein in the U.S., in India, the accusations have exploded mostly on social media, where some of the accusers remain anonymous.
GROVER: I understand the anger. But at the same time, this story is coming from a completely anonymous account. It was almost like fighting a ghost.
FRAYER: Though Grover says he understands why many women choose to remain anonymous. They're scared to go to the police.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).
FRAYER: Poor, illiterate women sing a song about the beatings they've endured in Rajasthan in northern India. This is a world away from the urban elites and their #MeToo hashtags. But Bhanwari Devi knows their struggle. In 1992, she was working for her local municipality, and it started a campaign against child marriage. Some powerful men in her village did not like it.
BHANWARI DEVI: (Speaking Marwari).
FRAYER: Devi describes how three local men beat up her husband and then held her down while two others raped her in an open field. Devi's case went all the way to the Supreme Court and led to India's first workplace sexual harassment guidelines in 1997. But most sexual assault in India is still perpetrated by relatives and neighbors, not co-workers or bosses.
And while Bollywood film stars and media figures have been at the center of India's #MeToo movement, sexual violence is most rampant and most underreported in rural areas, where the majority of Indians still live. Only about a quarter of Indian women have jobs. Devi is one of the few working women in her village.
DEVI: (Through interpreter) There are so many abuse cases, often involving fathers-in-law or brothers-in-law. It's different from the city. In villages, abusers can hide behind their families. Victims, if they speak out, taint the whole village's honor.
FRAYER: It's been 26 years since Devi was attacked. The men were never convicted of rape. Only one of them is still alive. Devi doesn't have a TV or a cell phone. A human rights worker from the city had to tell her about the #MeToo movement. She wonders if her sole surviving attacker has even heard about it.
DEVI: (Through interpreter) He might see this news of men in the cities being held to account. But he's still a powerful man in my village. He's turned people against me. I've been ostracized by my community because I spoke up.
FRAYER: Devi is now in her 60s. She doubts she'll get justice in her lifetime. But she says she's hopeful that the next generation of her sisters in India just might. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Jaipur, India.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.