A pause is a good time to review an unfolding story. And what a story it has been so far, with women known and anonymous pointing the finger of sexual harassment at about 50 men, most of them well known in their community.
The stuff that was traditionally discussed in whispers in office corridors is finding place on page one of newspapers. Not once but day after day, week after week. It has forced all of us to confront this mad disease the existence of which we always suspected. But we knew of neither its extent nor its exact nature. The #MeToo campaign exposed the faces behind it and gave us case studies in harassment.
For many of us, including myself, the past month has been a learning experience. It has brought the media, entertainment and advertising business attention it could certainly have done without. As the days went by, I began to wonder if there was something wrong with our business. How come nearly all the incidents were from this space alone?
Also, I asked myself: is social media the first resort or the last for an aggrieved woman?
Looking back, I might have been somewhat naïve in estimating the prevalence of persecution women face in office. That might be because I have always worked in - or started up - companies where women are treated equally. I had heard tales of MJ Akbar and his 'harem' in my news journalism days more than two decades ago. However, I imagined - wrongly it turns out - that in the new India, behaviour like this was anachronistic.
My reasoning went thus: at a gender level, we are a much more equal society than before. Also, this is no longer that poverty stricken India where jobs are hard to find. A harassed woman might not be able to fight back but surely she could quit and get another job? Would a boss dare molest a young colleague without fear of reprisal?
When actor Tanushree Dutta made the first allegation against veteran Nana Patekar, I didn't think much about it since it was a decade-old case. And when, on its heels the dam burst upon former star editor MJ Akbar, with incidents from 20 years ago, it was just another reminder of something from the past.
Having followed the #MeToo campaign in the US intermittently, I had a sense of the issues and its origin. It all started with an article in The New York Times on October 5, 2017 which said that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had made a tradition over 30 years of sexually assaulting women whom he then paid off.
The origin of the Indian movement a year later has been quite the opposite: in the US, it was the media that took the lead to expose the powerful. In India, the allegations first surfaced on social media before mainstream media followed up on it. (Also, in India there seem to be far more anonymous accusers compared to the US.)
So here is what we did at afaqs! My colleague Suraj Ramnath, whose research led to the table in this article, put down all the instances of men who have been accused of sexual harassment in the past month. We understand that these are allegations and some of the men might well be innocent. Still, if data from the National Crimes Research Bureau (as reported in The Times of India) is any indication, only 4 per cent of the 26,430 cases of sexual harassment dealt with by the police across India in 2016 were fake. So, Indian women don't generally accuse casually.
Several of the alleged wrongdoers have been forced out of their jobs. Where they are self-employed, clients have begun asking questions.
In the case of lobbyist Suhel Seth, for example, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, corporates including Mahindras, Adanis and JSW (Jindal) group told the media that Seth was no longer consulting with them. As for the Tatas, the group said that it had taken note of the allegations against Seth.
Let's now look at the bare facts and examine what they tell us about the pattern of harassment in Indian offices.
• Total number of men: In all, 48 men have been accused of sexual harassment. We have left out the five who have been implicated for not acting on a complaint but were not harassers themselves. Moreover, we have left out Varun Grover who has been given a clean chit by Netflix as also Aditi Mittal, a standup comic who was among those accused because of an act on stage.
• How old are they today?: Assuming that they were 21 when they graduated, we have calculated their approximate age which would be 47 years today. Nearly half of them would fall in the 41-50-year age bracket.
• And their age when they did the deed?: We have tried to pin down the year but details of several incidents are patchy. Where repeat offenders are involved, we have gone with the first offence. We have a rough timeline for 30 incidents. Based on these, the average age of the perpetrator was 39 years. According to this sample, the age when men are most likely to let their roving hands follow their roving eyes is 35-44 years.
• Where did this happen?: While Delhi has a terrible reputation when it comes to women's safety, in the current #MeToo wave, Mumbai is the undisputed capital. Since we have no details to the contrary, we have assumed that the place where the alleged culprit now lives is where the crime took place.
So, nine belonged to Delhi NCR (National Capital Region), three to Bengaluru and one to Hyderabad. The remaining 35 live in Mumbai - that is three out of every four against whom allegations have been made. This is ironical considering that the streets of Mumbai are rated among the safest in India.
• Guess the business: When it comes to the type of business the alleged perpetrators belong to, Indian films win hands down. Fourteen of the men come from here followed by ad agencies which bring up a round dozen. The odd bit is that though film and television are both entertainment businesses located in Mumbai, only a couple of executives from the latter have been named. In comparison print, which has a staid image, has contributed seven editors to the list. Several of them have been forced out of their jobs.
• Many repeat offenders: If you have been following the #MeToo movement in India, you will notice that the number of women victimised is much larger than the men named.
Akbar's case explains that: the former minister has been accused by 15 women of behaving inappropriately. Twenty two of the 48 men in the dock have been accused by two or more women of having harassed or misbehaved. They account for 77 instances of sexual harassment.
More than half of those 21 have been accused by 3 women or more. Akbar is, of course, in another league altogether. Put differently, 45 per cent of the accused accounted for nearly 75 per cent of the transgressions.
The pattern of repeat offences fits that seen in the US. The news site Vox has an updated list of over 250 well-known men across professions who stand accused. Of them, 171 have been accused by multiple women. In other words, two out of three men were repeat offenders.
In our smaller Indian sample almost half of the men are repeat offenders. Remember that the movement is barely a month old. As the allegations come in, many in the one-time list may end up as repeat offenders.
The lesson is clear. Men who go down this path and pick on a woman will do so again and again if there is no price to pay. As their confidence grows, they will keep forcing themselves on women to tote up a long list of 'victories'. The earlier they are stopped, the better.
Why are most of the cases on social media related to the media, entertainment and advertising business?
Critics might say that this is the consequence of the promiscuity that goes with this space. Or is it because many companies are small? Or is it because people are comfortable with social media and have therefore taken to it? Or could it be that these are only the cases exposed on social media - and that the problem is just as rife in corporate India but we don't come to know of it?
If you consider the names on the list, it is remarkable how some of the biggest employers within the media and advertising business hardly feature in it. Most of the names belong to new, small companies.
Even where companies like Dentsu and DDB Mudra figure, it is with regard to their acquisitions: Happy Mcgarrybowen and 22 feet Tribal. These agencies had a culture that was created before they were acquired and the cases mostly relate to that time, before they became part of these larger networks.
An ugly fallout of entrepreneurship?
Many of the names, especially connected to films, are effectively independent operators - actors, casting directors, that sort of thing. Where companies do feature, they are typically entrepreneurial and young. Some examples: Happy Mcgarrybowen (founded: 2007), Creativeland Asia (2007), Kwan Entertainment (2009), 22 feet Tribal (2009), Phantom Films (2011), Utopeia Communicationz (2012), AIB (2013), Terribly Tiny Tales (2013), Exceed Entertainment (2014).
Start-ups tend to be energetic, informal and have an anything-goes attitude. Rules are lax. People come and leave when they like. Working unearthly hours is common. Leave and travel policies don't exist. Most of these rules fall into place over time. But in the early years there is a sense of excitement, of perpetually rushing adrenaline which says 'anything is possible'. In this surcharged atmosphere, the founder is king. That can lead to a belief that he can behave as he likes with his team members.
The list in India so far belongs almost entirely to media, entertainment and advertising - with television being a notable near-absentee. In the US, going by the list on Vox, art, entertainment and media make up about 60 per cent of the people listed. The rest are made up of politicians (including President Donald Trump), business & technology and 'others'.
To return to India, does this mean that sexual harassment takes place only in young, entrepreneurial firms? No, it only means that employees in younger, smaller firms are more likely to take to social media because they believe they will not be heard internally.
According to a recent report in Business Standard, India's largest private companies receive 13 complaints of sexual harassment for every 10,000 women employed - or 0.13 per cent of the total. According to NGOs which worked in women's rights, this is a ridiculously understated figure because a complaint is filed only as a last resort.
Now, according to KPMG, an estimated 3.5-4.0 million people are employed directly or indirectly in the Indian media and entertainment business. If you assume that about 25-33 per cent of them are women, this would add up to one million women.
If we were to apply the same frequency of harassment complaints as in India's top private companies - 0.13 per cent per year - these estimated million women in media and entertainment would make 1,300 complaints every year. And yet, we have only heard just over 100 over the past month or so.
What we think of as a deluge of complaints on social media is actually a trickle.
Moral of the story: if private companies can't ensure that their linen is kept clean at home, they can be sure that when it gets dirty it will be washed in public.
(We have removed mention of youth media company Homegrown, former employer of Rameez Shaikh, one of the accused, as the allegations against him do not pertain to the time he was employed at the company.)
(We have removed Bang in the Middle founder Prathap Suthan's name from the table on December 14, 2018, because the accusation was found to be false).
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