The man was a big name in news media and told her that he would help her with leads. The news that Nandhini had outed a predator in the organisation where she was working had spread, and the thenyear-old was desperately looking to get a new job as the environment in the newspaper she worked with was getting uncomfortable.
The senior television journalist added her on Facebook, praised her courage for outing her predator, and on the pretext of setting up a meeting with his wife — he took her to his house and sexually assaulted her. I got uncomfortable and said I will come back later.
He said his wife must have stepped out and asked me to come in and sit down. This man then went into the kitchen to get some water. When he came out, he had unzipped himself and had his penis out.
I was frozen, shocked and scared, and got up to leave. In the last decade, the journalist — and his wife — have only grown more powerful in the industry, and while she has heard whispers of his misconduct with other women, he has not faced any repercussions for his behaviour so far, she says.
In many cases, there is a power differential between the survivor and the perpetrator; survivors risk losing their livelihood if their perpetrator is a powerful man in the same industry, and for many women, redressal mechanisms are not immediately apparent. Singer Chinmayi, who has accused prominent Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu of misbehaving with her, says there is a conspiracy of silence that women are forced to follow. That women must take care of themselves around certain men. In schools too, there is very little conversation on consent, safe touch, unsafe touch — and somehow, girls and women are brought up to carry the burden "Woman on woman sexual harassment" shame that isn't theirs.
Veteran Bollywood writer-producer Vinta Nanda, who recently accused actor Alok Nath of rape 19 years ago, tells TNM that when the crime happened, such behaviour was so normalised there was rarely a question of seeking redressal. So, who would I go to? Going to the court, Vinta says, is a process that not many women can afford — both financially and in terms of time. Before there were ICCs, where could we go? Going to court would take our life away.
The day she made her MeToo statement was the first time Nandhini spoke out about the assault to anyone — the first instance she has acknowledged the assault. The very fact that most of the voices that have Woman on woman sexual harassment heard in this wave of the MeToo movement in India points to how much more difficult it is for marginalised women, men, and non-binary folks to speak up.
More so for those who assert themselves and reject caste and patriarchal domination. While crimes against upper caste women are taken seriously and elicit more empathy, violation of rights of Dalit women and the injustice meted out to us has an excruciating long history.
Most cases are neither registered nor acted upon and the perpetrators go scot-free. Most importantly, we need to dismantle power structures that enable such sexual violence, as Niharika Singh said. Unless the Savarna feminists dismantle the same power structures from which they have benefitted, women in this country will continue to be gaslit, exploited and maligned; their dreams thwarted, voices silenced, bodies assaulted and histories erased.