GENDER: ZERO TOLERANCE TOWARDS SEXUAL HARASSMENTby Vinta Nanda February 7 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins, 59 secs
Vinta Nanda in a conversation with General Secretary of CINTAA about what it takes to have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and to take decisive action against those who cross the line.
Recently, the executive committee at the Cine and TV Artistes Association (CINTAA), and members of the CINTAA Artistes Welfare Trust (CAWT), were faced with a problem. A senior member of the committee as well as the trust, a well-known actor, was called out by a reputed journalist for having ditched her after getting to know that she was pregnant and carrying his child.
The situation blew out of proportion when the actor refuted all claims made by the lady and she in turn revealed details of the relationship between the two of them on social media. She also disclosed private conversations, which they had by text over a period of time.
The journalist, of course, is not a member of the association, but the man in question is, therefore the matter had to be addressed. More so, because among the screenshots released by the journalist, of her conversations with the actor, were highly insulting and derogatory comments made about several of the senior actors, especially women, who are members of the committee, and some trustees as well. Eventually this actor resigned from the post of executive committee member and trustee, and his resignation was accepted a few days ago.
It was CINTAA, during the #metoo movement, which set an example by being the first to take strong action against its erring members, when women came out in droves and spoke out in 2018. Among most other organisations, unions, networks and broadcasters in the Indian industry of entertainment, it was only this particular association, which acted fearlessly and was seen to be one practicing zero tolerance.
I talked to Amit Behl, General Secretary CINTAA, about the recent case and how his co-committee members and trustees took action along with him in such a complex situation. Also, what it is that makes CINTAA unique in a universe where most others are largely paralysed when faced with issues of sexual harassment and abuse. Over to Amit then…
Do you believe that where there is a will there is a way, because to accept the resignation of a massively important and celebrated person, on sexual harassment charges made by a woman, is not easy?
To accept the resignation of a massively famous and well-known person basis charges made by a woman of sexual harassment is not easy. You’re right! It’s a tricky situation because these particular charges were not of harassment - the lady in question claims she and the actor had performed a Gandharv Vivah (marriage ritual in a temple). The only proof we have is what she has made public on social media, which includes private pictures of the gentleman and her, and screenshots of chats they’ve had through text.
Going by today’s cyber world, morphing of pictures, deep fake, memes and stuff, it’s hard to ascertain the truth. At the end of the day, the lady in question here is not a member of CINTAA. Yes, she’s a woman, maybe she’s been wronged, and from what we know, it was consensual. But it seems that after the gentleman got the news of her being pregnant, he backed out of the relationship.
It’s very difficult for me as the General Secretary of the association, even for other members of the executive committee, and the trustees of the CINTAA Artistes Welfare Trust (CAWT), to decide what action should be taken. We don’t know what is the legal course taken by the two of them, how they’ve approached the cops, what is the status of the case if there is one. But yes, the gentleman has resigned because the names of CINTAA and CAWT, many of the executive committee members as well as senior actors, were dragged on social media. The general body as well as the executive committee started questioning the gentleman’s position.
He has stepped down with the understanding that when he’s cleared of the allegations made by the journalist he will be reinstated. I think that’s going to take a long time.
There are many women on our board. Preeti Sapru, chairperson of CAWT, Pallavi Joshi, trustee, Tina Ghai, trustee and Senior Joint Secretary of CINTAA, also head of the care committee, Jaya Bhattacharya, Joint Secretary of CINTAA, are all reputed actors and powerful ladies. It is tough for us to be silent when members ask us how we can allow this person to continue on the committee. How long can we keep saying this is a private matter?
We are being asked how we can tolerate our names being dragged on social media. The lady in question has been sharing intimate chats between the gentleman and her. Neither have the two of them taken a gag order against one another at the cyber cell, nor has a case of criminal intimidation or defamation been lodged under Section 41A or 144A by the gentleman. The cyber cell has not been contacted, no legal case has been registered by either of the two. We are in a precarious position. However, the gentleman has tendered his resignation and it has been accepted.
CINTAA’s image has always been untarnished. We are doing too many things, especially for women at the workplace. Also, children. It should not go down the drain, just for this one case.
How important is the role of women in the CINTAA committee when it comes to looking at sexual harassment issues unapologetically and without bias?
Everybody is aware that we were at the helm of affairs when the #metoo movement happened. We expelled one of our members, and we took strong disciplinary action against him. It was our efforts that made many production houses and broadcasters in the business of entertainment establish POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) committees, based on the number of employees they had. We did several workshops to make industry folk understand how to recognise sexual harassment.
About 40% of our total strength of 10000 members is women. In our executive committee we have Rageshwari Sachdev, Hetal Parmar, Soumya Tandon, Jaya Bhattacharya, Sadiya Siddiqui and Tina Ghai. They are respected members. I’ve already mentioned the women we have as trustees in the CAWT. There are a lot of women in our zonal structure and various other sub-committees, we have many women working actively. It’s important for us to tackle these issues.
Fortunately, post the #metoo movement in 2018, cases of sexual harassment have decreased. We do have a few cases where intimacy guidelines have been violated, for that we’re talking to intimacy coordinators working across the world with global entertainment platforms, and we’re streamlining things.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about zero tolerance of CINTAA towards powerful and successful men who cross the line with women?
We have an absolute zero-tolerance policy in CINTAA. The way the situation has been since 2018, whether it is powerful men or women, whether it is two people of different sexes or of the same…it’s not only us, many other proactive associations, the broadcasters and the producers’ bodies, have taken strong cognisance of the fact that there needs to be zero tolerance.
The world is shrinking because of the internet, connectivity and social media, and especially sexual predators can no longer get away with it. Now, excuses made to justify their behaviour, e.g. I had a drink too many, or I was feeling very happy, or too low, so I groped somebody or touched a person inappropriately, don’t work.
The media and entertainment world came under the scanner because showbiz is always under scrutiny, we are targeted, as well as the low hanging fruit, when it comes to scandals…so yes, there is a zero tolerance policy now. Actors are the poster boys and girls of entertainment and their behaviour therefore must be appropriate.
Of course, what happens behind closed doors, can never be known. However, what is out there in the open, has to be addressed, and women speaking out about harassment have to be trusted and respected.