#MeToo Movement Resurfaces In India's Art World

Outlook’s issue on the #MeToo movement looked at accounts of several women who were made the targets of trolling, doxing and victim-blaming after they shared their testimonies. 

Outlook's issue: Still I Rise. Unveiling Womanhood by Tayeba Begum Lipi

In the last few days, over 100 female students of Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai lodged complaints against at least four of their faculty members for verbal, sexual and mental harassment, after blaming the toxic atmosphere on campus for their years-long silence on the issue.

One of the accused, senior professor Hari Padman has now been arrested by the Chennai police and suspended from the institute. But the episode has sparked conversations regarding the culture of silencing sexual harassment survivors. 

It was in October 2018 when the global wave of the #MeToo movement reached India after Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta filed a sexual harassment complaint against Nana Patekar. 

A tsunami of allegations of abuse, harassment and assault against male colleagues, bosses, mentors and others surfaced as Indian women decided to identify their predators.

Stories emerged within media circles, academia, Bollywood, NGOs, sports, schools and within the art world as well. All of it began when an anonymous Instagram account under the handle @herdsceneand (Seen and Herd) describing itself as ‘cutting through BS in the Indian art world, one predator and power play, at a time,’ posted a series of psychological abuse, assault, and intimidation allegations against various Indian arts professionals.

The accounts reportedly mostly came from volunteers, interns and gallery assistants, who chose to remain anonymous to safeguard their identity in the art world.

Artist Riyas Komu, who co-founded the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2010, was one of the first to be named. He stepped down from all management positions but the Biennale trustees later decided to drop the inquiry as “no complaint was forthcoming after pursuing the matter for several weeks”.

As more stories came to the fore, some senior gurus including the late Birju Maharaj, vocalist OS Thyagarajan, pakhawaj player Ravi Shankar Upadhyay and institutions including Kathak Kendra and now Kalakshetra, all came under the scanner.

Already engulfed in the tumultuous atmosphere at the institute, survivors from Kalakshetra also had to face the double whammy of some people questioning their stories and harrowing experiences. 

Last year, Outlook’s issue on the #MeToo movement looked at accounts of many such women who were made the targets of trolling, doxing and victim-blaming after they shared their testimonies. 

One such voice was of an 18-year-old playback singer in Tamil Nadu whose attempt at naming a perpetrator close to the state’s CM resulted in fingers being pointed at her. “However it gave the strength to many to realise that what had happened to them was wrong, something that they were unaware of, because how many of our families really had any such chats with us while growing up?” she said about the movement.

The issue also looked at how the celebrity trial in the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard case might have jeopardised the #MeToo movement and reinforced such fears over double-victimisation of and retaliation against the survivors.

However, Indira Jaising, a senior Supreme Court lawyer and the first woman additional solicitor general of India told Outlook that the law by itself is not enough to deal with a legal wrong. “It takes woman who have faced sexual harassment to speak out about it and that is what the #MeToo movement achieved,” she had said.

In light of the allegations surfacing again in the art world, Outlook revisits the #MeToo movement through its issue ‘Still I Rise’.