'Not Our Shame, Not Our Fault': Harrowing Experience Of A Sexual Harassment Victim

How does an 18-year-old speak up in 2005 about a man who claims to be best friends with the state’s CM? An attempt to bring a perpetrator named in the #MeToo movement to book resulted in fingers being pointed at the victim

'Not Our Shame, Not Our Fault': Harrowing Experience Of A Sexual Harassment Victim

“Ignore it.”  
“It is normal.”
“It is no big deal.”  
“Don’t speak about it and bring shame to the family.”
“Are you sure you are not imagining it?”
“But they don’t seem the type!”
“You just want attention.”

All of us have heard these statements while growing up in India. Most girls are extremely scared of speaking about living through an episode of sexual harassment anywhere outside the home, out of fear that their own parents might rubbish these experiences or worse, curtail whatever little right to education or financial independence they have. The only solution is to grin and bear it for the ‘larger picture’.

I always doff my hat to Raya Sarkar who compiled LoSHA, a crowdsourced list of alleged sexual predators in academia in 2017. Back then, she was a law student at the UC Davis School of Law in the US. While Raya was severely criticised even by prominent feminists in India that due process was not followed, ask any of us who spoke up in October 2018. What started as one tweet of an experience, snowballed into people naming their offenders from various fields, including an External Affairs Minister.

Most people, especially the ones who mean well, did not know how to react. It was a lot to process and the stories wouldn’t stop coming. As if collective repressed anger had finally found an outlet, the stars had aligned… call it what you may. It was cathartic. Reading each other’s stories made us believe we were not alone. At no other point in time did so many of us sharing our own experiences of harassment, usually by cis-het (cisgender-heterosexual) men in some position of power that they could wield over us, realise, “I am not alone” and that “it is not my shame to bear”.  

Of course, advice from men also started coming in. “It is important not to misuse this.” I almost laughed at this standard advice that some of India’s biggest stars spouted on the television. Every law, every loophole has been exploited and ‘misused’ from the day homo sapiens had learned corruption. I have always noticed that doling out free advice comes out of a copious amount of fear of misuse when it pertains to rights of the marginalised. The #MeToo movement made speaking up about episodes of sexual harassment to one’s own family easier. It was highly triggering for so many; everything that they had buried came to the fore. If they had supportive partners/family, they were lucky. Else, it was just swallowing another lump in the throat and going about their day.

How does an 18-year-old speak up about a man who claims to be best friends with the CM? Threatened with dire consequences if I don’t show up and sing, free of charge of course, for his events.

Along with 19 women, I named a very powerful man who is extremely close to the now ruling party in Tamil Nadu—the DMK. He, however, is far more connected than the ruling party alone. He has sympathizers across the board, across political parties and they all bond over linguistic nationalism. My talent, body of work became immaterial even though I was better known beyond Tamil Nadu than he was, working in several other languages. However, his political might is on display, time and again. Feminists and women politicians in Tamil Nadu across political parties shamed me, and that could have been avoided had I not allowed it. I was called a “psychopath” for speaking up so late. A female politician said: “Oosi dam kuduthaa dhaan nool nuzhaiya mudiyum (Unless the needle allows, the thread cannot enter).” From being a human being, I had become a needle. A new object to the long list of objects women are likened to. Another one said, “Your truth is more important than fear. You should have spoken up then.” I just told her, “I don’t know what to say anymore to you.” I was appalled those women didn’t get it either or just pretended not to get it? Was the internalised misogyny too much to unlearn? How does an 18-year-old speak up in 2005 about a man who claims to be best friends with the state’s CM? Threatened with dire consequences if I don’t show up and sing, free of charge of course, for his multifarious events.

By the end of October 2018, I was officially banned from working in Tamil films by the Tamil Nadu Dubbing Union president Radha Ravi, back then with the DMK and at present a BJP functionary. The Bro Code was out in full strength. My case is subjudice at the City Civil Court, Madras. While I wait for my right to work to be returned, the man I named hobnobs with the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister at almost every other government event that sees heavyweights from the film industry in attendance. Writing to the National Commission for Women (NCW) in my handwriting or them sending a letter to the DGP in Tamil Nadu made no difference. Caste was the additional tool used to discredit my claims. I was suddenly a BJP stooge who had been “given a house in Bengaluru” as reported by a prominent Tamil media house in Chennai. Tamil Nadu had come out in full might to protect their favourite molester and it continues to do so.

Three years on, no Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has been set up by the film industry in Tamil Nadu. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) units are absent in TV channels that hire children. Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) workshops are perfunctory; many media houses that report on such crimes are ignorant about what POSH stands for, what the Vishakha Guidelines are or who Bhanwari Devi is. As far as I am concerned, I have resigned to the fact that Tamil Nadu and many of its politicians and the greats in Tamil cinema will continue supporting and standing with this man. That’s the reality under the facade of women empowerment and progressiveness that us Tamilians chest-thump so much about. An adage in Tamil rings true: “Oyyaara kondaiyam thaazhampoovam ulla irukkumaam eerum paenum” (A beautifully coiffured hairstyle hides a tonne of nits and lice).


Despite the gloom and doom, I do observe a smidgen of change based on my interactions with people. I still get several stories of people opening up to me on a daily basis from both men and women. A couple of days ago, a young man thanked me for giving him the strength to open up to his family about a ‘respectable elderly’ gent their midst being his assaulter.

Reading his thank you note on a public post reminded me that the movement was not just about a few people. 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? Who told us that it was not our fault if we got sexually assaulted/harassed? We only saw random people shaming women and asking, “what was she wearing?!” in response to reading such news articles.


Hopefully, before the sun sets on my generation, we would have repeated “Not your shame”, “Not your fault” enough number of times that it is firmly emblazoned in people’s mindscapes.

(Views expressed are personal)

Chinmayi Sripada is a playback singer, voice actor, founder & CEO of blue elephant, a translation services company