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‘Even if #MeToo gets ugly, I’m good with it’ – says FCB Ulka India’s Swati Bhattacharya

The resurgent #MeToo movement in India has so far taken down several journalists, trained the crosshairs on many of its celebrated filmmakers and resulted in official enquiries initiated in the Dentsu Aegis and Publicis networks – among others.

Mumbrella spoke to Swati Bhattacharya, the chief creative officer at FCB Ulka India on the movement and the possible workarounds to the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.

‘We are part of a culture where women’s stories are not heard’

What are your thoughts on #MeTooIndia?

“All of us as women have gone through this. I first encountered the bad touch in my paediatrician’s chamber, with my mom sitting five feet away. Ever since, I’ve had a fear of green screens and have never let any doctor see my girls without me being there, right next to them.”

“The wrongness when it happens at work is that it’s not just some nameless stranger rubbing against you in a bus. We are  talking about national editors, agency heads, or filmmakers: powerful and influential people. And they know they have the  power to break you.

“There are so many things that go against us as women. So many stupid unwritten codes.  For instance, one woman can talk about only one offender. If a woman has three different episodes happening with three different men, she is seen as suspect.

“Why should it be that way? The whole system is so anti-victim, you have to prove yourself over and over. We are part of a culture where women’s stories are not heard. Where a woman’s care work is not even considered work by economists. How can one expect men to understand consent, when we and our work and our stories are invisible to them? It’s always their narrative, their gaze, their understanding of the world.”

What do you think is the workaround?

“In my work, over the past few years, I have tried to spread the gospel of sisterhood. Because that’s the one thing that not only makes us happier, but makes us feel fully understood. When we rally around each other, we are so much stronger.

“Suddenly, we are  as strong as patriarchy and ready to change whichever tradition we need to. Consider Sindoor Khela for The Times of India (an event organised by the newspaper in Kolkata, which invited socially-excluded women to participate in a festive celebration): if it was just one single woman, asking for permission to celebrate, it would be seen as wrong. It’s only as a collective that there is whole hearted  acceptance.”

“As senior women leaders, we have to tell our own stories and histories. It’s not just a job for the HR department, it’s our job to tell HR what we want in our office corridors and boardrooms.”

Naming and shaming on social media has already resulted in official enquiries being initiated and in some cases, people being fired or stepping down. What else needs to be done?

“We are coming from a culture where, for 400 years, we were shaming the victim, talking about things like her family honour being besmirched. If we’ve started shaming the accused now, let it happen. Even if some of it is very ugly. I am so good with it.”

“As for men feeling afraid, I have news. We have been afraid for years and years. Afraid to wear some clothes. Afraid to travel on dimly lit streets. Fear can’t just be for one gender. Right now, there’s so much pain and rage spilling out, it’s like molten lava. But that cannot continue forever.

“The only good that will come out of #MeTooIndia is if there’s a little more awareness and a little less entitlement. If there’s fear, men may think twice or thrice before doing anything. At the same time, if women come together then that support structure can help girls pick up the pieces and face life again. I find sisterhood the best and the most radical toolkit in life.”

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