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It is ‘high time’ #MeToo named and shamed men in media and advertising across India

Over the last couple of weeks, a resurgent #MeToo movement in India – spreading mainly across Twitter – has taken on and in some cases, taken down, some of the most prominent names in the media, advertising and branded content realms.

Driving the campaign is a list, which started off as an anonymous repository of terrible experiences women had with men. Some of whom were famous and powerful. But with the movement gaining ground the accusers have started to identify themselves, standing by their stories and naming many of the alleged perpetrators.

Present and former staff at publications including the Times of India, DNA, Hindustan Times, Business Standard, The Huffington Post and ScoopWhoop have found themselves at the centre of sexual harassment claims. Some of those accused have held the most senior editorial positions in their organisations and one of them is currently a member of parliament.

So far, several of the accused have left their organisations or been placed on administrative leave, believed to be a direct consequence of the complaints. The Editor’s Guild of India even issued the following statement:

In advertising, the list of those accused include senior personnel at agencies like Creativeland Asia, Famous, DDB Mudra and Publicis. Two founders of the comedy collective AIB (All India Bakchod), a prominent producer of branded content in India, have gone on an indefinite leave of absence.

While the allegations have been met with everything from outright denial in some cases to apologies and admissions of guilt in others, they point to a disturbing trend. A report by Mumbrella, back in January 2017, highlighted the toxic work culture in Asian advertising. If many of the stories shared across social media are indeed true, it would seem that the industry has actually gone backwards instead of forwards.

But, at the same time, some Indian ad folk have expressed their support for the movement.

Pandey says the movement is ‘necessary’

TBWA India chief executive officer Govind Pandey said: “I find it difficult to be ambiguous or measured about this. It is a cultural moment of historical correction that will go a long distance in hopefully civilising man/woman relationships at work and the nature of engagement between the two. Some friends do feel its disproportionate, strident and overdone. But I can’t help feeling it is high time and necessary.”

Meanwhile, Jigar Fernandes – who has had stints with Publicis and Ogilvy before recently launching his own shop tiqui-taka – added: “It’s taken its time, but India has well and truly boarded the global #MeToo bus. The general feeling is that it is great that this is happening. Largely, people believe in the movement.”

The accusations form part of a larger #MeToo movement in India, which kicked off when actor Tanushree Dutta revived a decade-old complaint she had made against Bollywood star Nana Patekar. The indifference and hostility displayed in some circles towards Dutta’s allegations, and the United States senate hearings against the appointment of US Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh, are said to have  galvanised Indian women from across different industries and sectors; acting as a catalyst for them to share their own experiences on Twitter.

For many women, it appears that airing these complaints on social media is a last resort. A common thread among several accusations has been a reluctance to file formal complaints or, when such complaints are made, the mechanisms for redress proving ineffective.

Fernandes added, “The reasons can be discussed and debated, but the fact that women didn’t do this, despite it being something they wanted to do, throws up many questions. The primary being the definition of shame in Indian society.

“The MeToo movement is helping change that definition and showing where the shame really belongs. There is this paranoid question of what really constitutes crossing the line. You have to be blind to not see the line. It ain’t that thin. It’s a big bold bright red line.”

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