In 2006, Gautam Adhikari forcibly kissed me—tongue et al—in the DNA office when I was a 22-year-old interviewee and he was the 50+-year-old Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper.
I met Gautam Adhikari and his wife at a Christmas party at my parents’ friends’ home in 2005. As a 22-year-old writer, I was ecstatic to meet the Editor-in-Chief of DNA, and set out to impress him in our conversation before telling him (of course) that I’d like to write for his paper. Sufficiently impressed with my language and politics (I thought), he was very encouraging and asked me to meet him in his office sometime in January.
Now, let me tell you about the layout of the EiC’s cabin in the DNA office then. The cabin had large glass panels along its length, making it rather public. There was, however, a short passage between the door and the main space.
When I arrived for my interview/meeting, I waited outside his cabin, by the table of his administrative assistant. He came outside to fetch me; after hellos and handshakes, I followed him in. As he closed the door behind me, he pushed me against the door and kissed me. On the lips. Tongue et al. His lips were as soft and plump and gross as the rest of his body that he ground against mine…
I shoved him off me. As I was taller and stronger than him, I could. “What are you doing?!” I asked, perplexed and angry. Even if I wasn’t in a monogamous relationship at that point (which I was), I wasn’t interested in this uncleji. This had come completely out of left field. I didn’t sign up for this!
“Oh, I couldn’t resist, you’re so beautiful,” he said. “I have a happy marriage, but every once in a while someone comes along and just makes me wild with desire…” (Or something to this effect; it was 12 years ago.)
He proceeded to take his chair; confused, I followed him and took the one opposite him. We spoke as though nothing had happened—well, he did, reverting to the encouraging mentor persona he had adopted at the party. I was very quiet. He said he would put me in touch with the editors of the beats relevant to my writing, and he did. Through them, I wrote some freelance pieces for DNA.
After the interview, I cried in the arms of my ex-boyfriend (now deceased), and told my bestie from childhood and media senior Abhimanyu Radhakrishan, among others. Then I got over it. (All these years later, it was Abhi who called to tell me to “check Twitter, Adhikari has been outed.”)
I never saw Gautam Adhikari again. I did keep in superficial touch via SMS until he left DNA… why wouldn’t I? I had paid my ‘dues’ with that assault, I thought I may as well reap the benefits of being in contact with the Most Important Person at the newspaper.
The accounts of Sandhya Menon and Sonora Jha who have accused Adhikari of sexual misconduct have such a familiar ring—the pushing on the bed, the forcing of kisses, the gross abuse of power. In his non-apology response, he denies the incidents entirely. I wonder whether he will deny mine too.
As I work on Why Indian Men Rape, I realise that, contrary to the Shakti Kapoor idea of rapists—‘the Other’, loutish men waiting in the bushes—it is upper-class predators that are most dangerous. As gender violence tends to follow class lines, they have access to women of their class and below. They are affluent and powerful, so get away with their crimes. And, if they affect being ‘woke’, boy, they are exponentially more dangerous, wolves in sheep’s clothing. These media men are all of the above.
In the absence and distrust of a due process, survivors of sexual assault have taken to naming and shaming their abusers in big and small ways. (I, for one, have been outing people from my ‘Others’ folder since 2013; LoSHA; etc.) But the question has been: what next?
In capitalistic society, here’s where organisations can play a major role—and, it appears that they have been quite responsive to the #MeToo moment in the Indian media. AIB has removed Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba; Prashant Jha has stepped down as HT’s Chief of Bureau; there are more heads left to roll, more pay packets to sever. But what will ever happen to Gautam Adhikari, who has long since retired from the media and lives in the distant US? Apart from some familial and social drama, will he face any tangible consequences? I sincerely hope so.
Read my experience of sexual harassment at the hands of Navroze Dhondy, founder of the advertising/marketing firm Creatigies Communications here.