sexual harassment

My #MeToo Media Man: Gautam Adhikari by Tara Kaushal

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.

Gautam Adhikari. Image courtesy: Center for American Progress

Gautam Adhikari. Image courtesy: Center for American Progress

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.

Sleazy Slobbery Boss Men by Tara Kaushal

June 2015: Training the spotlight on everyday sexism in the work environment.

He is a noted Delhi-based advertising and marketing guru, and we’d connected when I was the editor of a magazine. Sometime in 2010, I met him for coffee one afternoon, for banal shoptalk they call ‘networking’. After, he’d come to Mumbai as often as I’d go to Delhi, and, after years of “we must catch up the next time you’re in town”, he called during the summer of 2013 to say he was going to be in Mumbai for a day. “Let’s meet?”

He had meetings in South Bombay all day, and would return to his hotel, close to the airport and my home, only in the evening. I proposed dinner at one of the many lovely places in the vicinity; he chose the coffee shop at his hotel.

He kept getting delayed (happens—media, Mumbai, traffic, life), and it was rather late when I reached his hotel. The coffee shop was now closed, and I told him so when he emerged from the lift—“The other restaurants in the hotel are still open,” I said.

“Oh, doesn’t matter, we were going to my room anyway,” he replied.

Umm, were we? I realised it had been the plan all along; the coffee shop was close to the lift that led to his room. My antenna went up—that little superpower instinct kicked in. I seized him up—I’m a big fit girl in my 30s, I’d be able to take on this 50-year-old if it really came down to it.

In his room, now on guard, I strategically chose the big single chair, not the two-seat sofa—placing him across the coffee table and myself closer to the door. He tried to break up this arrangement several times during the evening—“Come, let’s read the menu together”; “You’re so far, I can barely see your face”. Strike 2.

We talked about this and that… and then, he started talking about sex. Look, I’m no prude. I write about gender and sexuality, and it’s a subject that fascinates me. I’m also very tuned to the difference between talking about sexuality and talking about sex. Strike 3.

And then, on one of his trips to the bar table behind my chair, he reached over and started fondling my neck. “Stoppit!” I repeated a couple of times, craning away until he did… And strike 4! I was out of my chair and out of the door, and drove home shaken into the loving arms of the husband and some friends who were over for drinks.

I never did confront him, but blocked him from all channels of communication. Often since (in classic victim self-blame) I’ve wondered whether I’d given him mixed signals—and the answer is no, I hadn’t, ever. This was no more than symptomatic of a misogynistic work environment replete with casual sexism, signs of which we encounter every day.

“How come clients only want to meet us female models for evening drinks to ‘discuss work’, and are perfectly happy meeting the guys for a quick chat in their offices?” a friend said to me once. In my previous workplace, every successful female colleague was rumoured to have been sleeping with the boss (myself included). Reprimanded by a female superior? Must be her time of the month. Insidious little parts of a much bigger puzzle.

So today, as heads roll at Greenpeace India for the perpetration as well as mishandling of the sexual harassment of a former employee, I can’t help a bittersweet smile. Small steps for women, big leaps for womankind.

An edited version of this article appeared on iDiva in June 2015. Watch my interview of 'The Greenpeace Girl' Sonam Mittal here.

October 2018: In light of #MeToo #MeTooIndia #TimesUp, I reveal that the man I am talking about in this post is Navroze Dhondy, founder of the advertising/marketing firm Creatigies Communications that works with the Indian Super League.

Eve Empowered by Tara Kaushal

February 2007: A battle cry for feminists.

I am not good looking—at least no more than averagely so. I am 5 feet 9 inches tall; have a short crop of hair that’s growing out of being bald; am fairer than I’d like to be; have a pretty but acne-scarred face; and am busty but overweight. Oh, I pray for better looks—for a skin that is chocolate brown like my mother’s, and blemish free; to be many, many kgs lighter than I am; for a toned belly; etc. I pray for better looks almost always—there are two exceptions. One, when I remind myself of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth (then I feel silly and gullible to media imaging of women—I really have nothing wrong with me!) and two, when I am in too-crowded or too-lonely a place (then I’d rather look absolutely terrible).

Everyone I know—women of all ages and shapes and sizes and stages—have been 'eve teased' or more all over the country. Delhi is particularly bad, Mumbai is okay, but no place is really safe. Getting harassed, flashed, felt-up or molested is a rather common phenomenon. And perhaps my looking terrible won’t solve the problem—the only criterion seems to be being a woman.

The sexual incidents are vivid memories. I was in Mumbai, about 10 years old. I got flashed in a bus by an old man seated next to me. My mum was in the seat ahead. Again, I was about 12, boarding a bus, still uncomfortable about my budding breasts, when a man squeezed them, hard and painfully—the first time I realised what a problem they’d be! Since then, it’s been series of incidents in crowded places, lonely places, all places!

I had the misfortune of going to school and college in Delhi. Everyday, I’d come back from school traumatised because something or the other would have happened to me on the way back. Everyday, I, arguably not feeble looking, not even overtly good looking, would come back from college angry because I would invariably get felt up in the bus.

But there was an incident that changed my perspective on things. You see, realistically, being flashed, for example, is not bad in itself. Really, you’ve seen one cock, you’ve seen them all—no offence meant! It’s the fear, and the intrusion: the lack of choice. Anyway, here’s what happened. My 12th boards were around the corner, and classes were out. I had gone to school to get some doubts clarified. Walking back, I peered into my classmate’s driveway, in the hope of seeing her and saying hi. I saw her father get into his car—I recognised him from photos she had brought to school. I walked on—only to find, much to my shock and disgust, that her father was driving by and harassing me.

A few weeks later, there was a post-boards party at this classmate’s house. The fear on her father’s face, when he recognised me (with some urging on my part) as the person he had harassed, changed my life. He, the perpetrator, was afraid, not I. This was when I decided that I would fight back whenever I could. I’ve done some pretty pro-actively aggressive things. I guess it helps that I’m not small built, and can get aggressive. I wear these solid silver rings—one, an elevated Nandi bull, is a deadly weapon. I have used this to hit someone who was sticking his erection into my thigh on a Mumbai train.

I have used the knife that I used to carry to college—no, not to kill anyone! A man who saw me walking a lonely stretch promptly got off his scooter and went behind a fence to flash at me. He watched as I opened my knife with relish and ripped the seats of his scooter apart.

At a rock show, it gave me great pleasure to hit the guy who squeezed my boob in the crowd and scream, "I’ll cut your balls off, you bastard," before any of my male friends could react!

And this is it. All the incidents, every one of them, where I did not retaliate, have left me with a sense of violation, these many, many years later. I am still haunted by them. I seethe with anger at the man who got away with flashing at me, feeling me, using his sexual power against me. I have felt victimised. But each and every time I’ve fought back, and hurt or humiliated the aggressor, I’ve felt whole and complete. Perhaps, on a small scale, it is my sense of justice, my closure.

And it’s not only me. My aunt was in a girl’s hostel during her college years. Men would come and masturbate against the boundary wall, despite repeated complaints to the police, leaving the girls feeling sick and powerless. Until they filled buckets with urine (patiently, over three days each) and flung the contents at the men on the wall. The incidents stopped. This was a practical solution—making those men realise that they couldn’t really get away with everything in a lawless land. It was also a solution that empowered the women against the few powers that men can still wield against us—the sexual and the physical.

For those of you who watch Frasier Crane, remember the episode where he uses force (against a rude guy in a coffee shop), leading to his listeners using his example as a license to get unnecessarily and disproportionately violent? I sincerely hope that is not what happens here, even though this article reads like it belongs to the feminist version of the legendary Al Qaeda Handbook. My perspective is this (for men as well as women)—seek justice for wrongs done to you. Get closure—legally, or in the most practically harmless way possible.

For, as much as I appreciate Gandhiji, and am glad for this new surge of Gandhi-giri that has come about, sometimes, I believe Gandhi-ism is not the answer. If I turned the other cheek, they’d both be pinched.

An edited version of this article appeared in Tehelka in February 2007.