As stories after stories of ‘Me Too’ continue to surface in India, a number of powerful men have been named as perpetrators, including those in Bollywood. Many have extended their support to the movement and to survivors who have spoken up. The latest to add her voice in support is actor Sonam K Ahuja. From believing survivors and rejecting perpetrators to understanding consent and owning up if you are part of the problem, Sonam elaborated on 10 points in an article she penned for Thrive Global.
Sonam started by calling the women in her family trailblazers, and acknowledging her privilege in not having relatives who would make offhand sexist remarks or were women who are silenced and asked to lower their gaze. However, the first time she called herself a feminist in an interview at the age of 17, she was told not to and that it made her look unfeminine.
“Fortunately, it’s now cool to have an opinion and call yourself a feminist. It’s probably why the joy and misery of the past few months are limitless,” she wrote, adding that the Me Too movement has been eye-opening, devastating and exhilarating. She then goes on to explain how one can be a better ally to survivors and the movement.
Urging people to believe the survivors of a sexual harassment or assault, Sonam also points out that the reasons for not doing so are “quite vain and flimsy” at times. “Recently, in response to the news of an actor accused of harassment, I heard a woman say, “Woh toh bohot handsome ladka hai, usko kyu karna padega? (He is a handsome guy, why did he need to do this?),” she recounted.
She concedes that one is innocent until proven guilty, but questions why this must be upheld at the cost of rejecting a survivor’s account. She reiterated what many women, including survivors, have been arguing against those who accuse them of doing this for fame – that survivors take on great personal risk and trauma to tell their stories.
She also calls for a “near total mental reboot”, of everyone including women, to stop putting boys and men on a pedestal and the importance of recognising complicity in perpetuating the culture that silences victims. “Awareness, in such a scenario, is not about literacy or going to school. I’ve met some of the richest and most educated people in our country who are unapologetically sexist,” Sonam pointed out.
Emphasising the need to understand consent as nothing but an informed, resounding and enthusiastic ‘yes’, Sonam makes an important point. It is essential to recognise the power play between two people, she said. “When a situation involves a boss and a subordinate or a person with more power—literally and metaphorically—than the other, it’s the person with power who has the responsibility to be extra cautious,” the actor wrote.
Sonam urged people to take sides, call out their own, not to make sexist jokes, and own up to our own complicity. Admitting that she too has been part of films that have perpetuated toxic masculinity and misogyny, she also said that there is a fear of losing assignments and jobs in case one does speak up. Lauding Tanushree Dutta for speaking up against Nana Patekar and the complicity of the crew of Horn Ok Pleassss, Sonam vowed to not work with those proven to be “predatory and guilty”.
In an interesting take, Sonam said that there was a need to end labelling. Referring to ‘item songs’, she said that the labelling is what is problematic here. “I grew up on songs like Piya tu.... I love Chikni chameli. They are hot and it is f**k*ng awesome that someone is owning up to their sexuality. But the labels are wrong. The sexist propaganda is wrong,” she wrote.
Sonam said it is essential to hire more women, and that it needs to go beyond tokenism. Hiring more women without giving them opportunities or environment necessary to make it to managerial roles won’t help.
She also called for supporting the survivors in various ways. “This can mean boycotting the work of men who have been proven guilty, mounting pressure to investigate all claims through due process, ensuring private reparations to women who ask for it, or punishing men who have demonstrable patterns of sexually exploiting others,” she wrote.
Sonam also cautioned against typifying victims as only women. She asked people to support survivors regardless of their gender, and the Me Too movement should not be limited to “a men v/s women” bracket. The movement must focus on survivors and perpetrators, changing the misogynistic mindsets and having a compassionate and progressive moral compass.
“It's time to transform the naysayers into supporters, to join the movement in full force and oppose every act—even a suggestion—of abuse and discrimination,” Sonam concluded.