Me Too
Susi Ganeshan's lengthy complaint has a long list of attachments to "prove" that Leena is of bad character - from her support for a queer film festival to her stand against the right wing.

Director Susi Ganeshan has filed a complaint against writer and filmmaker Leena Manimekalai for leveling allegations of sexual harassment against him in October last year. Leena first spoke of the incident, which allegedly took place 13 years ago, without mentioning the director in February 2017, but later decided to reveal his identity in the wake of the Me Too movement through a Facebook post.

The complaint filed by Susi Ganeshan runs into several pages and has 16 attachments. The director has filed a complaint under section 200 of the CrPC for charges under section 500 (punishment for defamation). Susi Ganeshan has also asked for adequate compensation under section 357 and costs of litigation under section 359.

However, reading through the complaint, it is evident that the director's strategy is to malign Leena Manimekalai through the age-old method that men have resorted to whenever a case of sexual violence comes up - turn the focus on the woman's "morality".

Leena is a well-known writer whose work has often offended conservatives across political lines in Tamil Nadu because she writes openly about women's bodies, freedom and sexuality - like several other women writers in the country who have not allowed patriarchy to censor their pen. Apart from the language used in the complaint, which refers to Leena's "sexual ideology" as being the reason Susi Ganeshan didn't work with her despite the former allegedly "begging" him, a critique of her writing published in Vinavu magazine, which distorts the meaning of the work, is among the documents that Susi Ganeshan has submitted to the court.

It's unclear why anyone's opinion about a work of art should serve as a 'character certificate'. If this is indeed a valid method of arriving at conclusions, then one must ask the director of Thiruttu Payale, a film which glorifies the hero who secretly records a couple having sex and later blackmails them, what his art says about him.

Susi Ganeshan has also submitted several of Leena Manimekalai's social media posts, ranging from her opinion on the Sabarimala controversy, an article on the Kerala High Court stating that being a Maoist wasn't a crime, her support to a queer film festival, and an old complaint filed against her by the Hindu Makkal Katchi (which was never registered as an FIR) which objected to Leena participating at an event in Coimbatore because of her "obscene" writing. It would seem that an adult woman can only share pictures of innocent babies or flowers on social media in order to be considered of "good character" by Susi Ganeshan and the likes of him. And write nursery rhymes perhaps?

Up until January 1, 2003, section 155 (4) of the Indian Evidence Act allowed the defence lawyer to argue that a rape survivor's testimony was questionable because she's of "immoral character". This meant that the lawyer could launch an attack on the survivor, asking her invasive questions about her sexual and private life, even if it had nothing to do with the crime. At the beginning of 2003, this section was deleted and a new section 146 IEA was added, which made it impermissible for the lawyer to question the survivor on her moral character. And it was only in 2013, after the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder, that the Supreme Court ruled that the infamous 'two finger' test which was used to determine whether a survivor was "habituated" to sexual relations violated the privacy of the woman.

Sexual violence is among the most under-reported crimes world-over because of the shaming and victim blaming that follow when such an incident comes to light. Unlike other crimes where the spotlight falls on the accused, in cases of sexual violence, it is the victim who is subjected to endless scrutiny. This has been a major deterrent for women to come forward and file a complaint. Even though the law may have evolved, lawyers and judges who live in the same patriarchal society as the rest of us, can be influenced by such attempts to paint a survivor as "immoral" and this can prejudice the proceedings of the court.

The Me Too movement, which broke out for the second time in India in October 2018, was about women coming together to break their silence on rape culture which places the onus on preventing sexual crimes on the victims and not the perpetrators. While the movement generated sensational headlines, there has been very little on ground support for the women who spoke up. Once the noise died down, it has been business as usual for the men - from Vikas Bahl to Nana Patekar and closer home, Arjun Sarja, Radha Ravi and Vairamuthu, there has been no dearth of opportunities coming their way. It is the women who've paid the price for speaking up.

Leena Manimekalai and her lawyer Sudha Ramalingam have said that they will fight the case in court. Susi Ganeshan is well within his rights to defend himself and demand compensation for defamation if he so believes that a false allegation has been made against him. But to resort to the same old morality argument shows little imagination and hopefully, the court too will recognise the one trick pony.