It was a scene that should put Tamil Nadu's media fraternity to shame. The voice of many male journalists boomed through the multi-purpose hall of the Reporters' Guild in Chennai. At the receiving end of stinging allegations and questions were not politicians, rapists or even bureaucrats. On the dais were four women from the film and television industry who were attempting to express their solidarity with survivors of sexual abuse in their field.
Of them, three were survivors and one of them - Singer Chinmayi Sripaada, was on her feet, her palms folded, begging reporters from Tamil News channels and newspapers to be a 'little sensitive'.
"I am begging you. Please stop," said a desperate Chinmayi. "After all this time, women have come forward (to share stories of harassment). We are not here to defame all the men in this country. We have stories. There has been harassment. We are asking men to stand with us. Six voices are being raised against us and you are saying 'Shut up' to us."
But Chinmayi never got to complete her statement as her voice was drowned out once more with statements degrading the #MeToo movement. This blatant display of misogyny was from a handful of reporters at a press meet conducted by the South Indian Film Women's Association, that was formed on May 1. The group had invited survivors - Leena Manimekalai.Chinmayi Sripaada and Sriranjini as well as television anchor Lakshmi Ramakrishnan to discuss how to address sexual harassment in the film industry. Actor Revathi who was also invited for the programme couldn't make it due to work commitments. And it turned out it was good she didn't turn up at all. Because what unfolded at the press club in Chennai was similar to the distasteful line of questioning that she witnessed at the Women in Cinema collective press meet in Kerala last week.
Infact, at several points of the press conference, the reporters were literally shouting at these women.
Amongst the questions asked to the survivors were -
"Why didn't you complain to the Vishaka committee? Did you go to them first before putting it on social media?"
Multiple attempts to inform the reporters that there was no committee and that was point of this meeting, was ignored.
To Leena Manimekalai, who has recounted the harrowing experience of alleged sexual harassment in the hands of Director Susi Ganesan several times, a reporter asked - "What exactly happened? Where did it happen? What was the kind of torture he gave you?"
A shocked Leena said, "I have explained everything in my last press meet (held two days ago). It is not fair for you to make me recall everything. This is not a court and I will not be cross questioned like this."
To this reporters then asked, "Where is the proof? The year that you mention and the one Susi Ganesan mentions are different? How can you make such allegations without proof?"
When Leena pointed out that she had put up a clarification on Facebook, reporters insisted that she answer all their questions and threatened to boycott the press meet. When she told them to not shout, they proceeded to shout louder.
Anchor Lakshmi Ramakrishnan's requests for sensitivity and the association pleading for such questions to be avoided was lost in the din of more insensitive questions.
One journalist shouted, "There is nothing wrong in complaining. Before the law, everyone is the same. Where is the proof? This is like you are all (the women) saying we are all together, we are united. You can't do anything to us. How will you get him punished without filing case? Aren't you just defaming him (Susi Ganesan)? It is only correct to do this legally. There are police stations and courts just for women. Anybody can accuse anyone then."
It was at this point that Chinmayi got up with folded hands. But she was not spared either.
"Why did you invite Vairamuthu to your wedding?"
"Why did you fall at his feet?"
"Is there a political agenda?"
These were some questions she had to face in addition to the now expected, "What took you so long?"
The survivors were alternately losing their cool but managed to gain composure to retaliate to the reporters. But in the tone of the press meet, lay the answer to the question, why did a woman not complain earlier? Simply because, most of society would shout her down.