Multiple women have levelled allegations of sexual harassment against many prominent names in the media and film industry in the recent wave of the MeToo movement in India and on Sunday, Tamil filmmaker Leena Manimekalai put up a Facebook post naming director Susi Ganesan.
Leena’s allegation adds Susi Ganesan’s name to a growing list that includes Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu, Tamil actors Radha Ravi, TM Karthik, John Vijay and Tamil singer Karthik.
Leena first recounted an experience with the Thiruttu Payale director in a Facebook post last year. She wrote of an incident from 2005, when a director offered to drop her home after an interview at a TV studio in Chennai. She explains that shortly after she got into the car, the director turned on the central lock and forced her to go to his house.
“He took the mobile phone that was on my lap, switched it off and threw it. He threatened me, asking me to come to his apartment. I was immobilised with shock for a while. First, I spoke softly and asked him to drop me immediately. I threatened to break the car door. What should have been a 20-minute ride to Vadapalani, witnessed a 45-minute roaming of the streets of Chennai,” she wrote.
Leena, who was also pursuing a career as an anchor at the time, was used to taking autos and taxis late at night and carried a pocket knife with her, a testament to the prevalence of abuse in society.
“Even then, I only threatened to harm myself. Because I had a knife, I got home that night,” she says.
The Facebook post from February 2017 did not name Susi Ganesan. What gave her the confidence to come forward now?
She says, “I was triggered when I saw the incident with the Malayalam actor happening last year because it involved a car. I saw Saturday’s WCC press meet. It’s a different issue. They are staunchly backing their colleague. That’s what inspired me. Since last week, I have not been able to concentrate on anything. Why wouldn’t I write? I thought I should break the silence in Tamil Nadu. I have been surrounded by a lot of offenders. I was angered by all that I was reading and I wanted to write for my own self, to seek closure, to heal. To enable more voices if possible.”
“Without MeToo and WCC, I would not have had the courage to do this,” she adds.
Slamming the media response to the movement, Leena explains that the MeToo movement is about questioning the very power that men use against women.
“Here, slander is a weapon. In other parts of the world, they (the accused) either say they did it or no -- because slander is a human rights violation. None of what you say here is received with sanity. The questions are never directed to the accused. The discussion is not around trauma. They want to slut-shame and victim-shame women who come forward. The MeToo movement is about bringing about a change, a discourse on power imbalance, safe workspaces for women and it is about gender justice," she says.
Susi Ganesan responded to Leena Manimekalai's allegations on his Facebook page by calling her immoral. He wrote that it was she who abuses men for benefits in return and he accused her of naming him for revenge. Further, calling her a 'modern woman' who gets into a luxury car irrespective of who is inside, he has stated that he has evidence to prove that her character is flawed. He also stated before he outs those, she must apologize on her Facebook page for the lies otherwise he would go to court to clean his name up.
Responding to this, she says, "The retaliation shows how much pressure has been mounted on him. His own conscience is burdening him. Instead of indulging in slander, he should talk back to his conscience. Slander is not new to me. I know it is a weapon patriarchy uses to shut women up. I have faced slander all through my career for speaking up. I am no longer afraid of that. This is a society where they carry their sexism like a trophy - it is being turned into memes, questioning man's potency, masculinity, etc. It is a tough battle but we have to start somewhere though the stakes are high."