The Indian media’s #MeToo movement is taking social media by storm. And leading the fight against sexual predators this time around are women journalists who are sharing horrific tales of harassment in newsrooms. The allegations are immediately acknowledged, and support is ensured from many in the journalist community to the survivor sharing her story.
But this was not the case five years back, when a woman journalist from Chennai spoke out about the harassment she faced from her senior in one of the state's leading media houses – Sun Network. With no support from the organisation and her colleagues, the young woman went to court, only to fight a long drawn out and exhausting battle.
Akila was 27 years old when she joined Sun TV as a news anchor. She was allegedly asked for sexual favours by V Raja, the former Chief Editor of the channel. According to Akila, in November 2012, in a telephonic conversation, Raja complimented on her appearance before he went on to ask what she would give him in return for the confirmation of her job. She says when she refused to oblige, what followed was continuous harassment in the newsroom, threats to transfer her and continuous early morning shifts.
"I went to the police to file a case of sexual harassment, and after that is when the Human Resources team began to enquire into my allegations. But colleagues who I thought were my friends turned against me because the accused promised them bigger positions and power," she alleges. Eight women colleagues of Akila are testifying on behalf of the accused, Raja. "Following this, I even filed a case of defamation against eight colleagues in 2014. I am battling both these cases in court now," she adds.
Taking the fight forward
While many journalists hesitate to name their harasser, Akila quit her job and took the matter to court. While Raja, who is still part of the channel, has hired his own lawyer, Sun network has hired a lawyer to protect the accused in the defamation suit, she says.
"I have been fighting both cases for over four years now. The accused have been doing everything they can to delay the process of justice," says Akila. "I can't count the number of times I have walked up and down the steps of the Saidapet court," she adds.
In the sexual harassment case, the opposing counsel would often just not turn up to court, to avoid proceedings. They would then object to witnesses that Akila's counsel produced. For instance, Akila had a colleague who was in the know of the harassment she was facing. When he was brought to court however, the opposing counsel claimed he was not an employee of Sun network at the time the allegation surfaced and demanded that they get proof of attendance.
"Every move is done to demotivate me. I was pregnant when going to court, and after that I have carried my newborn with me for the trial," she says. "As for the defamation case, the eight accused just won't show up to court," she says, angrily.
Both cases are in their final stages now and Akila believes they will end in another three months.
"I will be cross questioned on October 26 for the sexual harassment case, the opposing counsel can then produce witnesses if they have any and then it will be time for the verdict," she explains. "As for the defamation case, cross questioning and submission of evidence remains," she adds.
Akila says that what hurt more than the harassment, is her friends turning against her to support the abuser.
"Even as this Me too movement is afoot, I just want to tell all the women out there something. When a woman says she is being harassed, please listen to her. It is okay if you don't help but don't enable the toxicity in the workplace," she appeals. "One of my witnesses in the case is a former anchor who has come and testified that Raja behaved badly with her too. Several others have told me that he demanded sexual favours during the interview process for anchors," she adds.
And how can survivors now take their complaints forward?
"Be brave and complain about your harassers. If you can't do that, give him four tight slaps and shame him in front of everyone," she says. "You may keep quiet because of shame or due to financial circumstance but the scars of abuse run very deep."