Harassment or precisely sexual harassment, a terminology that is mainstream today, is an age-old issue. When I recall the harrowing stories narrated to me by my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances about being groped, molested, passed lewd comments at, I nosedive into the root of the issue and find a common trait – fear of reporting or lack of awareness. Sexual harassment at the workplace is not relatively new, the issue seems to have garnered headlines recently, thanks to the #metoo campaign on social media. #metoo has echoed the voices of millions that were stifled and muted previously. Started initially by Tarana Burke way back in 2006 to aid colored women affected by sexual abuse and brought to life again by Hollywood actor Alyssa Milano last year, the campaign aims to bring all sexual harassment cases to the limelight and put the culprits behind bars. In an interview with CNN Burke said “It’s not about a viral campaign for me. It’s about a movement. On one side, it’s a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.’ On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it.” Of late, the #metoo campaign has percolated through the layers of Indian corporate and cases after cases of sexual abuse are being unfurled. However, it is not just the large corporations that are at the vanguard of such unfortunate incidents, #metoo has put many startups – that fancy themselves as cool and unbiased – under the microscope. This article is about such companies. It is about abuse. And most importantly, it is about creating awareness. So, let’s venture.
The #metoo Startups
The Pitchers famed media startup TVF is the youth’s go-to OTT platform in India. However, the sad part of the affair is that last year, fourteen women had accused TVF’s founder Arunabh Kumar of sexual harassment. Although this is not the first time such incidences have surfaced in the media industry, however, nobody expected it from the uber-cool TVF. In his defense, Kumar said “I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy — but this is only done in my personal capacity. I compliment women in my personal space and not at the workplace. Is that wrong? Is every man, whose compliment a woman doesn’t like, a molester.” Despite the allegations and lawsuits against him, he still is unaffected and unfazed. There might be some fragment of truth in his statement, it seems. But we can’t reach that conclusion just yet. We can hope that he is punished if found guilty.
The rivals of TVF – well, sort of – AIB is also not behind the sexual abuse race – a race that no company would want to win. Three women namely Mahima Kukreja, Sandhya Menon, and Anu Bhuyan had taken to Twitter to show theirs against Utsav Chakraborty – a writer at AIB – who had DMed them lewd messages. This case, however, appears more concrete with twitter screenshot flashing in the public podium. In fact, Tanmay Bhatt, co-founder of AIB had acknowledged the complaints but failed to address or contain it. In a recent development, Tanmay Bhat along with Gursimran Khamba – another co-founder – have relinquished duties with the company. This classic escapism is the reason behind the constant proliferation of sexual abuse cases at the workplace. And a stronger reason why #metoo is incumbent in the Indian startup space.
There are many more such incidents and includes big names such as the co-founder of ScoopWhoop, investor Mahesh Murthy, and OML co-founder Vijay Nair. However, the bitter reality is that all investigations against them have either been stalled or is stuck at the gates of various courts. Justice is never easy for Indians and more often than not, it is delayed. So, even though the #metoo campaign gains traction, until and unless judiciary act on it quickly and until and unless the media houses resort to investigative journalism, the accused or the potential abusers will roam free and account for many other stories, many other social media rants, and many other #meetoo campaigns.