Tanushree Dutta is not the first star to have stormed off a set in the middle of a shoot. She was, however, the first to lodge a formal complaint with the Cine and TV Artists’ Association, a Bollywood trade body, charging her male lead with “unbecoming” behavior.
The union ignored the complaint. The film’s producer sought compensation. Newspapers mocked and vilified her, even as they lauded her alleged tormentor for his devotion to charity. Thugs attacked and smashed her car. She moved to the United States.
That was in 2008. Last week, the artists’ association issued an abject apology to Dutta.
Its failure to pursue her grievance had been “inappropriate” and “highly regrettable,” the union said.
One by one, fellow actors have stepped forward to express regret, sympathy and solidarity for her ordeal. Dutta is rumored to be weighing a Bollywood comeback.
No one expects India’s entertainment industry, where male stars with steroidal salaries still reign supreme, to eliminate sexual harassment in the near future. Yet neither can the belated recognition of Dutta’s woes be dismissed as an aberration.
Even as women in India continue to suffer myriad forms of discrimination from cradle to grave, recent weeks have witnessed a series of changes that, taken together, suggest a weakening of the prevailing wind.
Only a month ago, for example, it seemed unlikely that the word of five Catholic nuns might prevail over that of a bishop.
Defying their church, they had mounted a hunger strike near the high court in Kochi, a city in the southern state of Kerala. They were demanding the arrest of Franco Mulakkal, the bishop of Jalandhar, who had been accused by a sister nun of sexually molesting her on at least 13 occasions.
The church had fought back, threatening to mount a case against the aggrieved nun for attempted murder, revealing her identity to the press and describing her charges as baseless.
Wary of upsetting Kerala’s large Christian “vote bank,” state authorities wavered.
But as public sympathies, along with some junior clergymen, shifted behind the nuns, first the church and then Kerala police took action. Barely two weeks into the nuns’ hunger strike Bishop Franco was relieved of his post. He is now in custody, awaiting trial.
The courts have been more evenhanded of late, too. The Supreme Court has struck down a law that criminalized adultery by men, but not by women.
It has also ordered the Sabarimala temple, a Hindu shrine in Kerala that draws 50 million pilgrims a year, to allow women between the ages of 10 and 50 to enter the temple precinct (they might affront the god worshiped there by menstruating, zealots say).
Universities, too, are becoming marginally less sexist.
At several, Pinjra Tod, a pressure group whose name means Break the Cage, has succeeded in easing curfews enforced at dormitories for “ladies” but not at the men’s ones.
A monthlong strike over such restrictions at Hidayatullah National Law University in the state of Chhattisgarh prompted its head to resign on Oct. 1, amid promises of greater freedom.
A call for change
Students at Panjab University in northwest India elected the first female leader of their student union last month. Kanupriya, 22, presented the administration with a list of demands that includes scrapping curfews outright.
“Universities are a place to change the mind-set of the younger generations and I believe that mind-sets can’t be changed unless we have a material reality to invoke the change,” her manifesto said.
The mind-sets that need changing include many women’s.
Maneka Gandhi, the minister for women, has decried curfew protests, saying that young women are “hormonally challenged” and so must be protected from themselves.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Sabarimala temple has prompted huge demonstrations; the biggest so far was led by women. The sole judge to dissent was also a woman.