Indian Bollywood actor Alok Nath was accused of sexual violation by writer-director Vinta Nanda in 2018. Photo: AFP / STRDEL

It seems that Alok Nath, the actor known as the sanskaari babuji (morally sound father) of Bollywood because of the roles he played, being accused of rape wasn’t enough of a shocker for Indians. He will now be seen in a film titled #MainBhi (#MeToo in Hindi) in the role of a judge.

Ironically, Nath “takes a strong stand against sexual harassment” and even gives a speech opposing it in the film, which explores child molestation, especially that faced by boys, the Mumbai Mirror reported.

This comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which picked up in October last year in India and swept into media houses and the entertainment industry among others. Alok Nath’s name came up in the peak of the movement when filmmaker and writer Vinta Nanda wrote a Facebook post accusing him of sexually violating her around 19 years ago.

Nanda also filed a police complaint against Nath afterward. Nath denied all the allegations and instead, sued Nanda for defamation and asked for a written apology along with a token 1 rupee as compensation.

Nath, who has been banned from the Cine and TV Artistes Association (CINTAA) for not showing up at a meeting related to the accusation leveled against him by Nanda, said he shot for the #MainBhi film “a while ago.”

“Is there a problem? You sound sad that I’m doing a film. It’s a puny role for poor producers, let it release,” Nath told the Mumbai Mirror.

The lack of accountability for sexual harassment and assault in India fuels a sense of entitlement and privilege among men. Thus people like Nath who are influential and powerful don’t hesitate to say publicly things one wouldn’t expect of a person in such a situation. “He [Alok Nath] was an alcoholic, shameless and obnoxious, but he was also the television star of that decade, so not only was he forgiven for all his bad behavior but many of the guys would egg him on to be his worst,” Nanda alleged.

He does it because he can and the system in place only enables him. He is a powerful man and he gets away with things.

This underlines the issue, which emerged starkly from India’s #MeToo movement, of powerful men constantly abusing their male privilege. Indian society, which is intrinsically patriarchal, actively chooses to believe and enable such men.

While actress Tanushree Dutta accused well-known Bollywood actor Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her, he flew off to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, to start shooting for a film directed by Sajid Khan. Even Khan was accused of sexual harassment amid the #MeToo storm.

When journalist Priya Ramani accused politician and journalist M J Akbar of sexual harassment, she was slapped with a criminal-defamation case.

Several other men who were accused of deeds ranging from inappropriate behavior to outright rape wrote pointless public apologies and went on with their lives. Largely, the accused men have not seen any direct life-changing impact from these allegations apart from their “reputations” being at stake.

But the implication of a person accused of sexual harassment starring in a film about sexual harassment is greater than one immediately realizes.

It means we in India do not take the women of this country seriously. It means that no matter how much women scream and shout about their assaults and traumas, they will never be heard. It means we don’t take the issue of sexual harassment seriously.

It is not surprising given marital rape is still not a criminal offense in India. The minimum punishment for a person convicted of rape is two years and a fine. Even laws are skewed to favor men. In such a scenario, one can only do so much against an accused rapist playing the role of a judge and taking a stand against sexual harassment onscreen.

Laws aside, even culturally regressive ideas and notions we have about women rampantly encourage men to treat a woman’s body the way they feel like.

In the movie Pink (2016), Amitabh Bachchan’s “Rulebook of the Girl’s Safety Manual” touches upon several of the unsaid cultural laws that are in place: A woman should not stay out late, drink with boys, or drink at all, or smile and laugh while talking to boys; in the least, she should not hang out alone with boys. And if she does these things, then men will feel they are entitled to do anything to her, with or without her consent.

The film Pink is about three women who are sexually harassed by three men; one of these girls, in self-defense, attacks her perpetrator. The men, being rich, powerful folk, file a case of attempted murder against the girls. The movie tells you that you may just get out of a situation like this. But it also tells you that you need a damn good lawyer for that.

But coming back to reality, where such dramatic escalation is rare, not saying anything against Nath playing this laughable role would make us enablers. It would mean that we are OK with him doing this.

How many women, then, are going to be encouraged to speak up in the future when they see their perpetrators’ lives go completely unaffected? How will we be able to make sure that the #MeToo movement doesn’t lose what it stands for if we allow people like Nath to continue to act in films, especially in extremely ironic roles? If no public outrage follows this development, this will be yet another example of the degeneration of Indian society.

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