Journalist and founder of the official India Me Too handle on Twitter, Rituparna Chatterjee, recently tweeted that she was looking for a job. When I came across the tweet, it made me wonder why a senior journalist like her, with over 15 years of experience as an editor, was finding it difficult to get a job.
When The Quint reached out to Rituparna, she admitted that it actually took her 24 hours of debating with herself before she finally had the courage to ask for a job on Twitter. Even the first line of her tweet reads, “It’s really tough, overcoming my hesitation/pride to tweet this thread.” In the thread that follows, Rituparna opened up about how all the pro bono work that she took up in the aftermath of #MeToo, left her overwhelmed and unable to look for paid work.
It’s really tough, overcoming my hesitation/pride to tweet this thread. The past year has been devastating for my mental health. I was so consumed by the overwhelming amount of pro bono work during #MeToo mvmt that I didn’t have energy & time to look for paid work to sustain me.— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) November 3, 2019
Rituparna is not alone. There are plenty of other women who stepped up and became the voice of change during the #MeToo movement. So I spoke to few of them to find out what impact the movement has had on its crusaders.
So firstly, let’s begin with the woman who triggered this train of thought.
1. Rituparna Chatterjee, Journalist
Freelance projects kept Rituparna busy from October to December 2018, but as the #MeToo movement gained momentum, she was flooded with messages from people. And since Ritupriya was also running the #MeToo India handle on Twitter, which was kind of streamlining and chronicling the whole movement, she was regularly approached by survivors who needed support. Ritupriya engaged with these survivors to find out what resources they needed. She helped them understand whether it was a police complaint they needed to file or a NCW. Naturally, much of her time and energy went into helping others. But here’s how it impacted her personally.
On days following the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women, here are some crucial resources that women in India can keep handy. #Metoo— #MeTooIndia (@IndiaMeToo) November 26, 2018
1. Shakti Shalini — 10920
2. Shakti Shalini — Women's Shelter (011) 24373736/24373737
3. SAARTHAK — (011) 26853846/26524061
"“So I didn’t have the time to pitch for stories. I don’t have an income now and I need to get back to work which is why I reached out for help. The other intangible toll is the perception. Perception by editors. You are seen as a troublemaker, if you do this kind of work. So it makes people wary because you’ve already crossed the line between a journalist and an activist.”" - Rituparna Chatterjee, Journalist
All the #MeToo related work also took a tremendous toll on Rituparna’s mental health in that she had continuous anxiety attacks throughout 2018. And eventually had to seek therapy for the same.
"“The reason for the anxiety was mainly I think because of listening to the stories of trauma over and over again. It triggered me massively because all of us have incidents in our past. I am a survivor too. But that is something that we chose to hear, we chose to share the stories, we chose activism, we chose to listen to them. But what we didn’t choose is the trolling. Like men attacking us all the time with vicious things being said.”" - Rituparna Chatterjee, Journalist
Despite the hurdles, Rituparna has no regrets about her choices. “This is a work I'll again do, every chance I get I'll do it.” adds the 38 year old journalist.
"“Women came together in such a large scale embracing each other literally over cities, continents, virtually coming together for each other. It’s a powerful, beautiful experience. It’s a really empowering feeling to be able to see women fight back. That itself is a big deal for many of us. Women having each other’s back is the most beautiful thing.”" - Rituparna Chatterjee, Journalist
2. Sona Mohapatra, Singer
In October 2018, the world woke up to a tweet that eventually became one of the biggest #MeToo stories in the entertainment industry. It was a tweet by singer Sona Mohapatra in which she accused singer Anu Malik of passing a lewd comment in front of Sona’s husband Ram Sampath. She also wrote about how the composer and Indian Idol judge would call her up at odd hours to ask awkward and random questions. And that’s how Sona’s #MeToo journey began. She also accused Kailash Kher of sexual misconduct.
(1) I met Kailash for coffee in Prithvi Café to discuss a forthcoming concert where both our bands were playing & after the usual, a hand on my thigh with lines likes, your so beautiful, feel so good that a ‘musician got you’ (Ram) not an actor. I left not soon after. (1) https://t.co/Cfz8Hf4sdP— ShutUpSona (@sonamohapatra) October 9, 2018
But once Sona’s allegations against Anu Malik and Kailash Kher hit the headlines, the result was devastating as Sona started losing work. The entire incident impacted her not just emotionally, but financially also.
"“Lot of my shows got cancelled, I was asked to leave ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ reality show without giving any relevant reason. More than me, I have a whole team. They were all heart broken. We had cancelled our US tour to take up ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’. The US tour was a nine city tour, that’s a lot of money that the whole team was counting on. Midway after sixteen episodes we were asked to leave ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’. We were left without the tour, we were left without the show and my whole team suffered.”" - Sona Mohapatra, Singer
Soon, multiple women started getting in touch with her. They shared their stories, their trauma with Sona. Some even recalled experiences from when they were minors around the singers accused by Sona.
Now, it’s important to remember that as much as these women might have wanted to help others , they were still not professionally trained to deal with such trauma.
"“After days and weeks of listening to other people’s stories, it started taking a toll on me. I finally realised I am not professionally geared to deal with it. I gained an alarming amount of weight because of stress. So I had to go for therapy. Right now I have gotten off it but I might need to go back.”" - Sona Mohapatra, Singer
Despite the difficulties, Sona firmly believes that #MeToo has not failed. She tells us about an incident that perfectly captures the success of the movement.
“Just when I was feeling low after meeting my gynecologist who told me ‘Nothing happened after the #MeToo thing right?’ I came back home that day, getting ready for a concert. My makeup artist is a beautiful 26-year-old girl who works on web series and films and on advertising sets. She asked me why I looked so depressed, so I told her about the conversation I had with my gynecologist. She tells me an incident. She has just joined a brand new web-series set, and has also started working on a new film.”
Sona further elaborates on her makeup artist’s experience on the set that she was working on
"“The first thing they received on sets, not only her but everyone in her crew, all the women, a page where you have contact numbers, email id where you can write into, if you are in any way being harassed or somebody is behaving inappropriately with you. This was never there a year and a half before. And she told me, you have made that change.”" - Sona Mohapatra, Singer
For Sona, this meant that at least some were trying to acknowledge the fact that systems are needed to make women feel safe in their workspace. “This change is at the systemic level, at a grass root level. They are acknowledging that there could be an issue on the set and there should be a system in place which addresses it. Now that is a change we should celebrate,” concludes Sona.
3. Vinta Nanda, Filmmaker/Writer
During the #MeToo movement, filmmaker Vinta Nanda accused popular Bollywood actor Alok Nath of rape. After going public with her story, she even filed an FIR. However, in January 2019, a Mumbai sessions court granted Alok Nath an anticipatory bail stating that, “Vinta did not lodge the report immediately after the alleged incident for her own benefit." But what happened to the case after that?
She tells us that after the anticipatory bail, Vinta decided not to do anything about it as it seemed to be going no where and was taking away a lot of her time.
His wife was my best friend. We were in and out of each other’s homes, we belonged to the same group of friends, most...Posted by Vinta Nanda on Monday, October 8, 2018
"“So I didn’t do anything about the case, so there is nothing that happened. I mean, it’s as simple and honest as that. Had I pursued it and pushed it and whatever, maybe it would have gone places. But at the same time, my work was just compelling and I was realising that I was just losing out on my work time. So I just decided that I better focus on my work because that’s what’s going to pay my bills. Right? So that’s what happened with my case.”" - Vinta Nanda, Filmmaker/Writer
Even though Vinta chose not to pursue the case any further, it still wasn’t an easy road for her in the aftermath of sharing the horrifying story. Just like the other women, she too lost projects she was already working on. At that point, Vinta was writing two web series; both of which she lost. One simply said that they were terminating it, and the other sent an email saying that it wasn’t working out.
However, going pubic with her story helped Vinta in her personal life. She felt much lighter and was more than happy to leave everything behind and continue doing good work.
"“I was carrying this thing for too long. And then once it was over, done with, finished I pushed burden off my shoulders, which I had forgotten that I was carrying on my shoulders to start with. So I am feeling obviously like, lighter in life and getting along, trying to do good work.”" - Vinta Nanda, Filmmaker/Writer
Sharing her trauma has worked like therapy for this warrior. And now, a year later, she is finally in a much better space.
"“I’m in a very nice space. And you know, what happens also is that, you’re able to separate the wheat from the chaff. After coming out, you’ve spoken up, you’ve kind of tested grounds around you and you see how people react. And like you get to know, you know who’s on the same wavelength as you and who’s not. So all of that happened for that first 3, 4, 5 months was quite a churn. And then now things are beautiful. I mean, back on track, working. There’s no complaint.”" - Vinta Nanda, Filmmaker/Writer4. Chinmayi Sripaada, Singer
Chinmayi Sripaada is a well known singer down south. She has been a #MeToo crusader, and been an important part of the movement, ever since the movement took off in India.
It was in October 2018 that Chinmayi took to Twitter to share her story; she accused famous award-winning poet Vairmuthu.
Year 2005/2006 maybe.— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) October 9, 2018
Veezhamattom. An album for Srilankan Tamizhs that I had sung in, as had Manikka Vinayagam sir.
I dont remember if it was a book or an album release or both now; the performances and launch happened in Switzerland in (Bern / Zurich maybe)
Ever since that tweet, Chinmayi has been fighting for justice for not just herself, but also for many others who have approached her.
"“I have been formally banned by Tamil Nadu dubbing union. I have been fighting a legal battle for almost a year now. And if at all I end up working somewhere, they send their people and they force them that I shouldn’t work. So work has been scarce but the good thing is that I have not restricted myself to just one language that’s Tamil. I sing in multiple languages. So from somewhere or the other work has been coming.”" - Chinmayi Sripaada, Singer
But Chinmayi’s situation is not just about a woman calling out a manner for sexual harassment. The man that she had accused belongs to a dominant caste and is backed by political power. He is even regarded as a symbol Tamil nationalist pride. As Chinmayi puts it, “‘the politics of it is really complicated.” While that’s a whole other story, the important thing to know here is that the person getting shamed by the regional media is Chinmayi herself.
Yet, Chinmayi has found a ray of hope.
"“I feel like I have found a calling as to what I want to be working on, life long. Which is create awareness, which is continue to keep speaking in every platform I get. A lot of people keep telling me you are saying the same thing. Even though I keep speaking the same thing I don’t think any media house in Chennai has set up an ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) My own friends have refused to set up an ICC saying I am the only one talking about it.”" - Chinmayi Sripaada, Singer
As she continues to try and change the perception of the society and raise awareness, she tells us that there are still people who are unwilling to have a chat about all of this. But that doesn’t stop her from doing her best. She regularly organises meetups which help people heal from trauma.
"“Right now I am not raging, not angry. It’s strange that I would say that, when I should be but I am actually channeling that into work that can bring about change in perception, change in mindsets. This is a chance for me to find a reason to give back.”" - Chinmayi Sripaada, Singer
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