I said all this because i am writing this post just to expose someone who is part of this misogynistic bunch which makes filmmaking difficult for us. It so happened that this man harassed me after i had made the decision to not let anyone go if they are found being sexist, not de-escalate sexism in any way. Earlier, i would have shrugged and said, 'just another asshole' and just carried on with my work. This time, however, i think it is my responsibility as a filmmaker or a film student to bring to light and put on record the kind of injustice that people like me who have zero tolerance to misogyny have to undergo to survive in this industry. Survive i will. Make films i will. Meanwhile i shall also narrate each and every incident in this workplace which is outright misogynistic. Simply harassment in workplace. Don't you think that a sexual harassment cell should be placed in each and every unit of shoot according to Vishakha guidelines? For filmmakers, shoot, an edit room or a studio, all of these are workplaces. Many women are harassed in any of these places every day. Where do they go for justice? Or is it that it is accepted that we sign up for sexual harassment as we sign up for this profession?
Speaking about this man, i had no idea that he was a cinematographer till i came to SRFTI [Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute]where everyone sang praises of him. When i came to this film school, i had may be watched a fifty films or less of what i should have watched. I didn't know anybody. I had and have no godfathers or a history film running in my family or other such. I have fallen asleep watching Tarkovsky which is sacrilegious in a film school. I discovered cinema in SRFTI and that is what, despite the fact that i was harassed and cornered and abused mercilessly, makes me love SRFTI and Kolkata. So when i heard from my ex-student cinematographer that this man lived near his house and was slightly insane, i forgot all about it in my usual way. Very bad with names. Plus, i have been called mad by many just because i spoke the truth and unpleasant ones, so i did not think too much about his insanity remark.
I never thought that one day i would have to call him for a case of sexual harassment that was committed by one of the professors in SRFTI, against whom, i had complained. During the months that followed after the sexual harassment complaints, most of us complainants had turned part time detectives. There were no chat messages, no e-mails, no conversations that were not revisited in hope of obtaining evidence. I shall speak for myself here for now, but i really do feel all of us women need to bring out a book on how awesome we were in collecting evidence.
There was a certain detail regarding another student's case that i wanted to find out. There was a girl who was giving false testimony and i wanted to know if it was a quid-pro-quo situation. To find this out, i called this man who happened to be the cinematographer of the concerned project. The whole thing was funny for me because after i made the first call he made me call him back four or five times saying he had not reached home. Every time he would give me a duration like 30 minutes after which i should call. I did all that. Information was what i sought and i just needed a one line answer. It was no big deal. Meanwhile in one of those calls in which he asked me to call after a certain time period he also asked me to tell my then cinematographer that 'the asshole has paid up'. I did that too. What was there in it to me. I just thought it was weird.
So when he finally answered my call i told him who i was, the girl who complained against rape in SRFTI. That was who i was during those months and most of the people i talked to during that time were friends or acquaintances of the professor who raped me. I always made a point to make that clear when i spoke to anyone. I did with this man too. What followed after that was harassment. I am transcribing relevant portions of the conversation that happened after that. Yes, i have the whole recording.
I tell him 'i am the girl who got raped by Neeraj Sahay'
He cuts me short and tells me
Ranjan Palit [R(i)P]: 'Just tell me one thing'
RP: He [Neeraj Sahay] is a very good friend of mine
Me: Yeah, okay, i am not calling regarding him anyway.
He cuts me short
RP: Tell you what. I know him from the time when...before FTII
RP: Before he was a student here
RP: I know him very well. Very fond of him. Both 'some name' and i are very very fond of him.
Me: Okay. Yeah...so. I am not calling regarding him actually...
RP: I love that guy. I like him very much.
Me: Yeah, okay. But he did what he did to me. So i am not calling regarding him at all. [i tell him what i am calling about. I tell him the name of another professor who had been accused of sexual harassment. I'll call him SS]
RP: I know him [SS] very well. And i know the relation between Neeraj and him.
Me: Okay that i am not aware of.
RP: I know Neeraj and i know SS.
Me: Yeah, okay. So...
RP: And i don't put them on the same plate.
Me: Yeah. Okay.
RP: They are very very different people.
Me: Yeah, okay so i...
RP: With women they are very different people.
Me: Haan. Okay.
RP: I know SS damn well, i know Neeraj damn well.
Me: Okay, yeah, so sir, what i was saying was that...
[i tell him details about my case against SS. He asks my name. I tell him my name. He asks me where i am from. I tell him where i am from. He says that he is very close to a lot of mallus like Mohanan...Venugopal and Bina and Malavika. He says that he is trying to make some tea and the call gets cut. The next call starts with me saying 'sorry it got cut' and him swearing 'this bloody wretched'...Never mind that i am talking to this person for the first time. I give a weak chuckle and go on to ask him the only thing i wanted to ask. He says that he doesn't know. I ask him if he would know anybody who would know. He says no. ['na re' to be precise] He also delves into some personal details of this girl which has no connection whatsoever with what i am asking him. After that i am about to hang up saying okay sir, okay. Okay, thank you. Now it starts for the second time
RP: No no, but that's all you wanted to ask me about?
Me: Yeah. That's all.
RP: Tell me about. [Laughs]. Now i will ask you. Tell me about Neeraj
Me: Err...i don't have anything to say about him. I filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.
RP: But you were in a relationship with him for a while, right?
Me: No, i was not in a relationship with him.
RP: Was anybody in a relationship with him?
Me: I don't know. I have heard things that he was in a...relationship with a senior of mine, but i don't know about that.
RP: But she didn't complain?
Me: She did not complain, no.
RP: And you complained because he tried to rape you?
Me: He didn't try to rape me, he raped me.
Me: More than a year ago
RP: But you know something, he has been in a very very bad physical condition for a long time.
Me: Yeah, everybody knows that. All of us on campus knows that. Yeah.
RP: So i find it...i am not saying i don't believe you...Don't worry, i am not trying to say you are a liar...
Me: No, i have heard all of that and i have got a lot of that also, that i am a liar, i am an ugly woman
RP: No no no, i am always on the side of a woman who says that something happened. I am always on that side. But the thing is in this case i know this guy very very well and i find it very weird. I won't say difficult to believe then i would be saying that you are a liar, i am not saying that i am just saying i am very very disturbed by the whole thing. See SS and all that, they don't disturb me. I know SS. He has been there done that, okay. Aaj ka baat nahi hai. SS pehle daaru peeke he would come on to women. I know SS...So SS, anything you say i will believe. But this guy [Neeraj Sahay], i know the guy...I am just saying i am very disturbed that's all.
Me: I have nothing to say because it's not up to me...
RP: Did you complain immediately?
Me: No, i complained after a year
RP: Why is that?
: I am sorry for asking this question.
Me: I think it is very very unfortunate that whenever somebody complains people ask why didn't you complain then? Because if you know the psychology of abuse,
RP: I do
Me: It is very very very difficult for a person to first of all accept that that person is being abused. It took me 6 months to accept that i was being abused. And it took me further three months to realize i was being raped.
RP: More than once?
Me: More than once. Repeatedly.
RP: But then it's not rape.
Me: [laughs] Sir you can't tell me that because i am the person who got raped so i know that i got raped. Sex without consent is called rape and that happened
RP: How do you define
Me: And if sex has been coerced it is rape Coercion is no means to obtain consent.
RP: But one sec, one sec
: I am sorry i am being cruel to you
Me: No, Neeraj Sahay could be your friend for even fifty years but i cannot take back what i said because what i said is what i happened.
RP: I am always on the side of...
Me: In that case sir, i would also like you to know that when the whole of media, when the whole of the court the entire judicial system in this whole fucking country itself is asking the woman again and again 'why didn't you do this one year ago', 'were you in a relationship' [trying to interrupt] I am saying as a person who told me right now
RP: Women are responsible for it...
Me: As a person who told me that you are on the side of the person who complains i think you should also take a stance on questioning the woman on whether or not it's rape is not really a thing to do to the woman.
RP: Okay, i am sorry.
Me: For you as a friend of Neeraj it might be very difficult to digest
RP: Yeah yeah
: You know where i am coming from...
Me: Yeah, i understand that you are a friend of his and it is very very difficult for you, to tell you honestly, when i get married and i have a husband and the girl is saying that 'your husband did this to me', i will, will have to stand with the girl whatever happens.
RP: I will tell you something now. Achcha, you can't quote anything i am saying because i will say you are lying. This is a private conversation between you and me.
RP: You cannot quote me, i will say you are lying.
[Tells me his handle on facebook and swears at Bengalis. Says that he is actually a Punjabi. Repeats that it's a private conversation and if i quote him, he will say that i am lying. In that context i will tell you, he says. He says that his friend, also someone who happens to be aware of what happened here, told him what Neeraj Sahay had done.]
RP: It's difficult for someone to be objective. I am not saying that i will not believe you but i will look at you and i will think about it. [Repeats that he felt that there is 'something to it' when two of his friends said that they believed me, when it was 'seconded' by a third person.]
Me: That is really sad, actually.
RP: Baba i don't know you
Me: I know that. You don't know the girl who was raped in Delhi also. That's what i am saying.
RP: By whom? By whom? By whom? By Neeraj?
Me: No, i am talking about the Delhi rape case. I am saying that you don't know that girl either. [I laugh] It's kind of embarrassing for me to...
RP: Don't be embarrassed, i am a very amoral kind of guy.
Me: No no no no no no...
RP: I don't come on to women, women come on to me.
Me: I am trying to tell you that it is embarrassing me to tell you of what i think of women complaining about sexual harassment.
RP: If it was embarrassing i wouldn't have talked to you. But if you are talking to me i will also tell you what i feel because i am like that.
Me: I said that it is embarrassing for me to tell you that, you know. the whole discourse of rape itself, i think, i am a very junior person, right? so when i talk to you about it, i feel a little embarrassed, i mean, who am i to tell you that this is not right and this is right.
RP: I believe anything you say about SS.
[Goes on to say how Neeraj had partied at his house. Says that all guys are assholes and he can pick these things up easily and he did not sense any such thing with Neeraj.] Says
RP: 90% of men are assholes. I am not an asshole. I don't come on to women, women come on to me'. [I am mostly silent by this time]
In every academic institution, this kind of thing happens between so called teachers and students and chelas and whatever you...
[I think i disconnected after this line.]
Why i went back to this phone conversation after so many months is because of some bullying i faced from the same man online, a few days ago. He was talking to one of his friends on my wall, under a post of mine and i had asked him not to use my wall, instead use private messaging or something of the sort to carry on his personal conversations with anyone he pleases. The man did not like that. At the end of the exchange of words in which he spoke like a maniac about how none of us knew who we were speaking to, he posted the comment i am posting the screenshot of. I deleted that one because i had asked him repeatedly to stop using my wall and he just wasn't listening. Anyway it is amazing how this man has the audacity to parade his misogyny in this fashion all over the internet and not have anyone question him. People don't believe it, but trust me, i really don't like being the first person to have called a spade a spade. I don't know why this curse of repeatedly being that person has fallen upon me. Now here it is. The 'i will take you to court' threat from a 'film person'.
I don't want explanations for this what he has written. Nevertheless i shall just point out what things mean for a woman in case she decides to complain against sexual harassment. If the person who abused you is friends with such practitioners of cinema, please be aware that this is what you are going to battle. It is not fun. It is not easy. It is exasperating. Yet, let's hope that calling out one person like this might help in making someone else watch his mouth when they speak about sexual harassment, rape and women.
1. You little wretch: I am a giant, you are a worm. So shut up
2. Actually said good thing about you: Instead of being grateful, you dare question me!
3. It was you who called me at 11 o clock: You were dressed that way and was out at that hour
4. Knowing your history i thought you were going to trap me: You try to get older men like me laid and then say that we raped you.
5. ...will tell you off you little pipsqueak: By talking like this to me you will lose any support if you had any.
6. I have a criminal lawyer on my side: I can call you all the names i want because i am superior to you and if you dare say anything to me i shall call my lawyer and take you to court.
I will be happy to go to court with all of the conversation and more but not before i make this clear. I shall not be silent anymore about this kind of behaviour from anybody. We have ignored too many of these and people have actually started thinking that it's okay to talk to people like that. Well, it's not okay.
Please also note how these people always throw names around. They think that if you mention some names that everyone in your profession knows, you will immediately be intimidated and silenced. It does not work with me, thankfully. But there might be people who might get scared just because the man who is harassing you says he is friends with people you like or admire or desire to work with. Forget it and fight. Nobody and nothing is going to stop you from what you want to do, especially when you are a fighter. If you can fight sexual harassment, misogyny or sexism, or fight for your rights as a human being with dignity, you are well ahead in your way to be where you want to be. This is the reason i know i am going to make films. Patriarchal uncles, aunts, brother sisters etc can really go to hell now.