Every time a famous man is accused of sexual assault, out come the valiant, wounded protectors of men’s rights. Men, it seems, are under attack, their very existence threatened by all the shameless women running around the place, breaking the unspoken contract between powerful abusers and their terrified victims by putting into words the stories of their abuse. It doesn’t even have to be a particularly likeable or idolised man, these champions of accused men come rushing out of the woodwork to guard the brethren at the faintest odour of a scandal. The latest in this long line of men who must be defended against a furious mouthy woman is Nana Patekar, who last week found himself in a veritable shit-storm when actress Tanushree Dutta doubled down on accusations of sexual assault against him, 10 whole years after she first made them.
Predictably, in the #MeToo era, it’s not a story that was going to be buried as conveniently as it had been, when it first emerged.
Unfortunately, little else has changed.
Bollywood continues to remain largely non-committal, with a smattering of token, lukewarm responses and half-hearted hashtags from some of its more woke inhabitants — a necessity, really, given that they can at least “control the message” this way. Which is not to say that some of the more vocal, fiery supporters of, well, baseline decency, within Bollywood’s ranks have not used this opportunity to, once again, lend the heft of their names to women’s rights (we’re looking at you, Swara Bhasker, you gem, you).
But largely, the biggies of Bollywood have chosen to maintain a stoic, wooden, squirming silence on the subject.
Some, like Amitabh Bachchan, who at this point might as well retire from acting and start taking lessons for marketing students eagerly hunting for a cause that will launch a 1000 campaigns, thought that a good way to address the issue would be by refusing to comment because he is neither the accuser, nor the accused. Way to live up to being the veteran in an industry he has spent 50 years, bullshitting and adopting causes when they help him sell a character, a movie, an ad, or a show. And so much for all the outrage he manufactured while penning a wannabe feminist letter to his granddaughters.
More disgusting, but equally expected, are the responses of all the men whose hearts are bleeding at the prospect to all the damage these allegations will do to Nana’s career, if they are found to be untrue — never mind that at this point two unrelated women who are not even friends with the accuser have come forward to corroborate Tanushree’s version of the events.
One has to marvel and applaud the breathtaking capacity for hypocrisy that some among us harbour. While they have zero f@#ks to give about the loss of livelihood and career opportunities that the 34-year-old Tanushree has, and will undoubtedly continue to suffer once the headlines change as a consequence of refusing to stay silent and letting the status quo continue, unchallenged. But sure, let’s protect 67-year-old Nana’s career prospects and reputation from any future harm.
There’s a word for this outpouring of sympathy, conceived last year by Cornell philosopher Kate Marnell in her book, Down Girl: The Logic Of Misogyny. The word is ‘himpathy’. And she repeated it, rather forcefully, in the New York Times last week, while deconstructing the avalanche of support for Brett Kavanaugh and the cavalier attitude with which the increasingly credible allegations of sexual misconduct against him are being dismissed.
These himpathisers are so obsessed with the pain, shame, and embarrassment, that the men accused of abuse might feel, that they have no bandwidth left to think about the repercussions of the assault on the woman, the victim.
Tanushree first told her story 10 years ago. And then she disappeared from the public eye, almost overnight. She’s returned to repeat it, with even more conviction, steeled against Bollywood’s complicity and silence, but all we can offer her is gaslighting questions and tone-deaf assertions such as “why now?” or “why didn’t you go to the police?” or “she’s just looking for publicity.”
You spend 10 years of your life stewing in trauma in the aftermath of your abuse, and when you come back, you’re still up against the army of himpathisers, still steadfastly standing guard. Unlike the accusers, who are often wary, scared, tired, and traumatised, the himpathy brigade have deep wells of conviction to draw from.
If the accused assaulter/harasser is a young man, they’re worried about the promising life that stretches ahead of him. If he is a middle-aged person, he is a devoted married man, whose family will be destroyed under the weight of such accusations. If he is an old person, she is “his daughter’s age” and his legacy must be protected from tarty, unscrupulous starlets.
Watching this drama unfold, as it follows the exact same script we one more time, can be a distressing, infuriating, and hopeless experience. The only hope is, now that we have a word for the clusterfuck that is men protecting other men so that power structures can remain intact, perhaps, sooner or later, we’ll stumble upon a way to demolish it.
For more such content follow InUthDotCom: