If it's true...
This was published yesterday. It's an anonymous post on Medium by someone who goes by the pseudonym "Indian Fowler". Here's the meat of her story:
There are 3 people in office. 2 of them leave withing 5 minutes of me coming in. And Arunabh is sitting on a Chair in a casual manner. I walk up to him. He looks at me and asks me — “ Chaturbhuj Sthan ka naam suni ho”? I am stunned. For Non Starters, Chaturbhuj Sthan is the Red Light District of Muzaffarpur. I didnt respond. His second question- “Humko Chaturbhuj Sthan Bahut Pasand Hai. Udhar commercial deals hoti hain. Tum Bhi to commercial deal pe aayi ho”. I was getting where he was leading the discussion to. I avoided an interaction. I said “Arunabh, aap bade bhai hain. Meri tabiyat thodi theek nahi hai. Kya karna hai bataiye. Hum karke ghar jaayenge” He suddenly holds my hand. Says “Madam, thoda role play karein”.
The Arunabh she's mentioned is Arunabh Kumar, one of the founders of the mahussively popular comedy-collective-turned-entertainment-platform, The Viral Fever. He was listed as one of the most influential Indians by GQ in 2015 and 2016, and has been on similar lists complied by The Economic Times and Fortune.
What broke my heart while reading Indian Fowler's post was this bit:
I dont have much to say. I am not as strong as many other women. I just need my life back. I dont think these guys would let me have one.
(No, grammar is not her strong suit. Copy editors, breathe and restrain yourselves.)
You could say she's overreacting, that The Viral Fever and Arunabh Kumar have more to do with their life than silence a little nobody even if her claims are true. What you're doing in your effort to be pragmatic is missing how much hatred she's bottled up — at herself. She's not strong enough. She's failed. Understand just how unfair the world is when the only way to make a statement of strength is by walking out and feeling "jobless. Mindless".
For anyone who says that Indian Fowler is just making allegations, you're right. However, that isn't reason to disbelieve her. If to you the logical conclusion is that her claims should be dismissed until and unless he's found guilty in a court of law, then consider this. She's his employee and unknown. He's on Fortune and GQ lists, and the CEO of a company valued at Rs 270 crore. They live in a country where court cases drag for years, where lawyers are notorious for their corruption, and the stigma of having filed a case marks a woman as unemployable for years.
Still think she should file a case?
There's also the argument that TVF isn't an all-boys' club. There are other women employees. Why is Indian Fowler the only one to have this experience? This argument is nauseatingly close to victim shaming, but leaving that odious detail aside, her being the only one doesn't make the allegation untrue. Indian Fowler could be the first Arunabh Kumar has preyed on or she could be the first to have spoken out. Incidentally, she isn't the first. At least one more person has complained about Arunabh Kumar's behaviour, according to filmmaker Apurv Asrani.
And yes, it's also true that ultimately, when the cases rests upon conversations conducted without witnesses, it's her word against his. My first instinct is to believe her because I know how difficult it is to make any kind of allegations against a boss; particularly if he's a man and the person complaining is a woman. (I would like to take a moment to thank all the male bosses I've worked under for not being bastardly sexual predators.) When you complain against a man, you know that every word you say and every claim you make will be doubted and questioned and dissected. No one accepts a woman's complaint at face value, especially when she's a 'junior'. Instead, she's judged for having spoken out. "Are you sure you didn't misunderstand?" to "You're overreacting" to "Boys will be boys" to "Are you sure you didn't lead him on?" — that's the victim shaming shade card. Question a person enough times and they will question themselves. Achievement unlocked, as far as patriarchy is concerned. Even masochists don't invite that kind of scrutiny upon yourself.
But you can tell me that I react this way because I'm a woman and a feminist. My question to you is, if tomorrow Arunabh Kumar releases a statement that he has not sexually harassed this former employee and rejects the allegations against him, will that be enough? If TVF says Indian Fowler is a disgruntled employee who was fired and is taking her revenge in this way, will you believe them? Take a moment to think about why one side's statements seem more credible than the other's to you. Why should his statement be accepted at face value and hers be doubted?
The message we give out to male sexual predators when we choose to question victims is this: you're only to be questioned if you made a mistake and exposed yourself. If you're clever and powerful, then patriarchy has got your back. So be a predator, but play it safe, and you'll be fine. There's always a victim to dismiss or dissect.
A couple of days ago, a colleague of mine forwarded to me a link to a Facebook post. A young woman who is a college student had gone to a concert. At the concert, it was crowded and she felt someone bumping against her repeatedly. When she came home, she realised her jeans were stained with cum. Someone had been masturbating against her. She put up a photo of her jeans on Facebook, with a caption in which she articulated her disgust. Net result: a swarm of abusive messages that attempt to slutshame her for knowing what semen stains look like. Because that's the real problem here, obviously. Not that a man feels he's perfectly safe masturbating in public. Attack the victim, ignore the problem. What a fine way to move forward.
If Indian Fowler's post goes viral, which it seems poised to do, then she's going to face a barrage of poisonous suspicion. Someone will dredge up her past relationships or question why she wore the kind of clothes she did, or behaved the way she did. Others will talk about how the city has corrupted men and women (both Arunabh and Indian Fowler are from the town of Muzaffarpur, once famous for its litchis and now famous for litchis that are rich in toxins and kill children). One of the things that makes the internet such a confusing and complicated medium is this double-edged quality. Indian Fowler has tried to be heard in the real world, where her name and identity are evident. She's been dismissed or silenced. Even her family has told her to keep quiet. For the college student with the stained jeans, there's no recourse in the real world. Who do you complain to and against whom?
It's here online that these women find the listeners and sympathisers. Online, she's powerful because she is in control. Her story may well be interpreted and misinterpreted later by others, but at the moment that she's uploaded her post, she is the one telling her story, on her own terms, in her own words.
Until the trolls, critics and doubters find her, that is. Then they try to change the story and impose their words upon her narrative. Even if they think they've succeeded, even if she gives up and deletes this post, the fact is she was heard because of the internet and her words will linger, imprinted as they are upon the web's vast, dark memory.
UPDATE: The Viral Fever has put out this official statement:
Keep in mind, there are women in the TVF office but if I was a woman, this is not the kind of statement that would make me feel comfortable. TVF's official response isn't to investigate the allegations, but to summarily dismiss them. On what basis are Indian Fowler's claims "ludicrous"? What exactly is "severe justice"? Suddenly Indian Fowler's claims that "these guys" won't let her live her life in peace don't seem quite as exaggerated, do they? It would have been one thing for Arunabh Kumar as the CEO to have issued this as a personal statement, but this is the company. While she's given specifics of dates and projects that she'd been working on, the company has dismissed all of it as "categorically false, baseless and unverified". Then they've followed it up with the threat of uncovering who "Indian Fowler" is and delivering "severe justice".
Presumably because they spent Sunday investigating her claims thoroughly and then discovered their inner Judge Judy. The Sunday before Holi, no less. How's that for hardworking?
Factor Daily says there are at least four women who have complained about Arunabh Kumar's sexual advances. One woman describes him as an "infamous sleaze". "I thought it was my mistake.. attending random parties with strange men..." she also said.