Indian minister pushes Bollywood on sexual harassment

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India’s minister for women has warned Bollywood producers over sexual harassment in the Hindi film industry after a scandal that has brought down some leading Hollywood figures. Maneka Gandhi wrote to leading production houses reminding them that they are “ethically and legally” responsible for providing a “safe, secure and inclusive work environment” for all staff under Indian law.

Bollywood has not so far faced the kind of allegations that have rocked the US film industry and led to the downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. But last month a Bollywood actress said she had been harassed by an unnamed director early in her career.

India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development said in a series of tweets late Wednesday that Gandhi had written letters to 24 producers urging them to comply with India’s 2013 sexual harassment act. “The aim of this law is to ensure that no woman is sexually harassed at her workplace,” she wrote.

“This is to be followed in letter and spirit by all organizations in the country and I expect you to personally lead these efforts with sincerity and commitment, in accordance with all the applicable laws,” Gandhi added. It follows an interview that Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar gave to the Mumbai Mirror tabloid in November in which she said she had “lost a few roles” over the years because she “didn’t give in” to unwanted advances.

Bhaskar urged aspiring actresses to reject parts rather than “get on the couch”, a reference to the “casting couch” culture where young women are expected to exchange sexual favors to be cast in a film. The issue is almost never discussed in Indian media or talked about openly by Bollywood stars, but aspiring actors and actresses are known to regularly share their experiences of it privately.

Since the Weinstein scandal first broke some Indian actresses, including Kalki Koechlin and Richa Chadha, have said Bollywood needs to create an environment where victims can speak out without fear of being ostracized or trolled on social media. Bhaskar said in her interview that the cliquey nature of Bollywood, where many of the leading stars and directors are either friends or related, made going public with allegations difficult.

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