A former reality show contestant, grooming expert and fashion and interior design teacher who happens to be gay recounts his trauma
It happens to men and gays too, and perhaps more rampantly than to women. I have suffered sexual harassment at my workplace. When a man physically violates a woman, it is considered a serious matter, but if a woman does it to a man, why is it passed off as a joke? While it is easier for the woman to say she was raped, it is very difficult for the man to make that confession. The stereotypical standard is that men assault women and therefore the #MeToo movement. What is happening in India right now has been happening forever. The cookie had to crumble and there are more skeletons than the closet can handle. There is a need for a parallel movement here, like the #We Evolve Movement, which allows men to speak about their harassment.
The first time, I was sexually assaulted as a child actor when I was eight years old by an adult who was a family friend. I was told it was punishment for me having misbehaved on the set. The second time, I was raped at age fifteen by a woman known to me when she was menstruating. Later, I was working in the advertising and fashion industry, where women feel comfortable around gays. My female colleagues, actors and actresses felt comfortable with me, and it did not matter to them if I was walking in and out of studio sets, changing rooms, and the back stage.
At an office get-together, however, three women, who were senior officers at the company, violated me sexually. It was a theme party. They strapped me on a chair and publicly fondled, smooched and tickled me. I said to them, “Look, this is sexual harassment.” The following Monday, they apologised, saying it was only a party and they were merely having fun. Their argument was that they wanted to turn me around. “With your looks, how can you be gay?” they asked.
In yet another incident, a gay person in my office grabbed my crotch in the office toilet and said, “Wanna have some fun?” There was a fracas, the security guard rushed in and asked what happened? I told him the ill-mannered man was behaving obnoxiously. When I reported the matter to the senior management, they told me they’d reprimand my molestor, but told me to forget about the incident and not take legal action.
When I was a casting director at a leading advertising agency, one day an executive from my office picked up some pictures of a male model and invited him to his house. He said the model was to appear in a campaign for a leading soap brand and for that he needed to see the model bare chested. At his house, he sexually assaulted the model. When the boy came to my office and told me about it, I informed my senior, the CEO, but the matter was hushed up. I was specifically told not to write about it in a column I was then writing for a leading daily – else my job would be in jeopardy.
At a party for the launch of an international fashion magazine, to which I went in drag with long hair, a top actor publicly kissed me thinking I was a woman. Though I was dressed in body stockings, it was quite apparent to anyone that I was flat chested. I wasn’t wearing a padded brassiere. At another party in south Mumbai, another leading star who was an old friend caught me by the scruff of my neck in front of the who’s who of the city, bashed me, and threatened to kill me. A leading politician was also present, but no one reacted. I couldn’t do anything about the attack: if I had the resources to be able to go to court for the next 10 years, it would have been the option I chose. Another reason I dig not take legal action is because I have serious career ambitions and plan to go international. I clearly do not want stigma on my name. If this had happened in the US, I would have sued these people. The fact is, in India, our justice system leaves a lot to be desired. These particular scenarios need fasts track courts. We are a morally corrupt society; we all have been victim of this and been complicit. We are living in a male dominated world and it is the big boys club. If women put up a united front the battle is won.
As a victim of sexual harassment many times over, the trauma stays with you for life. Yes, I have been traumatised by these incidents and have been counselled for it. Just because I have not taken legal action does not mean I am a silent sufferer. I am a hustler and a survivor and do not want to carry the victim card through my life.
Women get eve-teased, gays get harassed, but I have risen above all of that and don’t let my sexuality or the lack of it define me anymore. There is an old adage, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Yes, I have been assaulted and molested, at the end of the day I am nobody’s victim. Now I have become an observer, a silent spectator.
As told to Geetanjali Minhas
(The article appears in October 31, 2018 edition)